It's no secret that I turn into a squealing fan-girl whenever Koya is mentioned. It's probably up there to be one of my favourite restaurants in London. Their udon noodles revolutionised my hangovers; grease and filth sends me over the edge when I'm feeling delicate, so their cleansing broths, simple flavours and comforting slow-cooked eggs (onsen tamago) have helped me out of many a sticky situation. When not hungover - it happens - the Specials board is always an exciting surprise, dishes so lovely that I often sulk when they're only there for a day or two (I'm looking at you, udon fries). Judging by the queues, I'm not their only fan-girl.
So, the news that Mooli's next door had closed down and was then snapped up by Koya for another little place (Koya Bar) brought joy to my udon-craving heart. Scheduled to officially open on Monday 2nd September, I happened to walk past and spy people dining there. They opened a week early on the sly.
The menu, surprisingly, was exactly the same as Koya. I looked through it once, turned it over, looked again - and then I spied some mackerel grilling above a flame. John, the owner, explained to me that actually Koya Bar will be serving that classic menu, but also breakfast. That grilling fish was part of a breakfast dish, and they kindly let me try it out. It was exactly what you'd want from a grilled piece of fish; smoky, firm, a little sweet, a little salty from the glaze, crisp skin. Lightly pickled pink ribbons and a pile of grated daikon refreshed the palate in between bites.
A plate of tempura vegetables and a bowl of fried tofu and spring onion udon noodles (kizame on the menu) confirmed that all was well and running smoothly.
I, of course, went back as soon as I could - their first breakfast service, in fact.
A selection of udon noodles are on offer (bravely, the curry option too) as well as some porridge dishes. It's not the usual with oats though - porridge made with rice, what we know as congee or 'juk' in Cantonese. I ordered the kedgeree; textured, thick rice porridge was flavoursome and generous with silky smoked haddock. On top nestled a slow-poached egg, whites wobbly and yolk runny.
Decorated with fish skin crisps, a little dish of shaved bonito (used once already for the restaurant's dashi stock) mixed with sesame seeds are for scattering on top. It was, truly, a brilliant bowlful.
We couldn't rightly go and miss out on the English breakfast udon - which was bacon and egg. This was also delicious; the bacon was cooked until floppy, not crisp, but the dashi broth took on its flavour well. It was a little hard to break the bacon slices up without being entirely covered in soup, but it was the cleanest, healthiest-feeling 'fry-up' I'd come across.
I can't wait to go back to try the udon with raw egg and soy. Or the curry udon. Or the porridge with pickles. I'm even coming round to natto, those sticky fermented soy beans, which we were given just because I wanted to see my boyfriend squirm while trying it.
So, while Koya Bar retains the classic menu with breakfast opening hours and a focus on sake and beer, I'm told that the original Koya will move in a different, more Specials-led direction. I can't wait to see what they come up with.
50 Frith Street,
London, W1D 4SQ
Opens 8:30am for breakfast