When someone says "Japanese food", people often think of sushi. Although sushi is a beautiful delicacy that's changed food internationally, there's more to Japanese cuisine than sushi. I think of Japanese comfort food, such as udon. Isn't udon just ramen?
No. Please don't think that. I noticed that in London, people often interchange the words. They are oh so very different and that's a good thing because you're expecting two different experiences.
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What about udon makes it comfort food? It's made of a clear, delicate dashi broth unlike ramen, which is often a beef or pork-based broth with several toppings. The dashi broth done right makes udon taste like home cooking as opposed to instant.
Udon also uses thick, white noodles with a chewy texture that soaks up the flavor of the broth as opposed to the thinner ramen noodles. When it's chilly and raining in London, I immediately seek out a bowl of udon. Here, I'll tell you exactly where to go.
When you're in Soho and you ask someone where to find udon, many people know to go to Koya Soho. It has an authentic Japanese small eatery look and feel, where the seats are placed only around the kitchen bar and not as separate tables. It's comfortable to come with a just a friend or two and also on your own for a quick lunch.
You know every customer is there to do some serious eating as strangers sit shoulder to shoulder nearly touching in these tight spaces. There's no such thing as personal space here, which makes you feel like you're back in Asia in a food stall. If you want a quick bite to grab on a cold rainy day, this place is a good idea.
I ordered the Kitsune (sweet tofu and spring onions) with tamago (poached egg). The broth was clean, well seasoned, but a bit more soy sauce based than dashi based. The tamago was poached perfectly where it was fully cooked yet very delicate. I put it right into my udon and cut it with my spoon like it was pudding .
The udon noodles had a great chew and soaked up the flavor of the broth. It warmed me up after having walked around Soho in the cold all morning. At a little shy of £10, this meal also didn't hurt my wallet.
If you're looking for a quick bite while walking around London to satiate your appetite on a cold day, this is a great place to go. I would give it 4 out of 5 stars for meeting my expectations of udon, but it wasn't the most memorable experience either.
If you're around the Liverpool or Moorgate tube stations, which is the financial district area of London, there's a great pit stop for a quick lunch at Kano Udon on Liverpool Street. It's right outside of the Liverpool station in the middle of a busy area filled with several shops for hair cuts, nails, food, etc.
During lunch hour, this place has a line (queue) going out the door. So, you may want to check it out off peak lunch hours. That's also key to knowing is going to be a pretty good meal.
When you walk in, it seems a bit worn down but it actually gives character to the storefront. London has a sense of pride in its history, and the worn out but clean interior shows you this place has been serving Londoners for year.
There are countertops facing along two of the walls, which are used as tables and a handful of stools for customers. You're greeted with a warm "konichiwa" from a kind, older gentleman, who takes your order from a small menu board and has your food ready in under 5 minutes.
Personally, I love when the menu is just a small board with a handful of options to choose from. That shows this restaurant has perfect those dishes and those dishes are fresh as opposed to have a 12-page menu where all of the food is of mediocre quality.
I ordered the vegetable tempura udon because I wanted to try out the vegetarian options for my vegetarian friends. The udon noodles have a nice chewy texture, which is something I hoped for. The broth has the dashi flavour typical of great udon broth. This broth was the best I had tried so far in London.
It felt homemade like the chef had taken time and care to flavor this just right. The vegetable tempura surprisingly added a umami flavor to the entire dish, which I didn't expect. With this meal coming out to under £9 and me leaving with a full stomach, it's safe to say that I was satisfied.
A hidden gem for me is always YoKoya in Camden. I described it in detail in another post called the Best Japanese Izakaya in London. By far, it has the most authentic sweet and deep udon broth with chewy noodles.
The dish is seasoned and topped perfectly with shrimp tempura. When that tempura mixes in with the udon broth, you get that umami flavour that describing in words doesn't give it justice. It just makes your heart and palate very happy. They have vegetarian options for all of my vegetarian friends out there as well.
Taking the trek over to these places in the cold, wet weather was well worth it. What better way to warm yourself up than with a deeply flavoured, delicious, clean broth and excellently paired chewy noodles? When the weather calls for it, I'm going to make my trip back over again. If you're ever in Soho, Camden, or by the Liverpool tube station and you need a quick, cheap, warm bite, there's no going wrong with some tasty udon. When you try it out, I hope you feel that it was well worth the trip. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.
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