Whoever said Japanese food doesn’t ordinarily lend itself to variety of vegetarian options is probably right. However, whoever assumed that Japanese food is all about raw seafood in form of Sushi’s and Sashimi’s is not… I was in for huge surprise, and a pleasant one at that when I was introduced to Coco Ichibanya last week.
For here’s Coco Ichibanya, (a Japanese Restaurant chain with more than 1,200 restaurant outlets worldwide) is Japan’s most famous Curry House, so much so, that it is called “The King of Curry”. What’s more, there are some decent (by that I mean 2-3 good solid) options for vegetarians.
The name plate of Coco Ichibanya is such that I often thought (before I actually visited it) that it was a coco or a chocolate bar… the ambiance in itself is all brown and I don’t know why, but it is suggestive of a chocolate.
The ambiance is nice, vibrant, without getting tacky. They have used the wax samples of their offerings decorating the walls. They also have some blow up size photographs that endow their walls. Currently all Coco Ichibanya outlets in Singapore are based out of malls, but they do a good job with their ambiance to attract attention.
The entire concept of Coco Ichibanya is surrounded around the fact that it serves curry with rice and meat / vegetables of your choice… The most striking feature about the concept is that it allows you to customize the order in the following manner:
 Select the type of curry you want (chicken, vegetable, fish etc… there’s a whole list in the menu)
 Select the portion or quantity of rice you want – this is given in grams… usually standard portion of 250gms works well.
 Select the level of spice you want from 1 to 5 – The curry level 1, which is the lightest level of spice is vegetarian with no non-veg broth used to make the curry. The rest usually have some broth added to it which is non-vegetarian.
 Select additional toppings, if any… the choice is between veggie and non-veggie items such as cheese, spinach, bacon, corn, ripe tomato, kimchee etc.
You can also make it a meal by adding sides like salad / corn and a drink to it…
Here’s what we went for:
 Egg Salad: We went for an egg salad, nice and crisp lettuce, freshly made with cold boiled pieces and mayonnaise. The salad is refreshing and the portion is such that it’s easy for two person’s to share.
 Mini Salad: The mini salad was a part of the meal I ordered. The size is quite small, just about enough for one person… the salad is corn & lettuce heavy, with generous amount of mayonnaise. Nothing really striking, but no complains.
 Chicken Cutlet Curry: I opted for a spice level 2. The curry was quite nicely balanced, but with the palate I have for chillies, I could have definitely gone for a 3 or even 4. The cutlet was crisp, well cooked. It made for a really good dish.
 Mushroom Curry: This is an all veggie option. The curry is vegetarian and so are the mushrooms… while the curry is slightly bland… the spices in the curry make up for great taste… veggies can definitely try this.
 Fried Chicken Curry: The chicken popcorns on the spice level 3 curry was just perfect. The crisp of the chicken along with the zing of the gravy was probably dish of the evening. Must try…
 Thin Sliced Beef Curry with Salmon Cream Croquette: So they offer Salmon Croquette as a starter. We added that to the thin sliced beef curry… and the combination worked. The cheesy salmon croquette with their spice level 2 curry and you have a really unique dish. The salmon was just rightly cooked, soft and nicely flavoured. It makes for an interesting dish for fish lovers.
 Vegetable Curry: A mix of carrot, French beans and potato added to spice level 1 curry, made for another vegetarian dish… I liked the mushroom better, and I think a combination of mushrooms and veggies would have been a great option to try!
 Green tea cheese cake: This was listed as a speciality addition, and the combination of the green tea in cheese cake sounded curious… so we tried the dessert merely for the sake of curiosity. Probably not what I expected. However, we had an avid green tea drinker who seemed to enjoy the slightly strong flavour of green tea combined with a cream cheese layer. But this is not my palate… having said that, it wasn’t bad to taste… try it if you are adventurous enough.
Cost: The average cost of the curry meal is anything between S$ 12 to S$ 16, depending upon the size of the rice portion you opt for, and the meat / veggie you go for. However, the curry dish is quite some portion, and makes for a good lunch / dinner meal.
Verdict: The idea that one can have a non-sushi, non-sashimi – all curry Japanese is quite exciting for me… And the curries are definitely great to taste. It is a perfect option for curry lovers, spice lovers who want to try out something different, other than the typical India / Mediterranian curries. What’s more is that Coco Ichibanya in their own small way tries to cater to vegetarians… making it a good Japanese option to try. The spice level in the curry also ensures that children can enjoy the curries without finding it too spicy. It’s a nice concept, and the price levels make it competitive enough too. I would definitely recommend a visit, it’s a different concept, and considering the fact that it has been successfully running across the world with more than 1,200 outlets and counting, there is definitely something about it that’s worth a try.
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