*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
313 Somerset #B3-25/26/27
Tel: +65 6636 7280