Coco Ichibanya, or Coco Ichi as it is often called, has two authentic Japanese curry houses located in central London. The restaurant name translates to “here’s the number one” in English, and with over 1400 curry houses across the world, for many fans it’s certainly their number one curry restaurant.
- What is Japanese curry?
- Introduction to Coco Ichibanya
- Coco Ichibanya Leicester Square review
- Coco Ichibanya Bond Street review
If you have never tried Japanese curry before, you need to remember it matches Japanese tastes. This means the sauce is rich but not as spicy as the curries you’ve experienced. The sauce is also thicker in consistency and drapes itself perfectly on top of soft rice.
Why is Coco Ichibanya so popular in London?
Coco Ichi was not among the first Japanese curry houses as the original restaurant opened in 1978. The key to its rapid expansion was the founder’s vision of serving curry that felt like home cooking. In Japan, Coco Ichi isn’t a fancy restaurant with high prices or a place you need to dress up for. You can roll in at anytime even by yourself and expect excellent comfort food just like at home.
What’s great about Coco Ichi?
There are two things that come immediately to mind. The first is how you can create your own curry, adding in the toppings you wish, the level of spice you can handle, and the amount of rice you are in the mood for. This means Coco Ichi is always a fun experience as you can debate the right spice level with friends and try out adventurous toppings. The second is the consistency of their dishes – whether you eat at Coco Ichi or you order one of their curry bentos for lunch you know you’re guaranteed a satisfying meal.
Just how good is Coco Ichibanya in London?
For those well-versed in Coco Ichi, this is the section you’ll be most interested in. How do the London branches compare to your Japan experiences? We checked out the Leicester Square restaurant to see if this branch did hit our Coco-Ichiban nostalgia spot. Upon arrival, there was a twenty minute long queue, but this did not bother us as we knew it would be worth it!
An unexpected nice touch was how the staff greeted us in Japanese when we walked into the restaurant. Another surprising aspect was the sparkly and colourful interior! It was pleasing to see the cafe-like stylish interior which contrasts the often minimal style you find in Japanese branches.
What about the curry?
Ok it’s coming up! Even though we knew what we wanted before we stepped inside, we spent a few minutes going through the menu. It covered pretty much all of the dishes that you can get in Japan, with the only weird part being the menu written in English. In terms of spice, the levels in England only go up to level 5 not level 10. This was not a game changer for us, as we are usually the level 3 choosing gentle folk.
As you can see, I went with my standard chicken katsu curry with vegetables. Meanwhile my friend went with his regular order of Rosu (pork loin) katsu curry. Please note katsu means cutlet and is not the name of the curry sauce!
For me, the chicken katsu was crispy and the way I remember. Also, the vegetables tasted fine although something seemed aesthetically different in the serving. After thinking about it, this difference may be due to the portion of vegetables being slightly bigger and each vegetable being cut into larger pieces.
Meanwhile, my friend thought the crust of his katsu was a littler harder than he was used to, and the rice was every so slightly dry. Having said that, we both found the sauce almost identical to Japan, and it was a solid 9 out of 10 for similarity to the Coco Ichi we knew.
Coco Ichibanya Bond Street
Our second visit to Coch Ichi in London was to their Bond street branch. This time I went with a good friend I met in Nagoya about ten years ago and his wife who is from Chiba. Collectively we have eaten our fair share of Coco Ichibanya in Japan.
I already knew what I wanted before this visit. The Chicken Katsu Omelette curry, level 1, with 250 grams of rice. On a last minute whim, I decided to get a side of gyoza as well. My friends ordered an Aubergine and Okura curry and a Pork Katsu curry plus a mixed salad to start with. This Coco Ichiban salad is a very nostalgic one – it has tuna and sliced boiled egg on top, with a lovely goma (sesame) dresssing.
What is possibly odd now that I look back at it, is that I never doubted the Chicken Katsu curry would not deliver. And I was completely right to do so. Coco Ichibanya consistently dishes out the perfect Chicken Katsu curry. I also noticed that in the UK branches, the Chicken Katsu cutlet slices are more generous in size to the Pork Katsu ones, and pair better with the crisp panko breadcrumbs.
For the gyoza, I have to be honest. I didn’t realise they would be deep fried. In Japanese restaurants in the UK, I’m always looking for the pan-fried type. While there was nothing wrong with this gyoza side, it just wasn’t what I was looking for.
My friend who ordered the Aubergine and Okura curry was very happy with her curry, and her husband thought the dishes he ate held up very well compared to those you can get at Coco Ichiban in Japan. Might be a nice time to add he has eaten Coco Ichiban Level 10 Curry although on this occasion did not attempt the top level available in London – Level 5. Another observation he made was that you can get tomato topping on your curry in the UK but not in Japan.
We’d be interested to know how your Coco Ichibanya experience in London was. Did you think it lived up to your expectations or did you notice something different from Japan? Please feel free to comment below. Also if you are looking for more Japanese places to eat in London, please have a look through our top 10 Japanese restaurant in London list.