Coco Ichibanya – New Japanese Curry Joint in Town!

30 09 2011

*This was an invited tasting by Coco Ichibanya

You know whenever Japanese cuisine is mentioned, one immediately thinks of sushi and sashimi, and maybe to a lesser extent, ramen, soba and udon. But did you know that based on a survey done in 2005, it was found that the Japanese eat curry 125 times a year? Quite surprising huh?

Given Japan’s rich heritage, it’s fair to say that their obsession with curry doesn’t go back a long way. Curry has been a recent development for them and while most might guess that it was probably introduced to Japan by Buddhist Indian pilgrims or Chinese Monks who had visited India, you are grossly mistaken. Ironically, it was actually introduced to Japan by the British in the late 1800s-early 1900s when Japan ended its policy of national self-isolation and was categorized as a western dish. Ever since then, its popularity has grown, possibly due to the fuss-free and quick tasty meal it makes.

So the main takeaway is: Japanese curry is here to stay.

Enter Coco Ichibanya, Singapore’s latest Japanese Curry Joint. With over 1275 outlets worldwide, Coco Ichibanya is the largest curry house in the world! Just to give you a sense of how big this joint is, it’s parent company Ichibanya Co Ltd is a listed company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange with a market capitalization of about S$640m if I did my math correctly. Its first Singapore outlet at 313 Somerset isn’t large, possibly able to accommodate no more than 50 people, catering for quick casual meals that don’t break the bank within the $10-$13++ range.

Coco Ichibanya’s competitive edge lies in its highly customizable menu. Diners can choose from 5 different levels of curry spiciness, different extra toppings in addition to the already extensive menu, and all the way down to the preferred amount of rice. And apart from the 5 different levels of curry, there’s 2 other special curries available, a seemingly tomato-based non-spicy Hiyashi Sauce, and a mild Curry sauce.

My bubbly host May recommended that I try the Creamed Mushroom Omelet (guess Japs spell omelette differently)  Curry ($13++). Initially I was quite apprehensive, as the choice seemed a little too…interesting for my taste. You see I’m more of a traditional katsu curry kind of person but I’m glad I took her advice. The omelette was seriously perfect, timed perfectly such that the texture was silky smooth, just the way I like it. Protected by the outer layer of egg, the rice goes extremely well with the amalgam of creamy mushroom sauce and mild curry.

For the less adventurous, there’s also the more common Pork Cutlet Curry ($12++). We chose a level 2 curry and it was just the right level of spiciness for me. For cutlets, I believe there are 2 extremes, the overly lean types that will just cause you to keep swearing throughout a meal as you try to cut it into smaller bite-sized pieces and the fatty types that leave you wondering if what you ate was just a fried lard katsu. Coco Ichibanya’s cutlets leans more towards the fatty types, which I personally prefer over the overly chewy lean ones. However, compared to the Creamed Omelet Curry, this didn’t excite me as much.

Throw in a few more bucks and diners can opt for set meals, where you get an additional salad, drink and dessert in addition to your main course, which I feel is quite worth it. For drinks, go for the Calpis Water (a yoghurt drink), and the vanilla ice cream here is surprisingly yummy with visible specks of vanilla beans. Quite an unexpected surprise.

Though its operations have been running for a week or so now, the official opening date for Coco Ichibanya is 1st October 2011. Apart from the media launch event, I do believe that there’s going to be some sort of giveaway for the 1st 100 customers, along the lines of 1st customer gets a year of free dining, 2nd-50th get half year, 51th-100th get one month free dining. So if you are around the area, it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

Thanks to Coco Ichibanya and Storm Creative Events for hosting the lunch invitation.

For more information about the launch event, do visit http://www.facebook.com/STORMsg

Bon Appetit!

Coco Ichibanya

313 Somerset #B3-25/26/27

Tel: +65 6636 7280





RamenPlay – Playing with New Menu Offerings

16 09 2011

*This tasting was sponsored by RamenPlay

I have given it much thought, which is my favourite ramen-ya in Singapore? Previously I had concluded that it all boiled down to the big 3, Santouka Ramen, Tampopo and Marutama Ramen, each bearing individual merits, with Santouka at the forefront in terms of their succulent Kurobuta pork cheeks and robust pork bone stock, Marutama for their amazing Tamago which goes well with their Tokyo-style chicken stock ramen, and Tampopo for its rich soup base and lava yolked tamago.

And harbouring a natural prejudice against chain restaurants, Ramenplay didn’t rank highly on my places-to-dine-at-next agenda. But fortunately for me, today I had the opportunity to sample their new menu offerings and uncovered a gem in the making.

We started off with the Okura Mentai ($4.80++), Poached Ladies Fingers topped with a creamy mix of Mayonnaise, Cod Roe and Cheese which is seared for a nice smokey aroma. It’s like Pringles, once you pop, you can’t stop!

Next, we had the Lobster Salad ($6.80++). I was surprised at the generous chunks of Lobster employed for this dish. Mixed with some fish roe and wasabi, wantan skin, radish and cucumbers, it makes for a refreshing start to any meal.

Sprinkling and pouring in the Bonito Flakes, Chives and Shoyu at my own discretion, the Nabemushi Tofu ($6.80++) was one of the smoothest silken tofu’s I have ever come across. The portion is also ridiculously huge, more than enough for most ladies to use as a main dish to be eaten with rice.

I’m more of a chawanmushi person so I preferred the Nabemushi Prawn ($6.80++) which uses egg instead of tofu.

For our last Starter, we had the Ramen Play Bamboo Chicken ($3/piece). Minced chicken is stuffed into the bamboo and subsequently grilled. Think of it as a much more tender version of Tori Q. Using the raw egg yolk as a dip for the chicken adds an extra creamy dimension.

I’m a fan of tonkotsu broth so I very much liked the Cha Shu Tonkotsu Ramen ($10.80++/$13.80++). I was amazed at how tender the Cha Shu turned out, with its layer of fats interlacing between the meat fibres and glistening under the light. I was almost fooled into thinking that the cheat code Kurobuta Pork (used by Santouka and Tampopo) was being used but apparently its just normal pork executed well.

For fans of Pork Cheeks (which I am), you can happily settle for the Toroniku Double Soup Ramen ($16.00++), which comprises of a umami-licious soup base made from shouyu, fish oil and tonkotsu. Apparently, each pig only possesses 200-300g of pork cheeks so it is considered highly prized. Like the Cha Shu, the pork cheeks are braised perfectly as well.

Exhibiting stronger flavours than the usual Hokkaido-styled ramen, Ramen Play achieves this by using 7 different types of Miso in concocting the soup base for their Corn Miso Ramen ($11.80++). The 7 different types of Miso varies in their length of aging and fermentation, with the older darker Misos’ possessing a deeper and more intense flavour. Accompanied by mildly spiced minced pork, chives, black fungus, corn, beansprout, cabbage and carrots, this will definitely appeal to diners who like their ramens spicy.

I believe that not many people are aware that RamenPlay offers many non-ramen dishes. Hence, they are actively trying to move away from their current portrayal of being solely a ramen-ya. The Black Sesame Fried Rice ($10.80++) is made by stir frying rice together with sesame paste, black sesame seeds, eggs and chicken. Premium Niigata Japanese rice is used for this dish, which has a soft texture suitable for making fried rice.

Ironically, my favourite dish here wasn’t the ramen but the Butariki Ishinabe ($12.80++), a stone pot full of sizzling Nigaata rice accompanied by pan-fried and barbequed pork, onion, chives, seaweed topped with a raw egg and doused in a special sauce. Its very much similar to “pepper lunch” style, where you decide how long you want to allowed the rice to cook before mixing the contents of the stone pot. We allowed the rice to sit for a while before stirring to achieve that delightful lightly charred taste.

Youngsters might prefer the Pork Katsu Toji Set ($13.80++), a chewy deep fried pork cutlet with egg on hotplate. This was probably one of the few dishes that failed to impress me today, but then again, Tonkichi has probably spoilt me much with their awesome fried cutlets.

The Chicken Katsu Curry ($12.80++) served here is unlike any Japanese Curry I have eaten. Served with a chicken cutlet over rice and a crispy toast, it’s a fusion of the spicy indian curry and sweet japanese curry, which works pretty well if you find japanese curry way too mild for your tastebuds. But personally, I’m more of a nonya curry person :)

For desserts, I sampled their Black Sesame Pudding ($3.80++) and Yuzu Jelly ($3.80++), which are also available in Green Tea and Soya Bean flavours.

Do order a beverage to accompany your meal. In the order from top to bottom, I tried the Oreo Milkshake ($4.80++), Green Tea Milkshake ($4.80++), Super Yuzu with a shot of Shochu ($4.80++ excluding shochu) and Yuzu Yoghurt ($4.80++). My favourites were the Yuzu Yoghurt and Oreo Milkshake and will definitely order them again on my next visit.

Oreo Milkshake

Green Tea Milkshake

Super Yuzu

Yuzu Yoghurt

The new menu offerings will be made available progressively at the various RamenPlay outlets, 24th September @ 313 Somerset, 27th September @ Nex Mall and 30th September @ Junction 8.

Thanks to RamenPlay for this lunch invitation.

Bon Appetit!

RamenPlay

23 Serangoon Central, #B2-58 Nex Mall

Tel: +65 6634 4089





Fukuichi Japanese Dining – Away from the Orchard crowd

18 04 2011

Fans of Chef John Phua from the now-defunct Shinobu Dining Japanese Restaurant @ PSA Building will be pleased to know that he hasn’t disappeared from the Singapore food scene, and has returned to titillate our tastebuds once more, this time with his relatively new opening, Fukuichi Japanese Dining. The restaurant arm of a partnership formed between a Japanese and Singapore fishery, Fukuichi effectively cuts out the middle man within their operating stream, ensuring a reliable and fresh supply of restaurant produce is always readily available.

We were here to to celebrate C’s birthday. Back in secondary 1, I vividly recall the first time my dad picked him up to go school together with me. His maid carried out his bag for him, much like the recent debacle regarding the NSF and his maid…should have taken a picture and posted it on Stomp but after all, we are just Singaporeans with our pampered ways. It’s been so long since then and C is now a medical student. It’s really astonishing how many friends I know decided to take on the hippocratic oath, but sewing people up and performing rectal examinations isn’t my definition of having a good time. My only comfort is that at least I know or  just hope that good medical advice, potential queue cutting and perhaps even free consultations will be a given in future.

For our dinner, most of us had the Sushi/Sashimi Kami Nabe Course ($60/$68++ for 2 pax).

The first course of the Kani Tofu (Crab Meat Tofu) was excellent! Chilled silky tofu doused with a creamy century egg sauce. I’d recommend ordering this as a side if you decide to go ala carte instead.

Sashimi Moriawase / Sushi Moriawase

Kami Nabe (Choice of Seafood, Beef or Cod). The cod paper pot was quite good though I still think the one at Chikuwa Tei is better because the one over there is boneless and I’m a lazy prick. I didn’t try the beef but it looks appropriately marbled given the price range.

Sanuki Udon which must be simmered in the paper pot before eating.

Dessert of the Day was a Strawberry Mochi.

Some of my friends decided to go ala carte instead. The Hotate Yaki ($15++) or Scallops in Garlic Sauce garnered positive feedback.

Chawanmushi ($6++), one of the prettiest I have seen.

Inari Sushi ($4++) or sweet beancurd skin sushi had positive reviews too.

Tempura Udon ($15++) was so-so.

Fukuichi is a pretty nice place to grab a meal away from the bustling Orchard crowd. My only grouse is that unlike most casual Japanese restaurants, the variety of set meals on offer is rather limited.

Bon Appetit!

FUKUICHI JAPANESE DINING

111 SOMERSET ROAD, #02-11/12 TRIPLEONE SOMERSET

TEL: +65 6271 5586





Chikuwa Tei – Inspiring Japanese Cuisine

10 03 2011

While most restaurants target specific income groups, I find Chikuwa Tei to be highly inclusive of its clientele.

Feeling broke? Settle for a Tempura Udon ($12++) or Saba Set ($12++). For that casual dinner, why not go for the  highly popular Chirashi Set ($25++) or Cod Fish Claypot Set ($24++). For that special occasion, let all hell break loose with Sashimi Platter for 4 pax ($108++) or Otoro Sashimi ($50++). There’s really something for everybody.

After getting seated down, we were given a complimentary serving of otoshi in the form of crunchy lotus roots with chili and light sauce. While some of my friends didn’t fancy this, I on the other hand enjoyed this very light starter.

Sashimi Platter here come in 3 sizes, meant for 2, 3 or 4 pax but you will notice that instead a decreasing price per pax (as you would normally get when buying items in bulk), price per pax actually increases as you get the larger sashimi platters. The reason is because for the larger platters, more types of premium sashimi are included.

The Sashimi Platter for 2 Pax ($38++) consists of Salmon, Tuna, Shrimp, Scallop and one more sashimi I couldn’t identify.

As for the Sashimi Platter for 3 Pax ($78++), in addition to what was available for the above mentioned platter, it also came with Chutoro and Swordfish. Everything was awesome, with the exception of the Swordfish which I found to be a little too fibrous.

If you come from the school of thought of “more is more”, you will definitely enjoy the Chawanmushi ($5++) chocked full of ingredients such as prawns, chicken and Shimeji mushrooms.

The Cod & Vegetable Claypot Set ($24++) is probably the second most popular item after the Chirashi Set. The stock was a mix of sweet and savoury and it was a sheer delight to pick out the very fatty boneless chunks of cod, dipping it lightly in light sauce, and letting it melt in the mouth.

These are some of the items my friends ordered.

The Unagi Teishoku Set ($20++)

Ten Cha Soba ($12++)

Maguro Nakaochi Don ($18++)

Sushi Udon Teishoku ($22++)

Nabe Yaki Udon ($14++)

At the end of the meal, the friendly auntie served us 2 plates of complimentary chilled Mochi with black sesame filling. Not sure if it’s available on the menu, but it’s definitely worth ordering!

The former operators of Wasabi Tei seem to have gotten their act together in creating a class eatery with their inspiring cuisine and amicable service.

Bon Appetit!

CHIKUWA TEI

9 MOHAMED SULTAN ROAD, #01-01

TEL: +65 6738 9395





Izakaya Nijumaru – Is it still a Secret?

24 02 2011

Despite being around for quite some time, I’d still consider Izakaya Nijumaru a tightly held secret amongst the food blogging community, relying solely on word of mouth in garnering its loyal following over the years. If I hadn’t read about it while food blog surfing, I’d definitely have been oblivious to this hidden gem myself.

Izakaya Nijumaru has a simple dining concept; tasty food at affordable prices while offering an extensive selection. The menu is almost entirely in Japanese so if your romaji sucks and you have no idea what’s the difference between an aji and an ika, you will probably find it much easier to just talk the menu through with one of the many “aunties” who are standing around, though they will probably just recommend you something super generic and safe like the Nijumaru Bento or the Unajyu Set.

Started off the meal with a Japanese staple of Chawanmushi($5++). Silky smooth with no visible trapped air bubbles, that’s all I can ask for and that’s what I got.

Ever heard of Japanese Yong Tau Foo? Well, today’s my first time trying it. It’s called Oden($8++) and comes with 7 pieces, from fish cakes, egg, konnyaku (yes its not only used to make Japanese Jelly if that’s what you are thinking. There’s a fine dining chinese restaurant called Xi Yan on Craig Road which serves Salivating Chicken with Konnyaku Noodles which is rather good, but that’s a story better left for another day…) and some other types which are unknown to me. I can imagine this would go down really well on a winter’s day.

I like the Nijumaru Bento($20++). It’s created for people just like me, people who want a bit of everything, from assorted sashimi to tempura, braised pork belly and grilled saba fish. The sashimi was fresh, especially the salmon. I also loved the grilled saba fish, lightly charred and fatty. Was expecting much more from the braised pork belly though, I felt it was a rather tough and rubbery to chew. Tempura was decently executed.

Unagi lovers will be pleased with the Unajyu Set($20++). Two thick slabs of unagi over a generous bedding of rice. The unagi was really quite charred on one side, but my friend dismissed this quickly and rebutted, “aiya same as eating bbq”. Guess it was just too irresistible for my soon-to-be doctor friend, despite being acutely aware of its carcinogenic properties.

So if you are ever hankering for a casual Japanese meal in town, I’d recommend you give those casual Japanese chains you know so well like Sushi Tei, Sakae Sushi or Waraku a miss and try Izakaya Nijumaru instead. After all, every meal is an adventure!

Bon Appetit!

IZAKAYA NIJUMARU

5 KOEK ROAD, #02-10 CUPPAGE PLAZA

TEL: +65 6235 6693





Tatsuya Japanese Restaurant @ Goodwood Park Hotel – Affordable Lunch Bento Sets!

29 12 2010

Barely a month ago, I patronised Aoki in what I felt was one of my most memorable meals this year. Rival Tatsuya Japanese Restaurant lies a 5 minute stroll away, and I was hoping that I would get a meal there comparable to the one I had at Aoki.

Dinner at Tatsuya doesn’t come cheap. A pair of ala-carte Tuna Belly Sushi will set you back by $30. Even the most basic of sushi like the Salmon or Tuna Sushi costs an exceeding $10 per pair.

Lucky for budget conscious students like me, the set lunches here are a different story and a viable option within my spending threshold.

News of the affordable lunch bento sets at Tatsuya seems to have gotten around and it proves to be a popular lunch spot for the well informed. Reservations are highly recommended and if you want to get the full blown Japanese dining experience, request for a counter seat so you can marvel at the culinary skills of the Chefs as they artfully craft their sushi masterpieces.

While Tatsuya is considered a fine-dining Japanese Restaurant, the layout isn’t exactly posh. The aisle for the counter seats are rather cramped and only allows one person to walk through at a time but if claustrophobia is an issue, dining al fresco is also available though there isn’t much of a view. Unlike Aoki where you get undisrupted viewing pleasure of the Chefs at work while sitting at the counter seats, the refrigerations units used to store the Sashimi here is quite a visual hindrance for those who are vertically-challenged.

My lunch kaki today was ex-JC classmate Shiwei. It’s weird that we only became closer after school’s out, I think food might have been a contributing factor. So there you go, no 1 perk of being a foodie; you get to rekindle friendships as you meet up for lunches!

Shiwei had the Sashimi Unagyu Bento($30.90), comprising of Chawanmushi, Sashimi(Salmon, Tuna & Yellowtail), Tempura, Unagi over Rice, Miso Soup and Fruits. Special mention goes to the smooth Yuzu Flavoured Chawanmushi, which held a mildly sweet citrus flavour. The Tempura was good too with a light crisp batter.

I had the Sushi, Yakizakana Bento($28.90), comprising of Chawanmushi, Potato Salad, Tamago, Assorted Sushi, Grilled Cod with Mentaiko, Miso Soup and Fruits. The Sushi was fresh and compact. I really hate it when my sushi starts falling apart after I grab it and dip it in Light Sauce but this problem was not evident here so I was quite pleased. I found the Grilled Cod pretty addictive, bearing a tasty smokey flavour made savoury by the Mentaiko.

Overall, Tatsuya serves a set lunch which is definitely worth visiting but personally, I rather top up a few more dollars for Aoki because the ambience is more elegant, the quality and variety of sashimi given in the set lunches are better and they include a trio of desserts within their set lunch as well.

Bon Appetit!

TATSUYA JAPANESE RESTAURANT

22 SCOTTS ROAD, GOODWOOD PARK HOTEL

TEL: +65 6887 4598





Ippudo – Still not hitting the Mark

23 12 2010

It’s been a year since Ippudo opened its flagship Singapore branch in Mandarin Gallery. Back then, it opened with much fanfare with full page write ups on The Straits Times and I was inevitably lured to see what the commotion was all about during their soft launch, even foregoing a movie ticket (Zombieland) I had purchased as I waited 2 hours in line just for an available seat.

Did it wow me then? The answer is no but one year down the road, I decided it was finally time to pay them a revisit, especially on hearing that standards have gone up and previous teething issues have been sorted out.

This time around, I tried the Shiromaru Kakuni($19.50++) which is a smooth Hakata-style ramen served in Tonkotsu broth. For this ramen, you get a slice of chashu and simmered pork cubes. Having been spoiled by the kurobuta pork cheeks at Santouka and Tampopo, the chashu here wasn’t very impressive. Likewise, the simmered pork cubes was not as tender as I thought it would be. Still, I do see improvements in the texture of the ramen and rich tonkotsu broth since my prior visit. I also liked the fact that like how you can order your steak rare, medium or well done in steakhouses, Ippudo allows you to order your ramen Hard, Medium or Soft to cater for personal preferences.

I made a side order for the Nitamago($2++) aka flavour egg which I feel is essential in completing the whole ramen experience. Sadly, the egg white was overcooked and it pales in comparison to the Nitamago at Marutama and Tampopo.

Also notably pricier than other ramen joints, it will probably be at least another year or more before I do patronise Ippudo again.

Bon Appetit!

IPPUDO

333A ORCHARD ROAD, #04-02/03/04 MANDARIN GALLERY

TEL: +65 6235 2797








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,378 other followers

%d bloggers like this: