Koya

Why go here:

For authentic Japanese udon noodles

What it looks like:

Its styled like a Japanese cafe with the long wooden sharing tables, white walls with wall hangings comprising mainly of the regular menu and daily specials written on scrolls and an open kitchen. Last time I went, I observed that a lot of my fellow diners were Japanese which I took as a sign for the food being authentic. The cafe only has 25 seats though and doesn’t take reservations, so expect to queue for a while.

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The food:

Having waited in the queue for more than half an hour, we were starving so went straight for the udon. There are cold or hot udon noodles which are served in hot or cold broths. I ordered the Kinoka Atsu-Atsu (hot udon in hot broth) which came in a mushroom and walnut miso flavoured broth. The udon was served with in a clear broth loaded with fresh, crispy mushrooms. The walnut miso was provided as a thick paste in a little bowl on the side, so one can add it in as per their taste. The paste was warm, earthy and sweet and the ground walnut had a pleasant, distinctive taste. I added in all the paste to my broth and was hoping there was more since I couldn’t taste the walnut as strongly anymore. Alas, there was no more and so, I had to make do with some chilli soy sauce instead. Here’s a tip- don’t eat the paste on its own before adding it to your noodles, because then you’ll always find the flavour to be too mild in this diluted form.

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The dish was filling and yummy nonethless and felt not too rich. It was almost like a healthier version of ramen for me. The noodles were also thicker and prepared more al-dente. I also ordered some Japanese tea which was nicer than the standard Green tea served in Chinese eateries and came in a cute little kettle.

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My friend opted for the Kitsune udon dish that was filled with fresh, sweet tofu and zesty spring onion.

Koya also serves an English Breakfast Udon with eggs, bacon and mushrooms- one for the morning people.

Verdict:

Koya focuses on only one thing and excels in it. Prices are cheap for Soho and the portion sizes are big. You do feel like you’ve been transported to Tokyo when dining here. Noodle lovers- get yourselves to Koya.

Chotto Matte

Why go here:

For fusion Japanese and Peruvian food. What a unique combination!

What it looks like:

Stepping into Chotto Matte feels almost like stepping into a VIP club. The glossy black floor, the funky wall art, the disco ball like bulbs and the stylish diners all add to this high-end club like feel to the place.

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A special mention for the toilets- most interesting of any London hotel or restaurant I’ve ever been to. You are led to the toilets through a corridor with fluorescent lights projecting artwork onto the walls. Once inside, the cubicles themselves have all shiny, black doors but more importantly, are extremely heavy! I almost got stuck in the cubicle but was able to push after five, painfully long minutes of extremely wrestling with the door knob and panicking.

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The food:

The dishes are all small plates – some primarily Japanese or Peruvian and some combining the two. Since we’d had Japanese as well as Peruvian on their own before, we decided to order the fusion dishes, i.e. those of Nikkei cuisine. We started with the Tostaditas- small tacos but with a confluence of Japanese and Latin American toppings. First up was the Tuna Tostadita- with Tuna sashimi, jalapeno, coriander and wasabi. It was pretty amazing to see how all these different ingredients had been packed on top of one of little taco and also how well the flavours worked together.

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Our second one was the Tomato and Kumquat Tostadita with coriander and chive oil, which was as colorful and as fun a mouthful as the first one.

Our next dishes were from the Nikkei BBQ section- the Pollo den miso and the Maize Huancaina. The Miso chicken came with a yellow chilli salsa and a fine slaw of carrot and daikon, which is a mild sweet-sharp Japanese radish. The Maize was cooked in coriander and garlic butter and served with a yummy cheesy dip.

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Our favourite dish, however, was the Barriguita de chanchito, which consisted of tender pork belly barbecued with Peruvian chilli peppers and garnished with a pear and tomato salsa. The pork was soft and superbly crisp-skinned and the marinade was absolutely gob-smacking.

We also ordered some Yuca Frita, i.e. bowl of Cassava chips served with  a smoked panca (Peruvian pepper) dip. These were some of the chunkiest and largest chips I’d ever had, not to mention very tasty, since Cassava is sweeter and more flavourful than potatoes. This is a good side because the rest of the dishes are pretty small.

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Verdict:

Nikkei cuisine is colorful and fun and very delicious. The extensive menu together with the unique dishes and the snazzy vibes of Chotto Matte, makes eating here a must-have dining experience.

Archipelago

Why go here:

To try exotic meats – there’s kangaroo to alpaca to crocodile on the menu.

What it looks like:

The restaurant is filled with cultural artefacts from all over the world. There are antiques like wooden giraffes, peacock feathers, Moroccan wall hangings and other random knick knack in every nook and corner of the place.

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The food:

You’ve got to be adventurous if you’re coming to eat here. While the menu does include some ‘safe’ dishes like the Massaman Chicken or the Malaysian-style Confit Duck, I was intent on trying the dishes I couldn’t get anywhere else. So, going in with that mindset, I ordered the Crocodile in Vine leaves and the Python Carpaccio for starters. The Crocodile meat was soft and flaky and was served with honey poached plums and pickled samphire, a crisp vegetable that grows in coastal areas.

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The Python looks like banana slices and tastes like chicken except much tougher. The accompanying green tea and wasabi crackers with olive puree were definitely the easier to digest components of the dish.

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For mains, we tried the Kangaroo Skewers and the Jerked Alpaca. The kangaroo was marinated in an Israeli sauce made of peppers and garlic and was served with candied beetroot and a red onion farofa, which happens to be a Brazilian dish made with maize-flour couscous. I found the kangaroo meat to be similar to lamb and quite succulent from the marination.

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The jerked alpaca came wrapped in a leafy bowl and topped with a cornmeal slice. There were plantain chips or Patecones on side along with a slab of buttermilk jelly, which tasted very much like Tofu. The alpaca was pretty fiery but the heat was offset pretty well by the creamy cornmeal slice and the buttermilk jelly.

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While we couldn’t brave the love-bug salad, we did order some coconut rice with a sprinkling of ants on the side, which were  surprisingly nice and crispy and tasted almost like breadcrumbs.

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Dessert was the Medieval Hive, which consisted of brown butter ice cream served with a beautifully silky honey and butter caramel sauce and all topped with a baby bee, the latter of which I very kindly let my friend enjoy all to himself. The ice cream and caramel sauce were to die for though!

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Verdict:

This place is a gem for all the adventurous foodies out there. The fusion of cuisines and the use of understated and unexplored ingredients makes the food here all the more fun. Dining here is definitely an experience and it explains why the restaurant has been referred to as one of London’s most romantic settings.

Bone Daddies

Why go here:

If you like ramen, this is one of the best places to have it in London. If you haven’t had ramen before, you must make a trip to this restaurant and you’ll no doubt be converted to a devotee.

What it looks like:

The place is quite small and works on a no-reservations basis, hence expect to queue for a while. But service is fast and the high stool seating as well as the lack of a bar mean that this isn’t a venue where people would eat and chat for hours, so you will  certainly get in under half an hour in most cases. The decor is rock inspired and so is the music. Oh, and they have bibs for those that might be worried of spilling their ramen broth onto their clothes. I think they are a great idea since the ramen is pretty tricky to eat without the spilling and splashing.

The food:

We tried two of the highly recommended dishes- Tonkotsu Ramen which uses a base broth made using pork slowly cooked for 20 hours and the Tantenmen, a sesame flavoured chicken broth. Both of the ramens lived up to the hype- the broth was creamy, the noodles were thick and bursting with flavours of sesame oil, spring onion and garlic and the eggs on top were just the right level of runny.

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Verdict:

Due to the queuing, the stool-only seating and the loud rock music, this is probably not the place to take your mum or your first date but it’s perfect if you’re out for a meal with your friends or on one of the later dates or even if you’re dining solo. This is one of the most authentic ramen bars in London and is a must try for all noodle lovers out there!

Inamo

Why go here:

For the interactive, touch screen tables that allow you to order dishes from your seat, play games while you wait for the food to arrive(great distraction for awkward dates) and even order a cab and find nearby bars!

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Touchscreen tables you can play games on!

The food:

Inamo serves fusion food, wih primarily Japanese flavours. For starters, we ordered the Seared Salmon Maki and the Hosomaki. The latter was good but the blow-torched salmon in the former wasn’t as flavourful as we’d imagined, most likely due to the fish not being quite as fresh.

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Seared Salmon Maki

For mains, we got the Rainbow Trout with Yuzu and the  Berkshire Pork Neck. For those that haven’t had Yuzu before but enjoy experimenting like us, a warning:- Yuzu, the special ingredient of the dish is a rare and expensive citrus fruit which happens to be so sour, it heavily dominates the rest of the dish and the completely masks the flavour of the rainbow trout.

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Rainbow Trout with Yuzu

The flavours in the pork neck dish on the other hand, were beautiful.   The spicy chocolate sauce complements the succulent grilled pork meat very well and the contrast offered by the crushed wasabi peas helps enhance the sweetness of the meat.

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Pork Neck with chocolate sauce and wasabi peas

Verdict:

A must visit, if not for the fusion Japanese then for the unique experience. Great place to take a date or family members since you’re guaranteed that there won’t be a moment of boredom!