Friday 22 November 2013

Koya Bar

BL stopped by in London on a Friday, and after I found out there isn't very much resembling halfway decent Japanese food at semi-reasonable prices in Edinburgh, I dragged him off to Koya Bar, the newly-opened offshoot of Koya, a much beloved udon institution in Soho.

Koya Bar is conveniently located right next to Koya, and the menus don't differ too significantly. The number two chef from Koya now heads Koya Bar, and the standard is effectively the same. The only major differences are:

1. Koya Bar is open for breakfast
2. You can see the cooking happen in front of you
3. Not everyone has caught on to the fact that Koya Bar exists yet, so while the queue may snake down the street for Koya, you probably can find a seat at Koya Bar's counter. When we arrived for our late lunch at around 3pm, we only had to share the space with two other diners. 

As always, I ordered the braised pork belly. Koya's doing theirs with stout and honey, but over at Koya Bar ours was cooked in cider, imparting the meat with a delicate fruity sweetness. The meat was tender and a little fattier than what I had previously, which is always a plus, especially when the gooey fats give way so easily on the tongue. Our rather enthusiastic waiter tried to clear the plate when we finished the pork, but we weren't done with the oily sauce at the bottom of the plate just yet. 

For drinks, BL and I both ordered Mugicha, the iced barley tea. It's very much a summery drink because of its purported cooling properties, but it's still very refreshing even in winter. The barley is roasted before being steeped in water to make the tea, resulting in the deep brown colour. The one served at Koya Bar is delightfully thick and peaty, and didn't suffer flavour-wise when I cut it with water to stretch it out longer. 

Speaking of the water, the fancy filtration system used resulted in it tasting exactly like Singapore's tap water, to our utter delight. I defy anyone who says that water tastes the same everywhere. Singapore's tastes much better than London's. 

Both BL and I opted for Hiya-Atsu dishes, meaning cold udon with a hot broth for us to dip the noodles in. Koya specializes in Sanuki udon, which is thick and square-shaped. The noodles hail from Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku, and when cooked well manage to be soft and yet maintain enough al-dente chewiness to be interesting.  

While BL opted for the rich pork miso broth, I got myself the simpler but no less satisfying beef broth. Of course, the first few strands of noodles were dipped into the decadent drippings of the braised pork belly, but the rest of my plate of noodles was dunked into the mostly clear soup. The lump of grated ginger on top added a nice warmth and a little bite that was more than welcome. 

Compared to the bustle of Koya, Koya Bar is much more relaxed. More people had wandered in by this point, but the joint was still empty enough that we didn't feel too bad for lingering over the last of our soup and tea. 

Thursday 21 November 2013

Pretiola // Mr. Pretzels at Westfield London (Shepherd's Bush)

Our essays were done, we needed to shop, the weather was shit, and we weren't interested in travelling beyond Zone 2 (My Oyster card only has a month pass and not like, actual money loaded on it, which makes travelling to Zone 3 and beyond a trifle inconvenient), so GW & I wound up at what I like to call The Mall. Every time I say "Let's go to The Mall!", I'm mentally referring to the Westfield at Shepherd's Bush, mostly because it's the first mall I visited in London, and I'm weirdly loyal to places like that. 

It took us 20 minutes on the Central Line after class, and after passing through what I like to call the Sell-Your-Soul-And-First Child-To-Afford-This Zone, we finally found ourselves in Not-Too-Exorbitant Land where we could get our shopping done. It was here that little sampler bits of pretzels were shoved under our noses, and 2-for-£5 vouchers thrust into our palms. Being rather shameless, we took what was offered and continued on, stopping dead in our tracks only when we actually placed the squares of pretzels in our mouths and properly tasted them. 

They were ridiculously good cinnamon sugar pretzels, so we had a little on the spot confab debating not if we should get them, but when. We decided to go back for them after we'd done some proper shopping around and I'd had a proper lunch. One and a half hours of wandering, one semi-ironic animal jumper, a bowl of pho and one plate of summer rolls later, we trekked back to the Pretiola stand and whipped out our voucher, ordering two cinnamon sugar pretzels. The pretzels came in Mr. Pretzels bags, which made us wonder for a short while if the pretzel stand was undergoing some sort of identity crisis, but all this was forgotten once we unwrapped our piping hot pretzels and tucked in. 

It didn't matter that we were sitting in what amounted to a glorified kid's pen once I bit into the softest pretzel I'd ever had in my 22 years of existence. A small child kept running in and trying to play with the wall-mounted toys next to our luridly pink stools, but it was fairly easy to ignore him and concentrate on the wonderfully buttery flavour that complemented the thick layer of cinnamon and sugar coating the pretzel. 

The tables had a write-up on pretzels laminated on it, but beyond some vague recollection of monks somehow being involved, I honestly can't say what it was about, since the pretzel quite effectively captured my attention for the most part. I spent the 5 minutes we took to devour almost everything alternately thinking how great the pretzel was, wondering how I'd managed to live without it all this while, and when I could next take an hour out of my day to travel back for some more. 

Pretzels are such a joy. 

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Flat White Cafe Soho (Berwick Street)

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BA is from Melbourne, where they take their coffee very seriously, and as a result he is a massive coffee snob has very strong opinions on the matter. After weeks of listening to him go on about the state of coffee in this little town (They don't know how to treat the milk properly! being the most common refrain), we finally went round to Flat White, a little slice of Melbourne coffee culture transplanted to Berwick Street in Soho, ostensibly so he could show us what proper coffee should taste like. 

Thing is, IZV's from Colombia and already knows her stuff, GW isn't a fan and I can't drink coffee at all because it's a massive migraine trigger for me, so we were really there for BA to get his fix. I showed up mostly for the toasties, because they looked really good on the menu BA sent round in the run up to our lunch outing.  

The place was packed at 12.45 pm, so the four of us were squished together round a tiny table. There weren't enough chairs at first, so we had to beg one off the couple next to us. Orders have to be placed at the counter, so I went up with BA to have a look-see at the pastries on display. I wound up impulse ordering an AMAZEBALL! as the tag read, after the girl behind the counter told me it was made of goodness and rainbows and love fudge, caramel, crumbled cookies and desiccated coconut. 

While we waited for our toasties, I sipped my chocolate, which wasn't so much hot as pleasantly warm, and not too sweet. In the same span of time, BA downed two cups of flat white in quick succession, with an expression that screamed "Oh wondrous, properly made coffee, you are a magical life giving elixir." 

The toasties came out in two waves. I had the tomato, red pepper and Manchego cheese toastie, which was good as expected, because it just isn't possible to screw up a toastie. I tried eating it with my hands at first but got a bit tangled in the stretch of the melted cheese, so I gave up and used the forks and knives provided. It seemed too civilized to cut the toastie up into smaller triangles before eating it, but anything not to wind up with cheese in my hair I suppose. 

We were so caught up in our toasties and trying to figure out what the mousy creature with the massive tail was on the cork board of art behind us (It reminded me of Pepé le Pew), that it wasn't till I woke up the next morning that I realized I never received my AMAZEBALL!, which was an utterly tragic start to the day. Ah well. 

Tuesday 19 November 2013

The Breakfast Club Soho

Way back in the day, I spent a period utterly obsessed with John Hughes movies, going so far as to work them into my General Paper essays where possible (One essay on stereotyping modern teenagers was concluded with a massive shout-out to Bender & Co). I'd heard of The Breakfast Club on and off in my first couple years in London, but between not really being a breakfast person (By the time I get up it's usually time for lunch) and needing to visit (For the first time at least) with someone else who could share in the awesomeness of the reference, it wasn't till C popped by London earlier in the year that I first went to their branch at 33 D'Arblay Street in Soho

Since I hardly ever go out before noon, I can't say with any conviction if this is the best place for breakfast in London, or even in Soho, but it was enjoyable enough the first time around that when I had a morning to hang out with a visiting AH, this was the first place that came to mind because I'd been seriously considering pancakes for a couple of days now. 

We got there a little before 9 am, beating the crowd that ends up queuing outside the building, but rising after the sun so we could still be functional. It always amazes me how chipper everyone in the place seems. Apart from one or two people nursing hangovers and coffees in dark corners, the general mood was buzzy and buoyant. Turnover's also fairly quick (Good for the people in the long queues outside), unless you're me and have to spend an hour valiantly doing battle with your pancakes/french toast/butty. 

AH ordered a chai latte and the Huevos Al Benny, and while I skipped the poached eggs and spicy Hollandaise, I gladly divested her of the little squares of English Muffin she sliced for me, topped with chorizo, avocado and roasted peppers. 

On my part, I had a warming ginger lemon tea and the pancakes with berries and vanilla cream. It was more cream than I'd remembered, but I wasn't going to complain about it. The first few bites of my pancake stack were so light and fluffy that I managed to convince myself I could finish the whole thing, and promptly ate two-thirds of the vanilla cream with my first pancake. That... was a bit of a mistake. 

And did I also mention my extra side of bacon? I'd deliberated between pancakes with bacon and pancakes with berries, before I realized I could literally have it all. Between healthy bits of fruit, I slathered the bacon in the maple syrup pooled at the bottom of my dish and nicked all of AH's chilli slices to eat with the pancakes. It was delicious.  

Still can't manage big breakfasts on a regular basis, but when the cravings hit it's a fun place to be. Fairly sure I should start branching out soon, but between clashing timetables and the growing desire to just hibernate, early morning meetings are a difficult thing to schedule.