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  • Writer's pictureMonch Weller

[37] On Spice Bridging Two Worlds: CoCo Ichibanya, Estancia Mall

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

Whoever thought that curry, originally from India, would reach the Land of the Rising Sun? The British brought curry to Japan by means of trade, given that their colony was the source of curry's spices. However, the Japanese eventually put their own twist on the dish – so much so that it became a part of their yoshoku (Western-inspired) culinary repertoire.

Sticklers for convenience themselves, the Japanese also made it more convenient for people to have their curry anytime. Japanese curry comes in either the block form added while cooking or the ready-to-eat versions that only require cooking the packet in boiling water. Japanese firm House Foods is responsible for making curry a mainstay in Japanese cuisine – through its products and its restaurant CoCo Ichibanya.

I first heard of the restaurant chain from a former partner, when she told me that it opened its flagship branch at Estancia Mall in Pasig. The UCC Group of Hubert Young played a key role in bringing the restaurant here in Manila. Since my initial visit in 2015, CoCo Ichibanya has opened several branches around the metro. I frequently visit its branches at Eastwood Mall and Vertis North as both are accessible to me.

The branch occupies a rather space at Estancia Mall's lower ground floor, so it's not ideal to visit during busy lunch hours. But once you manage to get a seat, CoCo Ichibanya's interiors will really get you craving a plate of curry. Yellow and brown dominated the restaurant, implying a warm aura all throughout. Service was fast and accurate as staff use tablets to take down customers' orders. Yes, the menu items tend to be on the expensive side – but I say it's very warranted as you can customize the spice level, the amount of rice and the accompaniments you want.

For starters, CoCo Ichibanya's Pork Cutlet and Vegetables Curry is a good dish to introduce the wonders of Japanese curry. This platter consists of huge chunks of carrots and potatoes alongside asparagus, paired with a pork cutlet (tonkatsu) and rice, and then slathered with curry sauce. Those looking for an alternative to pork can have a chicken version of the cutlet (tori katsu) at no extra cost.

Despite not being on the same level as the tonkatsu from Japanese restaurants such as Yabu and Maisen, the pork cutlet is tender and juicy. The vegetables comprise a cup of rice, making any extra rice unnecessary. Rounding out everything is the curry sauce that cuts through the savory taste of the pork and brightens up the otherwise drab vegetables.

The Hashed Beef Rice is best for those who often prefer an egg to accompany their rice. It makes use of a darker and sweeter demi-glace sauce with beef slices mixed in. The beef and sauce combination surrounds a dome of rice with a creamy omelette on top, with a drizzle of cream to top things off.

CoCo Ichibanya made use of a tender beef cut for this, which made the eating experience better. The milder demi-glace sauce is perfect for those wanting a different taste, as its sweetness is a far cry from the spicy curry the restaurant is known for. Furthermore, the omelette is equally commendable due to its perfect consistency – which takes practice to achieve.

The Beef Tendon Curry was a seasonal item on CoCo Ichibanya's menu. I ordered it out of curiosity when I returned to the Estancia Mall branch years after my initial visit. It consists of beef tendon pieces mixed in with potatoes, carrots, asparagus pieces, and onions.

I have to admit that I'm not exactly a fan of beef tendon despite its purported collagen content. But still, CoCo Ichibanya deserves commendation for keeping true to its taste. The curry tasted the same as when I first visited in 2015! Whereas most restaurants would change their recipes as time passes, this restaurant did not. Despite my initial aversion to tendon, I managed to finish my plate.

Here's a tip: Whatever kind of curry you order, always ask for CoCo Ichibanya's pickled vegetable relish or fukujinzuke. This bright red relish is made of different vegetables such as radish and lotus root pickled in vinegar and soy sauce. Fukujinzuke is a typical accompaniment for Japanese curry, and the restaurant offers it free of charge for diners.

The vegetable essentially neutralizes the spiciness of the curry and refreshes the palate from the spice overload. Every table had a jar of this during the restaurant's earlier days, but nowadays it's only served upon request. It's no wonder why I managed to finish the container given to me during my first trip there!

Check out CoCo Ichibanya's Facebook page, Instagram profile and official company website in English.

Until the next review, bon appetit.

Curry House CoCo Ichibanya Basement Level, Estancia Mall Capitol Commons, Shaw Boulevard Brgy. Kapitolyo, Pasig City 1603

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