Category Archives: Japanese

Koya Bar. Living in is-ness

I left London three months ago; in as much as I could leave a city that had become part of me over the seven years I lived there. As I began to map my two weeks back, around meals and friends I would eat them with, I realised that I have spent a lot of my life going back. Back to the same cities, back to favourite restaurants, back to old lovers. It’s never the same though.

The city doesn’t change, a favourite meal still tastes good, and old lovers are just as happy to see me – but it’s never the same. I remember London as picture perfect, sans the years of lonely meals and freezing walks in the rain. I am excited about dinner with a lover, having clearly forgotten his refusal to commit any feelings. I order cocktails in my favourite bar, and then…. reality kicks in.

The truth is that today rarely matches up to my airbrushed memory of its yesterday. And yet, I spend so much time trying to recreate perfect experiences; seldom focusing instead, on what is.

On a day when London was especially bleak, I abandoned the temptation of puncturing the memory of a comfortable old favourite with its reality. Not convinced I could revisit a place without “going back”, I chose somewhere new. I walked into Koya Bar – a cosy collection of 24 low stools arranged around an open kitchen. The noodle bar almost forces you to eat in the moment, urging you to leave your baggage at the door.

I started with Otsukemono (homemade pickles), £2.90 and a delicious Kakuni (cider braised pork belly), £6.90 washed down with a chilled Kirin, £4.60. Then I waited patiently as the chef decided on the right moment to serve me Kinoko Atsu-Atsu (mushroom with walnut miso in hot broth), £11.60. The beautiful bowl arrived with hot udon noodles that are made in the traditional manner, dough kneaded by foot. “This is such a leisurely dish,” I said to myself several times as I mixed the large lump of walnut miso into the broth. After my first slurp I was lost in the dish, coming up for air only when the last mushroom had disappeared.

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Each dish is layered with complexity, but presented with such an effortless style, that you can’t help but pay attention to what is. This spirit of is-ness comes from the kitchen and its attention to detail. The dashi would not be as fresh and their umami-rich stock would not have the power to cleanse away your worries if the chefs were somewhere else in spirit.

I left inspired. Determined to not let would-ness and was-ness from taking over the is-ness of my life.

-p

Koya Bar on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Communal tables, Japanese, London, Noodles, Open kitchen, Soho London

Bone Daddies. Food for thought

Except for a trip to the hospital and a short hobble across the street, a sprained ankle ensured I did not leave my apartment for over two weeks. This was the longest period of time I have spent in a small space, mostly on my own. And in this quiet, silent place I realised that there are many things I don’t say even to myself because I’m afraid of what they would say about me.

I am envious of her success.
I don’t have a single original idea.
I cheated on my first boyfriend.

The noise in my head was deafening and I had to leave for somewhere so loud that I would not be able to hear myself think. London’s Soho is exactly that. An area I would never venture into by choice on a Saturday night, today this tourist hell provided just the comfort I needed. After several hours wandering streets where frozen yoghurt parlours and cupcake shops fight for the same footfall as sex shops and The Pleasure Lounge, I finally got hungry.

Bones Daddies isn’t exactly new but London has been noodle-mad for over half a year and this ramen star by ex-Nobu & Zuma chef Ross Shonhan was still rammed. The best part about being a table for one is that even when a restaurant has queues around the block, they will always find a seat to squeeze me into.

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Thanks to almost every London restaurant reviewer and food blogger having already waxed eloquent about Bone Daddies, I knew exactly what I was goin to eat even before I was seated. I skipped the starters (soft shell crab and fried chicken have most votes) and went straight for the Tantanmen ramen (£11) and Pickles (£3) (It says homemade pickles on the menu, but that term looks ridiculous on restaurant menus. Urr… whose home exactly?)

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I started with the pickles (eight different kinds and all yum) and a Maiken-Me cocktail (£7.80) of shochu, umeshu and watermelon. It was more mandarin-y than watermelon-y and a bit too sweet for me. In anticipation of my ramen I reached for the bottle of rubber bands to pull my hair back (a genius idea apparently imported from Japanese izakayas). The table also has other cute extras like a garlic crusher and a sesame grinder.

You can choose from seven different broths and I recommend you begin with the chicken-stock based Tantanmen. When the bowl arrived, it looked too glorious to disturb with a spoon and chopsticks, A few seconds of that, and it was too glorious for me not to attack with a spoon and chopsticks. The broth is fragrant with sesame and so delicious that I could not slurp/chew fast enough. The pork was juicy and while it could have done with a little more chilli one wasn’t complaining. I really do prefer this to the more common Tonkotsu broth. The purists say the ramen is better elsewhere, but I’m no noodle expert and in this instance, taste trumped truth.

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My excellent waiter suggested a black sesame soft serve to end, and even though it was exactly what my heart needed… I had to listen to the tummy this once.

There is nothing subtle about Bone Daddies. But even the luscious meal and pounding rock and roll soundtrack couldn’t drown out my thoughts forever. So as I reluctantly leave, I wonder…

Am I curious enough?
Will I ever be good enough? (For what?)
Sometimes, can just love be enough?

-p

Bone Daddies on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Cocktails, Communal tables, Japanese, London, Noodles, Soho London

Back to the table

I cannot remember the exact moment I fell in love with food but I am certain it happened over a meal with my mother and her family. I do not know a more gregarious bunch of people so in love with “the meal”. Menu requests for the family’s Saturday Lunch would start coming in on a Tuesday. Screaming matches that started with martinis and escalated over prawn curry rice, almost always ended with the ras malai. And as they left, way past tea time, each one would say, “Too much eating. I’m going on a diet from Monday.

A trip to any restaurant with Ma’s family is unequivocally embarrassing for everyone present – no subject is taboo and none of them came with a volume control. But these meals were also honest, heart-warming, and hilarious. Quite different from my father’s family that still believes the best place for any discussion is under a carpet. I think I know everything I do about speaking my mind from witnessing the unabashed display of emotions at meals with Ma’s family. Consequently, the only setting I associate with dealing with problems is a meal… and it was time for me to go back to the table.

All my working life I have shied away from working for/with either parent. I did not like what was left of their lives after they were done at the office. I also did not like how, slowly, the lines between home and office blurred then disappeared. Those who know me well know that work has never been my priority. I have worked very hard at jobs that I madly love just so that these jobs will allow me to lead the rest of my life exactly as I want it. At the annual reviews at work I always say that the only was I can assure my 200% commitment to the office is if the office can assure me a life outside of work.

Not surprisingly this has been often misinterpreted as a lack of ambition, a shirking of responsibilities, a fear of failing at the company’s Partnership Track. Kindly and diligently I have gone about my world, not allowing such negativity to interfere with it (too much). This week I celebrate my 4th anniversary with HVS. In this time I have been promoted from a position that didn’t quite exist to a position that desperately needed to exist; without trying to, I have proved my detractors wrong. And yet, instead of elation all I have is a sinking feeling in my heart that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

I have suddenly found my work/life balance completely out of whack because against every dream my work has sneaked into top place while the rest of me seems to be gasping for air. I have to either change the way my work works, or change the way I feel about it. And the only place I could make this decision was back at a Table for ONE.

I had a James Bond moment as I walked into Umu “the only Kyoto style restaurant in the UK”. Discreet doesn’t begin to describe the entrance. When I finally found the front door it took me a few more minutes to realise I needed to wave my hand over a thingamebob that opened the door with the softest swoosh. I first visited Umu only a few days ago with my mum, Thomas, Chris and Akiko.

Umu’s specialty is a tasting menu but instead I chose a selection of Appetizers, Sashimi and some Modern Sushi: Foie gras custard, brown crab, ginger sauce (£13), Fried oysters, yuzu vinaigrette, chives, ginger (£6), Usuzukuri: thinly sliced fillet of white fish, chirizu & wasabi-soy sauce (£12), Diced scallop, tofu, ginger sauce, sesame seeds, mustard cress (£5.50) and Seared tuna, Maitake mushroom, kinome (£4.50). Each course revealed itself like a pearl glistening in its shell. I feel almost possessive about this meal that exposed such overwhelming flavours that I can neither compare nor describe.

I cannot remember the last time I lost myself in a meal as I did at Umu. As I washed down a delicious scoop of their matcha green tea ice cream with a glass of Riesling I felt the air fill my lungs again.

-p

Umu on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Japanese, London, Open kitchen, Restaurant