As Asian chains gain footholds in new markets we will see a new kind of competition that appeals to new diners is ways that home-grown favorites can't compete.
— Jason Clampet
CoCo Ichibanya has more than 1,100 restaurants in Japan and about 150 more around the world, serving unusual curries such as sausage; hamburger; and tomato & asparagus. Back home, it’s a household name, but it hasn’t ventured into Europe until now.
The first U.K. outpost opened this week in London’s Covent Garden, where diners are already lining up. You choose a topping (including options such as fried chicken dumpling; kimchee; or bubble-fried salmon) and then you decide the level of heat. The sauce options range from “standard” to “Level 5 Crazy Hot.”
But what will a classically trained Indian chef make of it all? I invited along Vivek Singh, one of his country’s most-respected chefs, whose four U.K. restaurants include the Cinnamon Club. Dine there and you might spend £85 ($107) on a tasting menu featuring dishes such as Devon crab and kokum berry salad on lotus root crisp.
“The menu is bonkers,” he says, and laughs of Ichibanya. “I have never come across curry like this.”
But when we tuck into a Crazy Hot katsu chicken and cheese curry he is at least partially won over.
“What I am really liking are the cheese cubes that are melted into the sauce and are coming out every so often in strings and adding a lot of interest,” he says. “The panko is very light. The chicken is not dry. You can see it has just been cooked. It has not been sitting around fried for a long time.
“In terms of the sauce, Japanese curry is nowhere close in complexity or depth of flavor or progression of spices as it is in Indian cuisine. The base is always corn starch and the flavoring is coming from turmeric, coriander and chili. These are three base spices in Japanese. And I taste a lot of coriander, and the other thing I taste is a lot of chili. It’s quite hot.
“This could work in India as a Japanese restaurant, not a curry restaurant.”
The company opened its first restaurant on the outskirts of Nagoya in 1978. The first U.S. mainland outpost opened in Torrance, California some seven years ago.
I enjoyed it a lot, too. With the recent arrival in London of both CoCo Ichibanya from Japan and Din Tai Fung from Taiwan, there are now two very good, and popular, inexpensive Asian restaurant chains to try.
In other London food news, the restaurateur Clive Watson plans to open Provisioners at the brand-new Dixon hotel on Dec. 27.
Watson’s previous restaurants include Riding House Cafe and Blixen.
At Provisioners, Head Chef Lerrico Messina will serve an all-day menu with dishes such as culurgiones (Sardinian dumplings) with pecorino and winter truffle; braised eight-hour lamb shoulder sandwich on garlic focaccia; Secret Smokehouse kippers with wholegrain mustard butter; and Shanghai master-stock duck pie, roasted duck breast, and duck liver parfait.
You can get 50% off your food bill from Dec. 27 to Jan. 13 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, quoting Hot Dinners.
The Dixon is a boutique-style hotel in a building that dates to 1906 and previously served as Tower Bridge Magistrates Court.
4 Queen Elizabeth Street, SE1 2LL; +44-20-3959-2900
- SpiceBox, a vegan curry house, is scheduled to open next month in Walthamstow. The current plan is for a soft opening, with 50 percent off food, from Jan. 23-27
- Dominique Ansel Bakery, home of the Cronut, is planning to open a second London branch, in Covent Garden.
- Time Out has secured a lease to open a food and drink market in Waterloo that will include 17 restaurants.
Richard Vines is chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and Instagram @richard.vines
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