Two very different Japanese restaurants have opened in King’s Cross in quick time: at St. Pancras station. a huge udon chain, with 500 restaurants devoted to chewy, bouncy noodles bathed in aromatic broth. At Coal Drops Yard, a single chef in a yellow room hands out bowls of karē raisu, either with beef or without and — some fukujinzuke scattered on top aside — that’s it.
The latter is Hiden Curry Lab, although really it’s Hideaki Yoshiyama’s curry lab. The Osaka-born chef intends Hiden to be as straightforward and specialised as its menu, with its bright yellow space — formerly housing Missy Flynn and Gabe Pryce’s sandwich shop Bodega Rita’s — contrasting what Yoshiyama describes as his “surprising sweet, hot and savoury, rich browny sauce.” As Yoshiyama also details on the restaurant’s website, the dish was introduced to Japan in the Meiji era (1868 - 1912), most likely by military officers serving the colonial rule of the British Raj. Therefore perceived as a “western” dish in Japan, it has since been assimilated into Japanese culture and yoshōku cuisine, with the curry and its variations still synonymous with the sociological shifts that took place in the Meiji era; originally served only to upper classes, its domestic popularity grew widespread through the 1960s with the advent of mixes that people could cook at home.
The former opening is Kineya Mugimaru, which also hails from Osaka but has now amassed over 500 restaurants across Japan. Beating competitor Marugame Udon to the punch, it offers kake udon, in broth; kamaage udon, in which noodles are served in hot water with ginger, spring onion, and dashi dipping sauce alongside; shoga udon with just a splash of broth; and cold zaru udon from a large unit inside St. Pancras. Sides include prawn, squid, or sweet potato tempura; tempura chicken thigh; and neat duos of gyoza.
Both are takeaway only for now, owing to tier three coronavirus restrictions, but Hiden is designed for that model; Kineya Mugimaru will offer seating when it is able.