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  • Shona McCarthy

CoCo's Curry Restaurant, Ikoma Japan


In a sweet little town called Ikoma, Nara, I got to eat at a magical place called Coco’s, not once, but twice. Unlike Australia, Japan has managed to retain many of its family restaurants to great success. The secret may lay in how their menus differ from ours. I want to point out that virtually all of these restaurants are warm inside; not just in terms of temperature, but also the way they are decorated. They tend to be friendly, woody looking places, with old-timey fixtures and vinyl bench seating. The music played tends to be orgel music. This makes these places very sweet and lovely to go to on a date. But in the time I was there, I found that they were often packed with young families and grandparents spending time with their grandchildren around dinner time.

(A Doraimon Omlette and a Curry Rice Dish. 2017.)

In Japan, Coco’s forms one of many “Western Food” chains, similar to Bikkuri Donkey, Steak Gusto and Saizeriya. I’ve been to each of these franchises once or twice, so I will probably write about them in other posts.

Coco’s and its spin-offs market themselves as being focused on Japanese curry. But what I found was that the menus were very interesting in general. For example, hamburger steaks are more common in this style of restaurant than actual steaks. Wedges, where they appear, won’t be served in piles. Rather, just a few of them will sit across the plate, lined up in neat rows.

The portion sizes at these restaurants tend to vary, but what I found is that they were typically smaller in size than what you would find at a restaurant in Australia. I found the portion sizes much more comfortable in Japan.

But one of the things I found frustrating about my experiences in these restaurants was my desire to try everything on the menu, but the limited time I actually had to do so. So, on one particular visit, I went to Coco’s with my then-boyfriend and I ordered everything on the kid’s menu, which was Doreimon themed. This meant that I was able to try miniature versions of most of the menu items. Duplicate items and whatever I couldn’t finish, I could hand to my then-boyfriend, who had a stomach like a trash compactor. As I review this post in 2020, I'm single. I have traveled alone and found great pleasure in it. But I will say that doing food related tourism is more enjoyable if you have someone with you who can eat like a bottomless pit.

Doraimon Omlette This menu included a Japanese style omelette. This is a common staple in Japanese diners, cafes and casual dining. It is a very thin layer of beaten and fried egg that encases an oblong shape of rice and is typically graced by a smattering of ketchup. Rather than chopsticks, it is often eaten with a fork and spoon. In the Coco’s kids’ menu this is decorated with an image of Doraimon. It came with a small amount of broccoli, a few wedges, a small sausage and a small cup of fruit jelly.

Japanese Curry

The small serve of Japanese curry I received was standard in quality. It wasn’t especially unpleasant or pleasant. As a rule, Japanese curries are usually savory and aromatic, with a faint yet delectable amount of sweetness. This curry contained carrots, onions and maybe a small amount of meat. Like most serves of curry, it came with a small amount of rice. A small cup of fruit jelly accompanied this.

(A broader picture I took of many of the items we ate that day. One of the items on the right seems to be gone from the menu and I don't recall it well. So I don't discuss it. 2017.)

Happy Gratin My first-time trying gratin happened on this occasion. It came in a flat-ish paper cup which it seemed to have been baked into. It was hot, creamy and potato-y, which I’m told all gratins should be. It came with a small serve of broccoli, wedges, a little sausage and another fruit jelly cup.

Naughty Napolitan

Since it was a long time ago, I don’t actually recall whether or not I went for the naughty napolian. But it should be explained that napolitan in Japan typically doesn’t correspond culturally with Neapolitan pasta in the West. Napolitan is usually spaghetti pasta cooked al dente and then coated with ketchup. This is served with a little sausage on top and a cup of fruit jello.

Little Prince Udon This little serve of Japanese style noodle soup is decidedly non-traditional. The pasta itself is fairly standard as udons go; thick, chewy and filling. The broth was not very memorable for me somehow. Which means it must have been inoffensive. It was sprinkled with lovely little corn nibblets and featured a healthy reef of Asian spinach. And yes, it came with another one of those little fruit jellies.

Pancakes

I feel that the most fun dish on the kid’s menu was probably the pancakes. It was my first time trying restaurant style pancakes away from McDonald’s hotcakes and Pancake Parlour. Not only is the presentation delightfully whimsical, with a swirl of whipped cream and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. But what makes these especially fun is they came with a little chocolate pen; a hollow, clear, plastic pen filled with chocolate sauce. The nozzle is so very narrow, it’s possible to write and draw many intricate designs upon the surface of a pancake. And yes, again this dish comes with a serve of fruit jelly.

Low Allergen Square Hamburger Plate

For me, the most tell-all dish I tried that afternoon was the hamburger plate. It came with some little mounds of rice, scooped perfectly round and decorated with furikake. Furikake is a special type of seasoning sprinked on rice, usually containing seaweed and bonito flakes. There is another little sausage, and a small square of hamburger steak smeared with barbeque sauce. I couldn’t fault this dish in any way. It was so wonderfully simple and fulfilling. There is something inherently comforting about high-quality beef that has been pulped, moulded, fried and then generously sauced. Fruit jelly makes another appearance. This meal came with a voucher for a limited-edition desert. I never used it since we were already so full of everything we had eaten.

Sundry

Other items on the menu included hypoallergenic strawberry ice, young man corn soup, happy fries, child chocolate banana sundae, and low allergen flour bread. Of these I only know I had the corn soup, the fries and the sundae. Again, all were lovely, though I may say the fries seemed a little stale to me. But then again, by the time we got to them, they had been sitting on the table for a long time.

(A photo I took of the Child Chocolate Banana Sunday. The keyring was one my ex-boyfriend and I had brought with us. 2017.)

Tips

My ex-boyfriend and I didn’t eat all the jello at the restaurant. Instead, I took most of it and kept it in a spare fridge his parents had at his house. One of the good things about these restaurant chains is that it is usually possible to buy access to a drink bar, meaning you can go and refill a cup indefinitely, mixing different drinks together if you want to, even.

Also, fun fact, part of the reason most of the meals came with broccoli is because Japanese children don’t hate broccoli the way kids in the Western world do. In Japan, the hated food is capsicum. I imagine this is because their palates develop differently through context. Each of the meals we tried were affordably priced, meaning that my mad foray was relatively reasonable. See the website for more details.

Adult Coco’s Foods

I don’t remember so much about my first visit to Coco’s since it happened so long ago. But what stood out to me is that adult meals can come with a black round stone that has been heated to 1000 degrees so that you could quickly and easily cook the raw meat you had chosen on your own plate. I believe my ex-boyfriend had chosen the pepper steak, since it was his favorite item on the menu. So, I assume it must be delicious. I didn’t try any, since I was full of the other delicious things I had eaten that day.


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