New food trends hit Singapore every so often, with lots of fire and smoke and everything. But more interesting, to me, is the process after – the quiet percolation of trendy foods throughout the market, the process of food stalls catching up to the restaurants. The first wave of imitations are often off the mark. But then comes another iteration, and another – hungry mouths driving ambitious hands.
Many cuisines don’t ever make it to this stage; it’s the ones that do that are truly established. Japanese is one of them. And where Japanese katsudon is concerned, Washoku Goen feels like a culmination of that process – food court Japanese that is properly honed, not least because it is Japanese.
I recall that when Washoku Goen first landed in Causeway Point, the front of house was a tattooed auntie who barked orders and greeted customers in the same husky voice, and handled the katsu-chopping with quick precision. Shok, shok, shok, knife crashing through the panko coat, then everything gets loaded on the plate. Next, next, next.
Now that things have normalised, the pace is rather slower and steadier, the staff no longer working with quite the same dispatch. Not that that’s always a bad thing. In fact, the chicken katsu seems to have improved in quality. Previously the breading coat was often slick with grease, but now it is drier and crisper, clinging to the chicken thigh a lot more effectively, so the thighs are moist with juices rather than wet with cooking oil.
But while the katsu has its pleasures, the nicer option is actually the mushidori curry rice, featuring poached chicken thighs. It looks a floppy mess on the cutting board and the plate, but is subtly yet clearly flavoured – both with its own juices, and the ginger and scallion broth in which it’s braised. It has a little of the attitude of chicken rice about it.
More than that, though, the attractive thing about Washoku Goen to me has always been the portioning. Quantity, to them, is part of the quality; the chicken katsu is both large and thick, the omelette substantial and not just a thin skin of egg. Even the plates are hefty, as if to reinforce the diet-wrecking quality of their servings.
All this has allowed them to begin empire-building – they are up to 17 outlets now – and I applaud it. Despite its presence in a food court, Washoku Goen’s food isn’t for everyday consumption. It remains a bit more special than that.
Multiple locations (Consult website)