There are some incredible openings set for 2010, as you can see here. For me though, one of the most exciting restaurants debuted a couple of weeks ago, namely Koya in Soho. Despite hearing about it and noting that it was next door to Mooli's, I sort of forgot about it until reading this thread on Chowhound. The positive report there, and then from various Twitter users and bloggers oiled the hype machine and I had to go. I wasn't going to review this place originally, just post some pictures, but I might as well describe the food a bit.
The menu. Irasshaimase indeed. A simple concept (they specialise in udon) with quite a complex menu. Complex in the sense that it is double-sided, and as well as small-plate starters you have about thirty udon options (and then some extra toppings, if you wish). These are separated: hot noodles in hot soup (eaten mostly in Winter); cold noodles in hot soup; cold noodles in cold soup (a more Summery dish). Prices range from about £6.50 for a simple bowl to £11 or £12 for more extravagant udon.
Onsen tamago (£2). Literally 'hot spring egg'. As David Chang explains in the (rather brilliant) Momofuku Cookbook: "The story I was told is that old ladies would bring baskets of eggs with them to the natural hot springs that are all around Japan - hot springs and public bathing are important national pastimes - and while they were there, the hot spring water cooked the eggs at a constant temperature of around 60 degrees C or 141 degrees F.) The technique produces eggs that, because they've been slowly coaxed into cookedness, are creamier and more unctuous than regular poached eggs." He's right. The tamago here is oyster-silky, with the yolk and white sticking together and floating in the dashi. The soup complements the rumour of eggy flavour. A great dish and certainly a must-order at Koya.
Kakuni (£5.50). Pork belly braised in apple cider, served with shallots and karashi. Not quite as tender and melt-in-your-mouth as it should be, but it still retained a good flavour and despite the slight bite, it was pleasant to eat.
Saba udon (£9). Smoked mackerel in a hot broth, with hot udon noodles. The dashi is made from scratch in the restaurant using katsuobushi and is absolutely miles ahead of anything else I've tried in London. The mackerel was firm and the implied smokiness was decent, whilst the greens (shiso and others) wilted beautifully into the molten broth. The hand-made, fresh noodles were fantastic: chewy and slippery - all those good things.
Niku udon (£8.50). The thin slices of shabu-shabu like beef look unappetising in this picture (they look like an OAP's ear) but they had a good flavour and were predictably tender. The noodles were once again brilliant and the stock worked well in this bowl, amongst the spring onions and masses of sweet, yellow onion.
Tap water was placed on the table immediately as we sat down, which is always nice. For two people, the bill came to around £30 for everything; a decent price to pay for a seriously good lunch. My advice would be to go and sit down at the counter (space for four) and watch the team in action and speak to the approachable chef. In terms of noodle soup dishes in London, the bowls we tried here would probably rank above other favourites of mine: the beef brisket ho fun from HK Diner; the la mian from Zheng Zhong Lan Zhou La Mian Noodle Bar; and the Asakusa udon from Asakusa. Koya has received a lot of early praise and will continue to do so. It deserves all the success it can get for offering something different and is a welcome addition to a foodie friendly Soho street.