For all fellow lovers of Koya out there, I’m sure you have been equally saddened by the news of Koya closing at the end of May and the return of the talented Chef Junya to his homeland in Japan.
I was however excited to hear about the Thai Special Blackboard Takeover by @theskinnybib – “Izakaya bangcock” using a combination of Japanese techniques, fresh British and European produce and banging Thai inspired flavours.
We arrived just before noon, unaware that the opening time was pushed back to 12.30pm – good thing we arrived early though and stayed at the front as the queue was unsurprisingly building up as the time passed by…
There were of course plenty of tables to seat almost everyone in the queue, but I already knew where I was going to head towards.
It has been a while since the last time when I was at my ‘regular spot’ at The BackBench – the last one was held in March, the 12th and last Backbench event. I was clearly sad when it ended, but glad that I was able to enjoy all but one of them – I was pretty chuffed with my record!
The kitchen was buzzing as usual, Perm looking rather focused at the front (and I’m sure very excited inside!) as his Blackboard Specials would be served to the first round of customers of the day.
| Brown Trout “Nare-Sushi” with Kaffir Lime Dressing |
The trout had a really smooth and melt-in-your-mouth soft texture. It was soaked in fermented rice which had a slight sweet and tangy flavour. I really enjoyed this with the combination of the heat from the chilli and the aroma of the kaffir dressing.
| Tempura of Young & Wild Spring Leaves with Chilli & Peanut Salt |
Tim who was sat next to us kindly let us have a little taste of his tempura dish. I have always loved the unique tempura dishes served at Koya, using freshly foraged ingredients and deep fried in that light and crisp batter. A really more-ish kind of dish that I could snack on all day.
| Koya Style “Som Tam” Salad with Pickled Blue Velvet Crab |
Som tam salad is one of my favourite Thai dishes, and this version had English asparagus, rhubarb and kohlrabi – the use of rhubarb gave it a bit more of a sharper taste. Quite a refreshing dish, although I personally would have liked it to have a bit more of a spicy kick to it – I blame my Asian taste buds.
| Herbal & Udon Stuffed Chicken Wing Gyoza |
I really enjoyed this dish which was one of my favourites – deliciously well marinated chicken wings stuffed with herbs and udon. I have had a similar version stuffed with rice before back in Asia, and this tasted just as good, or even better. The stuffing was sealed really well in the wings and each mouthful was a burst of aromatic flavours.
| Thai Style Nettle Omelet in Dashi |
Another sneaky taste of Tim’s dish that we did not order! Fried in hot oil resulting in a perfectly browned and fluffy omelette, and soaked in Koya’s deliciously clean and comforting signature dashi.
Such a simple dish yet highly addictive and I wished that I had ordered one for myself!
I believe that it was a favourite from the Blackboard Specials for many other diners.
| “English Jungle” Curry with Wild Rabbit, Burdock, Dandelion & Thistle |
I do enjoy a good and rich curry, but I also like jungle curries, also known as kaeng pa, a variety of Thai curry originating from northern Thailand. It does not coconut milk and is more watery with a nice level of spiciness to it. The rabbit was tender and overall a really fragrant dish.
| Northern Thai “Hung Lay” Kakuni |
Regular customers at Koya will most definitely have tried the much loved Buta Kakuni (braised pork belly with cider). This dish had a Northern Thai inspired twist to it, a rich yellow curry based pork belly, packed with fragrant herbs and spices. The pork was, as expected, amazingly soft and tender, paired with sweet pickled new season garlic.
| Junya’s Seafood “Tom Yum” Udon |
After wiping clean all of the other small dishes, it was time for the finale – Junya’s Seafood “Tom Yum” Udon! An udon dish like no other, brimming with a variety of fresh seafood, tomatoes and combined with my all-time favourite tom yum flavours.
We did the sensible thing and ordered a bowl each, because a hearty bowl of udon was never meant to be shared…
The ultimate comfort food.
Our bellies were full to the brim with satisfaction by the time we slurped every single last drop of that udon dish. A really unique collaboration and overall great food experience.
Kudos to both Chef Junya and Perm for all their hard work!
I am definitely going to miss this place a lot when it closes, but at the same time excited to hear about the news that the more relaxed Koya Bar, headed by Chef Shuko Oda, will soon be expanding.
I will hopefully be making a few more trips back to Koya and savour each meal before it closes.
Thank you Chef Junya for all the good food and amazing BackBench experiences over the last year. I am sure that I like many others look forward to your return to the London scene soon!
The Cheekster, signing out x