Curry House Coco Ichibanya (CoCoICHI) will open its first European restaurant in London. The universally popular Japanese curry chain, which operates over 1,000 restaurants in Japan and a further 150 across south-east Asia and the U.S., will open on Great Newport Street in Covent Garden, on the site of okonomiyaki restaurant Abeno Too which closed on 6 June.
The opening was mooted as long ago as 2016, and a Cocoichibanya U.K. Instagram account was created in October 2017; staff confirmed via telephone that the first London restaurant will officially open its doors this Wednesday 12 December.
Cocoichibanya serves karē raisu, curry rice, with diners able to customise dishes based on topping, spicing, mildness — referring to the sweetness of the sauce — and rice portion. The three base curries are beef, pork, and hashed beef, as well as a vegetarian sauce option, with customisable heat ranging from “mild” to “level 10.” Tonkatsu and tori katsu are available as toppings, alongside scrambled egg, hamburgers, hamburgers filled with cheese, Frankfurter-style sausages, fried fish, squid, shrimps, cheese, and many other customisable options. The standard rice portion is 300g, with smaller (200g) and larger portions available for selection. Add-on toppings include soft-boiled egg, tomato, tartar sauce, and corn.
The dish was introduced to Japan in the Meiji era (1868 - 1912), most likely by military officers serving the colonial rule of the British Raj. Therefore perceived as a “western” dish in Japan, it has since been assimilated into Japanese culture and yoshōku cuisine, with the curry and its variations still synonymous with the sociological shifts that took place in the Meiji era; originally served only to upper classes, its domestic popularity grew widespread through the 1960s with the advent of mixes that people could cook at home. Its popularity was also boosted by the Japanese navy, which introduced the karē raisu as a standard dish on ship to prevent beriberi, a thiamine deficiency that became prevalent in Japan owing to the perceived status of eating polished, thiamine-free white rice. Servicemen returned home with a taste for the curry dish, and so its popularity grew further.
The Cocoichibanya 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 1,000th restaurant opening in 2004. Its financial performance is transparently posted to its website, as is a detailed breakdown of the group’s philosophy, and it follows Din Tai Fung, Jollibee, Taco Bell, Halal Guys, and HaiDiLao as notable international openings and/or announcements in the capital in the last six months.