Lunch at Koto

 Taro reviews the “little corner of Japan in North Parade”

A few weeks ago, I had a really lovely meal at Koto with the fairly lovely Naomi. It was so lovely in fact that I wanted to share it with you all.

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Naomi kindly treated me to the meal which made it taste all the better, particularly because the cost of the dishes averaged above £9. And that was not including white rice for those dishes which are usually accompanied by it. It is (sadly), however, a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a desire for Japanese cuisine of reasonable quality in the UK, must be prepared to pay out into the double figures. Koto’s quite high prices then, while they should not be a source of pride for the restaurant, should not be a source of prejudice for us either. (Two points to you if you got the reference.)

The particular dish we had was the Koto’s lunch time speciality – ramen!!!! (Regrettably, every mention of ‘ramen’!!!! must be followed by four exclamation marks. It’s annoying I know, but I don’t make the rules.)

The ramen!!!! of Koto, however, certainly deserved its four exclamation marks. Look at mine – isn’t it beautiful? It was the Koto Paitan ramen!!!. This cost an, all things considered, pretty reasonable £9.80 (not including service charge).

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The noodles are handmade in-house and they were as bouncy as a bouncy castle. Really excellent, certainly the best ramen!!!! noodles I’ve had in the UK (sorry Ippudo). The men of course is the other half of the divine marriage that is ramen!!!!, and it stood toe to toe with its bouncy spouse. Not too bone-y or salty – the usual pit falls of  a bone broth men – just unctuous chickeny-ness so fukai (deep) that it was almost oceanic. Men is such a tricky thing to balance because it has to be a lot stronger than normal soup to sufficiently flavour the noodles. If you try and make the men normal soup strength (a mistake I have made in the past) it is likely that you will have under-flavoured noodles. However, if it’s too strong, it becomes quite an unpleasant experience. Does a men exist which is as drinkable as normal soup, but strong enough to flavour the noodles? That is the ideal for which every ramen!!!! maker strives, but like most ideals I fear that it does not exist in the real world. Having said that, however, this came pretty damn close. I slurped it happily, much to Naomi’s un-amusement.

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But Naomi should be reminded that slurping of course BOTH allows you to eat the noodles immediately as they served catching them in their brief window of perfect cooked-ness AND aerates the men to fully activate the flavour. It may sound vulgar, but it’s actually respectful to the food.

The chashu serving was generous and delicious. The egg, however, I thought was under-marinated. The bowl was lovely – it was actually pottery. That might seem like a given, but in a certain popular chain whose name begins with Waga and ends in Mama, ramen (horrible ramen which still costs £9.75 and doesn’t deserve the exclamation marks) is served in a plastic bowl that is made to look like pottery – unbelievable, I know.

I had bit of Naomi’s too. She got the vegetarian version of theTokyo Shoyu Ramen. I assume the noodles were the same. The soup was not bad for a vegetarian one and the serving of aburaage was generous. She seemed to like it. It was, however, clearly inferior to mine; but that is not an indictment of Koto, more a lesson that it’s just best not to be a vegetarian.

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The service was impeccably Japanese, which is really the highest compliment any waiter service can be paid. They even spoke to us in Japanese from the off, which was a little thing but made a big difference to us who are often addressed in English in Japan.

For scoring we could say:

Service 5/5

Noodles 4.6/5

Men 4.3/5

Toppings 4.15/5

Overall score 4.8/5.

This would be a scoring system in the style of the Chicken Connoisseur where subjective numerical valuations are given to decimal places and the overall score is not actually the average of the sub scores. But, of course, that is a stupid system so we are going with the classic overall integer score out of five: 5/5. (Chicken Connoisseur has attracted our ire because he was racist towards Asians.)

If you’re ever in Oxford, we highly recommend that you pay a visit.





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