There’s just something about Japanese curry that really sets it apart from the usual spice-heavy, tear-inducing variety that we’re so used to in Singapore.

Japanese curry, for the most part, is Indian curry’s milder, less palate-titillating cousin, and is favoured amongst curry lovers for its distinctively wholesome and salty-sweet flavour that goes swimmingly well poured over tempura prawns or pork katsu deep fried to a crisp.

Perhaps the most common grouse about Japanese curry from chili-heads though is the lack of any tongue burning sensation, with at most a nuanced hit of spice at the end.

Food review: Coco IchibanyaComing to the rescue of chilli lovers, however, is the “King of Curry”, Coco Ichibanya, named as such because of its immense popularity. The brand has spawned over a thousand outlets worldwide, including branches in China, Thailand South Korea, North America and Hong Kong.

So confident of their curry is the “King of Curry” that customisation is the name of their game. Customers can choose the amount of rice on their plate (rice portions vary from 150 grams to a whopping 550 grams), the toppings (there is a dizzying range available – from the de rigeur chicken katsu, seafood and beef shabu to the more unusual like cheese sausage, salmon croquettes and hamburger), and also the level of spiciness for your curry gravy.

Food review: Coco Ichibanya

Patrons can choose from seven levels of spiciness, starting with mild, a tame vegetable-based gravy that is recommended for children, all the way up to the ‘crazy hot’ level – dubbed level five and said to have the fiery level of 24 chilies.

The team trouped down to the Coco Ichibanya curry restaurant with our game face on, just to see if level five was indeed ‘crazy hot’.

Here’s our take.

Name of restaurant: COCO ICHIBANYA

Type of food: Japanese

Ambience: Situated right next to the escalator in 313@Somerset that brings people down from the first floor, it is your run-of-the-mill casual dining restaurant, much like other Japanese diners around. The open concept feel and its relatively small but cosy size gives it an eat-and-go vibe, perfect for a quick lunch or dinner.

Must-tries: The Creamed Mushroom Omelet Curry, $13, came highly recommended, but do take note, as customisations weren’t allowed for this. This was understandably so, since the right portion of rice has to be wrapped in a warm, fluffy omelette and laid carefully in a pool of curry gravy and drizzled with a buttery-smooth light crème and generous morsels of mushroom chunks.

Food review: Coco Ichibanya

This was hands down our favourite of the lot, as an entire mouthful of the steaming rice, omelette, curry gravy and bits of mushroom mixed to perfection in our mouths, and we couldn’t stop our spoons from going for round after round of curried goodness.

Pork Cutlet Curry with Cheese, $14, was also a winner. We chose to have that with level two curry gravy, and discovered that the pleasingly gooey cheese which the pork cutlet was liberally drenched in helped to take away some of the heat from the gravy. Curiously enough, the cutlet, which was fried to a glorious golden brown did not turn immediately limp under all the cheese, but remained crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

Food review: Coco Ichibanya

Those in the mood for something else other than curry, try the Hashed Beef & Rice, $13. Bound to delight all beef-lovers, the pool of dark brown gravy that accompanied the slices of beef and rice wasn’t curry, but a robust and full-flavoured beef stew sauce, as if the entire pot of extremely palatable beef-y goodness had been simmering on the stove for hours. Certainly a dish to rival their signature curry rice.

Food review: Coco Ichibanya

The team also road tested five different levels of spiciness, and here’s our verdict.

Level Zero: It tasted mostly like your average Japanese curry found in Japanese restaurant establishments, and was more sweet than spicy. Generally, customers who prefer their curry sweet with just a hint of spice should opt for this.

Level One: Significantly less sweet than level zero, this had more of a kick to it, with a grittier texture than level zero. A good choice for most Singaporeans.

Level Two: This was generally well-received as this was, to us, at a “just right” spice level. Most of the sweetness was also displaced by the stronger hit of curry powder, which meant it was adequately spicy, without being overly so; even after consuming an entire plate of curry rice.

Level Three: For those who like their food a little spicier than most, level three is a must try. At this point, some of our tongues started to feel tingly, with the burn slowly migrating to the back of our throats. Others, however, felt this was mostly salty, but had yet to experience any sort of burning sensation.

Level Four: The spice level wasn’t as distinct as the jump from level two to three but we noted that it was markedly less salty than level three, and a lot grittier than before. Only for the adventurous or the real chili-heads though, as it would be hard to plow through a whole plate of curry rice without feeling the burn build up halfway through the meal.

Level Five:
This is not for the faint-hearted. Probably the thickest and grittiest of the lot, this curry sauce had an almost sambal-like consistency. Unfortunately, the overwhelming taste of the curry spice covered the subtle layers of flavours that made the other levels so appealing. We recommend this only if you want to test your limits.

Price: Curries start an affordable $10 for an eggplant curry, to $16 for a pork cutlet omelette curry.

Verdict: 8/10. We are fans of anything customisable, as it gives us the control over what we want or don’t want in our dishes. Definitely worth a visit, even if you’re not a big fan of curry.

Coco Ichibanya is located at #B3-25/26/27, 313@Somerset. Opening hours are from Sunday to Thursday from 10am to 10pm, and Friday to Saturday from 10am to 11pm. Tel: 6636 7280