You know the best part of having a food / restaurant review blog? The people you meet virtually. Before I had the blog, I would grit my teeth through social engagements. Patiently listening to (ok, trying to) lots of small talk and wondering when I could get to the main event and see if there was going to be synergy in thought or not. With this blog, we skip all that, we can strip down to our tighty whites – metaphorically speaking and get all nerdy about our common favorite subject: food!I get quite a few people writing in asking me where they should eat while in Berlin, for their ‘paid for by the company’ business dinner, their anniversary, cheap eats etc. I do my best because it’s hard to know what a stranger will like, what their budget is and of course, if they are coming from London or New York – Berlin really can’t compete with that scene. (In people terms alone, London has 7.5 million inhabitants compared to Berlin’s 3.5 million).A while back, I had a chef friend of Stephen Williams (former head chef at the Harwood Arms) write to me to ask for recommendations.
I obliged, although most of what I recommended was closed for the Easter weekend. When I returned to London, I dropped him a quick email to ask where I should go. First on his list – Koya*, just a few doors down from Barrafina on Frith Street. The small shop specializes in Udon noodles, which are made by foot daily. Something I learned from the guy who recommended it. Initially, I took that to be a typo but I googled it and yes – the noodles are kneaded by foot. I don’t know enough about it to understand why this is significant or even necessary. But the huddle of people outside the shop hint that the noodles are indeed something special.We don’t have to wait long before we are seated at one of the communal tables. I order the duck broth with udon and my husband goes for the beef.
“Would you like cold noodles with hot broth or noodles in the broth?” The friendly waitress asks us.
“I don’t know? What would I like?” I ask her back.
“On a warm day like today? Cold noodles with hot broth. You dip the noodles in to heat them up and when you’ve finished, you sip the broth, in this way you can better discern the tension in the noodles.”And that’s what we did. The noodles arrived fanned out on a plate in a fashion I always try (and fail) to achieve with my own spaghetti or linguine and a funny tuft of shredded nori on the center. The broth had a sprinkle of red pepper so fine it could have been fairy hair. As promised by write-ups, the noodles were satisfyingly toothsome. But the broth was spectacular; especially my duck broth, which I had feared, would be oily and muddy tasting.
I agree. I loved it. It’s the kind of food I like best. No reservations so I don’t have to anticipate what I will feel like eating in two weeks but rather, with a bit of patience and stamina (to wait in line) I can satisfy my craving on the day. A place that specializes in one thing because if you concentrate on doing something well, usually (hopefully) you get good at it – and at Koya, they have. It’s obviously not formal, there is no complexed hostess with a lifeless smile plastered to her face to seat you and you aren’t goaded into ordering starters and drinks. Lastly it’s the kind of food you crave. Although I love my outings to Michelin starred places, I never hanker after that brioche with foie gras and chocolate but 3 days after eating at Koya, I definitely fancy another bowl of duck broth with noodles!*The rest of his list; Koya, followed by Upstairs (opened up by a former colleague of Stephen’s), St. Ali (best coffee), Mien Tay (South Vietnamese Food), Broadway Market particularly the stands banhmi11, lucky chip, yum bun and Rochelle Canteen (which is apparently overrun by hipsters, so they have them here as well? Yes, I realize that statement officially classes me as a genuine old lady).