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

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Flutes at the Fort – Just another Western Brunch Place

23 09 2011

Flutes at the Fort is a hidden enclave located in the heart of town. Very much like Spruce, this green hideaway provides a brief respite for the busy white collared workers in the area from their harsh schedules. It’s definitely not as well known a brunch place compared to Rider’s Cafe or Cafe Epicurious and I would never have known of its existence if not for the SMU Gourmet Club’s decision to host a quiet saturday brunch event here. I was excited about the brunch, for gourmet club events have always been rather fun and provides a great setting to just talk to random strangers and meet new friends.

Flutes at the Fort is not solely a weekend brunch place but caters for lunch and dinner as well. Executive set lunches are available on weekdays at $32/$38++ for 2/3 Courses and going for a 3-course ala carte might set you back $100.

We had the 3-Course Set Brunch, priced at $35++ but with a school’s subsidy, we only had to fork out $20 nett per pax, quite a steal! Well, you must be thinking why would SMU subsidize gourmet meals right? While I don’t have a sure answer to that, I’m guessing that in developing a holistic education in the fields of business, fostering soft skills in students such as dining etiquette and networking skills might be possible reasons. But for whatever the reason, at least I’m making full use of my higher-than-other-local-university tuition fees.

For starters, I chose the US Asparagus with Poached Egg, Smoked Salmon and Hollandaise Sauce. The egg was slightly overdone so the yolk was not as runny as I would have liked it but the Hollandaise sauce was pretty competent. I have tried making it at home before so I know it’s really not that simple, despite being part of the 5 Mother Sauces in French Cuisine.

I felt that the Grilled Baby Octopus with Chili Jam, Cherry Tomato and Musclun was rather flavourful, especially with the chili jam which made the octopus slightly reminiscent of those sambal ikan bilis we get in nasi lemak.

I didn’t get to try the Sauteed Garlic Mushroom and Goat’s Cheese on Sourdough but feedback about it was positive.

For main, I choose the Seared Sirloin with Celeriac Remoulade, Spinach, Roasted Tomatoes and Red Wine Sauce. The roasted tomato was probably the best thing in this dish, as I felt the sirloin was way too tough, a portion of my steak was way too rare and the sauce wasn’t that impressive either. You’d probably find better steak at Bedrock Grill & Bar, which offers set lunches at $32-$38++, depending on which main is chosen.

CrunchyBottoms had positive reviews with regards to the Beer Battered Snapper with Fries, Mixed Leaf, Malt Vinegar or Tartare Sauce.

I was quite opposed to having the Eggs Benedict with English Muffin, Spinach, Ham, Roasted Tomato and Mixed Salad as a main, especially since the Poached Egg was also available as an appetizer.

Flutes at the Fort clearly falls flat when it comes to desserts.

The Crepe with Caramelized Banana and Butterscotch Sauce was pretty disastrous. The crepe skin was way too thick, and when I say thick, it means about thrice as thick as the skins used to eat peking duck. Perhaps a scoop of ice cream or two would have made this a little more palatable.

The Earl Grey Creme Brulee with Black Sesame Ice Cream and Strawberries fared slightly better, though I still wouldn’t rate it positively. It’s just not my cup of tea, get the pun?

I chose the Belgian Waffle with Vanilla and Strawberry Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce for my dessert and found it pretty dismal as the waffle was totally bland and the ice cream rather pedestrian. It didn’t help that I patronized Salted Caramel along Upper Thomson the night before and had their pretty awesome waffles there, alongside their very awesome chocolate sorbet and rum and raisin ice cream.

To play safe, stick to the aesthetically pleasing Trio of Ice Cream (Salted Caramel, Black Sesame, Vanilla) with Mixed Berries.

While I only forked out $20, we did still pay the full price of $42 a pax and I honestly believe that there are many places out there that give better value and quality for a weekend brunch. Still, I’m wondering if this was a one-off or I made the wrong choices for my orders because online reviews of Flutes at the Fort on Hungrygowhere seem really positive.

Bon Appetit!

Flutes at the Fort

21 Lewin Terrace, Fort Canning Park

Tel: +65 6338 8770





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





Takashimaya’s Mid Autumn Festival & Din Tai Fung’s Yuan Yang Pairings

7 09 2011

I managed to drop by Takashimaya’s Mid Autumn Festival about 3 weeks ago, behaving like a typical Singaporean with typical Singaporean friends, getting stuffed on lots of free samples. Not that I was trying too but it just happened. Anyway let me let you in on something random. Somehow or another, I tend to get the feeling that girls are a lot more open to free samples, while guys seem to feel a lot more compelled to buy something after receiving a free sample. So yeah, word of advice to those in sales or marketing, extend your free samples to guys for a more successful return on capital.

Personally I haven’t been much of a mooncake fan, but 2 booths managed to impress me much. First, there’s the Teochew Fried Yam (Orh Nee) Mooncakes from Long Jiang, whose samples were almost 1/6 piece of a mooncake and served piping hot. Definitely the most generous serving of mooncake of all the booths in the fair. I believe word is going around that Peony Jade has awesome Fried Yam Mooncakes as well so I’m looking forward to try it next year.

Secondly, I’m also enchanted by East Ocean’s Snowskin Mooncakes. While some feel that the Custard, Yam and Green Tea Snowskin Mooncakes from East Ocean are too mild, I like their delicate flavours and textures just the way they are.

The Mid Autumn Fair at Taka is ending on 12th September if I’m not mistaken. So, if you haven’t headed down yet, maybe you could consider dropping by and snacking on all the free samples! You’d be a mooncake connoisseur by the time you are done.

Anyway, I received an email about Din Tai Fung’s new Mid Autumn Festival food items so here it is:

DIN TAI FUNG LAUNCHES PERFECT YUAN YANG PAIRINGS

In celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, Din Tai Fung launches two Yuan Yang delights for families to savour and enjoy. Pairing well-loved traditional flavours like red bean, white lotus and yam, these sweet treats are available at all Din Tai Fung outlets in Singapore, from 2 September to 15 October.

Inspired by the Mandarin Duck, or Yuan Yang Ducks (鸳鸯鸭子), the two desserts epitomise the creative pairing of ingredients to create a unique blend of flavours. The Yuan Yang Duckling Pastries and Steamed Yuan Yang Dumplings boast of rich, layered notes and a lingering aftertaste – a perfect treat for loved ones and friends during this festive season.

Promotions:

Steamed Yuan Yang Dumplings <鸳鸯小笼包> <S$6.80 for six pieces>

Available from 2 September to 15 October 2011, while stocks last.

Making its annual return during the Mid-autumn Festival, Din Tai Fung’s Steamed Yuan Yang Dumplings are lauded for their fusion of premium Taiwan-imported, finely mashed red bean and yam paste, achieving a rich flavour and fragrant aroma unlike no other. Enveloped in Din Tai Fung’s exquisite xiao long bao skins, the dessert enjoys a much anticipated annual revival during the Mid-autumn Festival.

Citibank cardmembers enjoy complimentary six pieces of Steamed Yuan Yang Dumplings with a minimum spend of S$70. Members of the public enjoy complimentary six pieces of Steamed Yuan Yang Dumplings with a minimum spend of S$80.

Yuan Yang Duckling Pastries <鸳鸯烘饼> <S$6.80 for a box of two>

Available from 5 September to 15 October 2011, while stocks last.

Specially created for this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival, the Yuan Yang Duckling Pastries come in a set of two traditional Chinese pastries (one Red Bean filling, one White Lotus filling), crafted to resemble Mandarin Ducks.

Invoking sweet childhood memories among young and old alike, the sweet treat is made with high-grade white lotus and red bean paste. Packaged in a specially designed box, the Yuan Yang Duckling Pastries make for a great gift to present to friends and family during this joyous season.

Prices stated are before GST and Service Charge.

Bon Appetit!








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