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Coco Ichibanya opens its first European outlet in London 

Coco Ichibanya's curry dishes with its various toppings can be ordered with sauce options ranging from "standard" to "Level 5 Crazy Hot".

COCO Ichibanya has more than 1,100 restaurants in Japan and about 150 more around the world, serving unusual curries such as sausage; hamburger; and tomato & asparagus. Back home, it's a household name, but it hasn't ventured into Europe until now.

The first UK outpost opened last week in London's Covent Garden, where diners are already lining up. You choose a topping (including options such as fried chicken dumpling; kimchi; or bubble-fried salmon) and then you decide the level of heat. The sauce options range from "standard" to "Level 5 Crazy Hot".

But what will a classically trained Indian chef make of it all? I invited along Vivek Singh, one of his country's most-respected chefs, whose four UK restaurants include the Cinnamon Club. Dine there and you might spend £85 (S$147) on a tasting menu featuring dishes such as Devon crab and kokum berry salad on lotus root crisp.

"The menu is bonkers," he says, and laughs. "I have never come across curry like this."

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But when we tuck into a Crazy Hot katsu chicken and cheese curry he is at least partially won over. "What I am really liking are the cheese cubes that are melted into the sauce and are coming out every so often in strings and adding a lot of interest," he says.

"The panko is very light. The chicken is not dry. You can see it has just been cooked. It has not been sitting around fried for a long time.

"In terms of the sauce, Japanese curry is nowhere close in complexity or depth of flavour or progression of spices as it is in Indian cuisine. The base is always corn starch and the flavouring is coming from turmeric, coriander and chilli. These are three base spices in Japanese. And I taste a lot of coriander, and the other thing I taste is a lot of chilli. It's quite hot.

"This could work in India as a Japanese restaurant, not a curry restaurant."

The company opened its first restaurant on the outskirts of Nagoya in 1978. The first US mainland outpost opened in Torrance, California some seven years ago. I enjoyed it a lot, too.

With the recent arrival in London of both CoCo Ichibanya from Japan and Din Tai Fung from Taiwan, there are now two very good, and popular, inexpensive Asian restaurant chains to try. BLOOMBERG