Monday 15 November 2021

Koya Ko, Broadway Market

Much as I will always have a soft spot for Koya (and specifically their new Broadway Market spot Koya Ko), there are certain aspects of an evening there that, well, let's just say need addressing.

The first thing is the strangely opaque (and I don't just mean the colour of the miso broth) way dishes are described on the menu. I would say quite an important thing to know when ordering a bowl of noodles is not only whether a dish is hot or cold (this is illustrated, and so fine) but also crucially whether it comes as a soup or not. This is not, for some bizarre reason, mentioned, and so requires you asking the (admittedly friendly and patient) person taking the order about each dish in turn to find out whether it's just a plate of noodles or a big gorgeous heartwarming noodle soup. Particularly at this time of year, I will always want a broth. And while 'Tempura' does, 'Triple Pickle' doesn't. 'Kaiso Classic' does but 'Saucy' doesn't.

Fortunately, everything we ended up with was wonderful. But before I get to that, my second niggle. The place is tiny, with tables set at rather Covid-unfriendly elbow-clashing intervals and with sometimes a queue to order taking up any remaining space in the middle of the room. True you can eat outside, but that's becoming increasingly impossible, and you can take away, but if you want to enjoy your dinner hot and presented as beautifully as they do in the restaurant itself, you'll really want to eat in. And because this is Broadway Market you'll be sharing that steamy, noisy space with giant child's buggies, which have to be bumped down a set of narrow stairs on the way in and then somehow be parked up in a room barely big enough to hold the furniture it already has. Let me be very clear, kids in restaurants is not the problem here, it's that some spaces are just not designed for it however much they wish they were.

But forget about all that because just look at this food. Firstly the prawn tempura which came adorned with a single absolutely massive prawn in a fantastic batter which started off crisp and light then generally became a soft, fluffy element of the soup itself. The broth was clean and clear, seasoned subtly but not overwhelmingly salty, and of course the udon noodles were supremely good, probably the best you can get in London. At least, if there are any better around, I haven't found them yet.

To circumvent the issue of 'Triple Pickle' not being a soup, we ordered a 'Plain' udon in broth, and a side of pickles. Both were fantastic, particularly the daikon which had a really addictively pongy - in a good way - funk.

And this is 'Kaiso Classic', four types of seaweed adorning another winning arrangement of slippery, meaty udon noodles and warming soup. Into this we cracked a 'Tamago', not the kind of sweet omelette thing you see in sushi places but a single whole egg very cleverly (and presumably very slowly) poached in its own shell. The white was wobbly and soft, the yolk runny, and it combined brilliantly with the noodles.

With a couple of green teas and a (very nice) house lemonade, the bill came to about £15 a head, which I hardly need to point out for food of this quality and consistency, and sheer technical ability, one of the great food bargains of London. It's a victim of its own success perhaps but that was always likely to be the case in this part of town, and I should point out in the interests of fairness that a solo repeat visit at lunchtime was a much more sedate and comfortable affair, sat at the bar chugging back a pork and miso bowl with seasonal greens (that would be lots and lots of watercress then) before heading off happy and full.

And look if you don't like queuing or noise or elbows, there's always the Soho branch, which is still brilliant and has a slightly more expanded and ambitious menu with ingredients like duck and beef tendon to dazzle and delight. There's also a branch in the Bloomberg Arcade and I've never been but you know what, that's probably pretty amazing too. Koya are one of London's real gems, food of thoughtfulness and invention and skill served for a ludicrously small amount of money, and if that makes them ludicrously oversubscribed too well, that's just the price we'll have to pay. And I'd pay it happily, over and over again.


Thursday 4 November 2021

Fatt Pundit, Covent Garden

The clocks have gone back, and with them the last opportunity to have dinner in the daylight until well into 2022. For most normal people, eating in low light isn't much of an issue - in fact in some parts of the world (hello New York City) the attitude seems to be that the more difficult it is to see your dinner, the better it must be - but it does make my job as a food blogger that bit more challenging when I'm singing the praises of dishes that look on the blog like something from the pages of an old medical textbook.

So I did my very best in Photoshop with the collection of murky shots I came back with from Fatt Pundit, but you're just going to have to take my word for it that it all tasted much better than my terrible photos would suggest, and that if you're relatively new to Indo-Chinese cuisine (as I was) then you can hardly do any better than beginning your journey here.

First, a little backstory. The Hakka people have a history of migration - sadly not always of their own choice - across China, South East Asia and the rest of the world. We were told that there were quite large populations in Kolkata at one time, until the Sino-Indian war in the 60s forced them out and a fair number settled further south in places like Kerala and Goa. Each time they moved they absorbed some element of the local cuisine, whether it's the use of tikka spicing from the north, or the coconut sauces from the coastal south. The Indo-Chinese staple "momo" are essentially dim sum dumplings with things like spiced goat stew (above) or chicken taking the place of minced pork & prawn, with a choice of dips - an earthy sesame, and a tomato and chilli. Oh, and they're absolutely bloody great, with good firm pastry work containing a deliriously rich and satisfying filling.

"Crackling spinach" was spinach treated to a chaat-style dressing of yoghurt, tamarind and pomegranete seeds. At first it seemed like an intimidating mound of food until you realise the spinach had been baked crisp (think crispy kale) and so it was all delightfully light and easy to eat.

Salt and pepper okra was next, neat little things delicately and greaselessly fried, coated in a worryingly addictive seasoning and served alongside one of those brilliant coriander chutneys that only the very best kitchens get right. This was another good illustration, too, of how the Indo-Chinese thing works - recognisably Indian ingredients treated to traditionally Chinese techniques - producing something genuinely new (to me at least) and exciting.

Bombay chilli (I hope they don't mind me correcting their spelling, I assumed 'Bombay chilly' was a typo) prawns took the fusion brief and pushed it even further. Plump, perfectly cooked prawns came with a glossy sauce presumably containing corn starch and soy but definitely spiked with Sichuan peppers, had all the initial appearances of a solidly Chinese dish. But somehow, this was not simply a Sichuan sauce, it had a definite seam of Indian spices running through and between the Chinese elements, and it all added up to an incredibly complex experience.

The Kolkata chilli (ditto) chicken did a similar thing for poultry. The chicken was nicely cooked, but this was really all about that glossy corn starch (again, I'm guessing) and this time smoked dark soy sauce spiked with who knows what other north Indian spices, a really exceptional bit of work and a very impressive dish.

Of the mains that we tried, perhaps these lamb chops were the most traditionally Indian overall, but even these came seasoned with "black bean dust" alongside the usual array of tikka spices. And they were absolutely incredible, cut two bone-thick, charred from the tandoor on the outside, pink and soft inside, literally everything you'd want from a portion of lamb chops. Also, a pretty huge portion for £15.50.

If I was to have my time again the only change I'd make was to have these rabbit wonton before the other mains. Unlike the prawns and chicken, and certainly unlike the lamb, the sauce they came with was soft and refined in order (presumably) not to overshadow the delicate gamey flavour of the rabbit. Still lovely, of course, but alongside everything else a bit subdued. Unfortunately, the timing of the dishes is not under your control - like many small plates places the dishes just appear as and when the kitchen decides, and so comes my only real complaint about Fatt Pundit. For a menu of such contrasts, it's a shame you can't either control the order in which dishes appear, and you aren't really given any advice as to what to eat before what. Only a minor niggle, perhaps, but one that makes the experience of eating there just that little less perfect.

We didn't have room for dessert, but we were able to glance at the "Snowflake gelato sizzling brownie" from across the room, and let me tell you I'm definitely leaving space for it next time because it looked - and smelled - spectacular. I've had a soft spot for Snowflake since an ice cream tour of Soho a few years back, so I'm sure this collaboration was successful.

I'm sure there'll be more than a handful of you who will be wondering where on earth I'd been hiding in order for Fatt Pundit to be my first experience of Indo-Chinese cuisine. In fact, none other than Darjeeling Express' Asma Khan used to do Indo-Chinese meals at her supperclub in the days before Chef's Table and visiting Marvel superheroes. What can I say - I should get out more.

But I got there eventually and consider myself a firm fan. Everything we had was carefully cooked and genuinely different, a fusion restaurant where everything, from the menu to the cutlery (brilliantly you're given chopsticks and a knife and fork, depending on which end of Indo-Chinese you feel like leaning towards) made absolute sense. Already on their second branch, the fact they're managing to expand during a pandemic (and chronic Brexit-fuelled staff shortages) speaks to an operation at the very top of its game. Long may it continue.


I was invited to Fatt Pundit and didn't see a bill.