I brought Kei as my photographer, and met with Janna of Aji-no-Chinmi Co., Inc, the company that brought the brand from Japan to the Philippines. I would later find out about the different other Japanese brands under this company, and my, was I in for a huge surprise! We had the meeting at their newest branch in Greenhills, San Juan City. The area is considered as probably the most popular shopping place both for locals and tourists alike in Metro Manila. That is why CoCo easily gets busy during dinner time.
When I walked inside, I was reminded of the CoCo place I frequented in Irvine, California. It was simple and clean, and had a comfortable ambiance. The pop of yellow from the couches was warm and welcoming. The place seemed perfect for group dining with family and friends. One thing that I don't remember seeing in Irvine though were the displays of spices. They added a colorful touch to the interiors, and of course, piqued the curiosity of customers.
Additionally, they had these informative and eye-catching posters on the spices used in the CoCo curry. As someone who loves to read, I found it such a treat to be able to know what was going in my food, and of course, eventually in my tummy. I could even say it was motivating to know that I am indulging in something that is not only yummy but also healthy!
I was excited to order and check out the curry. To be honest I've become wary of how food quality and quantity seems to deteriorate once you have it here in my country. But since the place was both well-maintained and well-staffed, I had high hopes that I'd finally have a good, comforting plate of curry.
To start off, everybody got salads while I chose the set meal which included a small portion of both soup and salad, and a Lemon Iced Tea drink. You also had the option of adding a dessert to the set meal. It was an extra 100PHP on top of the curry rice for these three add-ons. For two it's an additional of 80PHP, and for all four, 130PHP. The salads came with sesame dressing. It was creamy and slightly sweet, and had a hint of sesame. However, I could not recall what the soup of the day was. It seemed like French onion soup. It was not bad but it left no other impression on me.
Pictured above are the corn salad, tuna salad, egg salad, and finally the sides to my set meal. The salads were served in generous portions and seemed filling enough on their own. Finally, time for the curry!
We all had the curry rice customized to our liking. The options included 1) quantity of rice (200g to 600g), 2) level of spiciness (mild to crazy hot) and of course 3) the toppings, which included more than twenty choices of meats (chicken, beef, pork, and seafood) and vegetables. We had fried chicken, pork cutlet, and most notable was the hamburger, which had a thick and cheesy inside! For my personal order, I had the thinly sliced beef curry, with extra corn on the side.
I have had my fair share of curries - the local Pinoy chicken curry (always yellow and cooked with coconut), Thai curry (Diho Siam's green and yellow beef curry), Indian curry (chicken tikka masala being one of my favorites), and of course, Japanese curry. I am very partial to Indian curry, as long as the spiciness is kept to a minimum, but I prefer it when I want a deeper flavor. Out of all the curries, Japanese curry has the mildest taste in terms of spices. It even has this subtle sweetness that lends itself rather well to deep fried meats, vegetables, and most important of all, cheese! There is something so satisfying with mixing the semi-sweet curry with creamy cheese. That is why it is such an easy choice as a comfort food. And when you are pleased with a particular taste, you tend to crave it for exactly how it is. Fortunately, CoCo keeps its curry recipe consistent in all its branches worldwide! Imagine my delight when I had my first spoonful of the curry here. It tasted exactly as the one I have come to love in California.
I enjoyed my plate of thin-sliced beef curry. To be honest, I had low expectations with the beef here, since my country does not really produce quality beef. Perhaps it has been imported as well. I had 200g of rice to eat with the curry and the sauce was enough to cover all of it. That said, I feel that ordering the biggest quantity of rice available (600g) would leave you wanting for more sauce.
What I enjoyed most was how highly customizable the plate was. Had I been hungrier at that time, I would have gotten different toppings to go with my curry. However, I found the set meal satisfying. I know I would not have been able to finish their regular portion of salad! For the finale, we tried their Coffee Jelly, an item derived from their other brand, UCC.
I am a really hard person to please when it comes to dessert, or anything sweet for that matter. I have a very low tolerance for sweetness, and of course, there is that bit of me having sensitive and cavity-prone teeth! What I would consider a good dessert is if it's creamy and just a little bit sweet (that's why I'm a sucker for Cafe Seolhwa's bingsu). I know this combination is rare to come by but CoCo's coffee jelly passes my standard! I loved how the cream complimented the chilled jelly which had its rich coffee taste. The sweetness from the scoop of Vanilla ice cream was just about right. Actually, it was the only one that had sweetness. Apart from that, the dessert was truly a harmony between cream and coffee.
Visiting CoCo ICHIBANYA Greenhills was a wonderful experience. I was able to reconnect with a comfort food I thought I would only be able to have again when I fly back to California. I was sincerely happy to have found the brand to be well-maintained here in my own country. Moreover, with all the sushi bars and ramen places that have been springing up like mushrooms all over Metro Manila, it has been about time to have a well-known and internationally-recognized curry house present in the Philippines. Currently, CoCo has three branches opened with the fourth one coming up in my very own neighborhood in Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City! I have such an easy access to Japanese food here, (there are about 50 Japanese restaurants within the vicinity), but none of them are, strictly speaking, curry houses. CoCo is definitely a unique addition to the local Japanese dining experience.
Special thanks to Janna and her team, and the CoCo ICHIBANYA staff for accommodating us!
I was wearing this simple sailor dress I made for my brand dolldelight.
Photos by Keiaveunalliv.