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.