Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Koya: chewing the duck fat

To be honest, I'd go to Wagamama.

Frith Street glistened with new fallen rain, and I stood hunched and hooded. There was no shelter as the sky spat at us again, and again, and again. It had no right to rain. It was August. Any showers should at least be followed by that baking hot sun that breaks through, like when you open the oven door without knowing it was on. The people around me huddled under foldable umbrellas too small for one, let alone two.

She was late, but it didn't matter. We would have to wait anyway, because it had happened again. I was queuing for my dinner.

I shouldn't moan. We queue in McDonald's and no one moans, so why moan when a better meal is in the offing? When it comes to Koya, that comparison isn't that unfair. It's a noodle restaurant. In Japan it's fast food. It's everywhere. Whether it's as good as Koya I don't know, but I hope it is because I wasn't that impressed. If every Japanese street had a Koya on it, I think the questions I left the restaurant asking myself might be answered quite quickly. And that could only spell trouble.

The most pressing question I had, and this would be a pressing question in any restaurant, was what the hell did I just eat? I definitely ordered the duck udon, and definitely got charged for the duck udon, but the meat that came wasn't definitely anything. It tasted like duck, felt like more noodles and looked like pork. So goodness knows what they gave me. In some ways I hope it was a miscommunication in the kitchen, because that's a better excuse than the rather bizarre idea that they may have poached the duck. Poaching duck is fine, particularly in the delicious stock that made the broth. However, poaching duck fat is disgusting. What is usually the wonderful crispy skin, which drips and droops with flavour, became sodden, waterlogged and bland – like a breaded turkey escalope left to soak in water overnight. It felt like overcooked noodle in my mouth, accentuated by the pleasantly al dente udon noodles and crunchy spring onions the dish came with.

Another question I left asking was, despite being a beer lover and aspiring alcoholic, had I been tricked into drinking Carling? I gave my Kirin Ichiban an artisanal sniff only to recoil as all my teenage memories of warm Carling rushed through my brain. That week malty smell, that metallic tang, trying to convince a down-and-out balding man in his late twenties that you really are 18.

To be fair, the beer actually tasted quite good. It was light and refreshing, so died horribly next to a duck soup, but up to that point was a decent lager, save the smell that almost ruined it.

Chain comparisons are probably the mark of an inexperience reviewer, but I have to say that had I gone to Wagamama's I'd have had just as good a bowl of soup for a good few quid less. In fact, if I had gone to Wagamama's I wouldn't have had soup, I'd have had the Katsu curry – but there's always someone who branches out and regrets it. So they would have had just as good a soup.

It's a shame because Koya has a trendy, understated feel about it. Sure I'd gone on a strong recommendation by a friend, but I was all ready to declare that I had found an undiscovered gem. Sadly I can't say that. Before the meal, as I waited in the rain for my late friend, an American lady wearing more Olympic branding than the Velodrome approached to ask why I was queuing and what was so great about Koya. I replied that I didn't know yet.

I still don't.

Koya on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

1 comment:

  1. Food wise, don’t expect either value for money or taste sensations. Our enduring imagine of Koya, is that they could learn a trick or two from some well known chains. The kamo roast duck breast was basically executed with a flat soy soup, some spring onions and a knock-your-head-off wasabi paste; completely unbalanced.
    Value hunters beware; your dinner money would be better spent elsewhere…