- The Dish: Kare raisu
- The Place: CoCo Ichibanya, London WC2H 7JE
- The Chef: The restaurant is part of a chain with no stated group chef
What? 'Kare raisu' translates as 'curry rice' in Japan, where it is one of the nation’s most popular comfort foods.
It's part of a cuisine developed in the mid-1800s in Japan, known as yoshoku: hybrid specialities inspired by commonplace Western eats that have been adapted to suit local palates.
Kare raisu is thought to have been introduced to Japan by military officers who served as part of the British Raj. Its reputation was boosted by the Japanese navy, who needed to feed its sailors healthy food in bulk. The dish was introduced to prevent beriberi, a thiamine deficiency that became common and deadly after a movement towards eating polished, thiamine-free white rice due to its status as a symbol of wealth.
To save their sailors, the Japanese turned to food provided by other nations and stumbled on the British version of curry, which was made with a mix of tinned curry powder, butter, meat, root vegetables and a sauce thickened with flour. This Anglo-Indian adaptation saw Japanese servicemen return with a taste for it, and the dish spread out into restaurants, cookbooks and homes.
Japanese chain CoCo Ichibanya specialises in the curry rice and is bringing it to London, offering customisation of the dish based on toppings, the spiciness and sweetness, and the size of the rice portion. Customers can choose between base curries of beef, pork and hashed beef, as well as a vegetarian sauce option, along with heat ranging from mild to level 10. Allergen-free curry is also offered, free of egg, milk, wheat, peanut, shrimp and crab, according to the chain’s menu.
Toppings span traditional eats like tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet) and tori katsu (known as panko chicken in the Western world), as well as unusual choices like scrambled egg, hamburger, natto (fermented soy beans), Frankfurter-style sausages, fried fish, squid, shrimp, aubergine and cheese.
Additional extra toppings include soft-boiled eggs, garlic bits, okra and yam, tuna, tomato, tartar sauce and corn. Reasonably hungry? Opt for the standard 300g, though customers can also supersize or opt for the smaller 200g portion.
Where? This Japanese curry chain is opening on Great Newport Street in Covent Garden, but operates over 1,700 restaurants in Japan, a further 150 across South-east Asia and eight in the US.
Its London site is the first European restaurant for the group and will be open for lunch and dinner.
The CoCo Ichibanya restaurant group launched in 1978, with three restaurants in Nagoya, the capital of Japan’s Aishi prefecture. Its first overseas restaurant opened in 1994, in Hawaii, with the 1,000 restaurant opening in 2004.
Why? Food Spark noted that the presence of yoshoku in North America and Canada was growing back in May, with Sparkie commenting that the cuisine was a perfect fit for the trend for authentic traditional food: “Although it is described as Western-style food, it includes dishes that have been authentically Japanese since the 1800s. The Western influence should give it a friendlier appearance to those who are neophobic around meals.”
CoCo Ichibanya’s approach to the dish – allowing people to customise it to their own tastes – fits nicely with the consumer desire to bring more personalisation into their eating habits.
This Japanese chain is also part of a growing number of international chains entering London, like Filipino fast-food chain Jollibee, which has seen lines out the door since opening; the famous Taiwanese dumpling restaurant Din Tai Fung, which was expecting four-hour queues; China’s biggest hot pot chain Hai Di Lao, set to debut in Piccadilly Circus; and February opening Greyhound Café, bringing contemporary Thai to the table.