Finding tastiness in and around London... and sometimes at the back of the fridge...

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Quest for the King of Katsu

Disclaimer: This post contains dangerous levels of fat-talk.

Being a woman, I’m supposed to demonstrate my femininity by eating seeds for lunch whilst moaning about how much I ate at the weekend. “I would eat something bigger but I went home on Friday and my parents just STUFFED me full of roast chicken!” I should say, preferably whilst flicking my hair and pashmina around aggressively.
I should order salad niçoise in steakhouses and gingerly confess that pasta is my ‘guilty pleasure’ because it’s full of carbs. And we all know that carbs must be stopped.

Aside from the occasional week where all the external pressure gets too much (because, you know, I’m a size 10 and that’s obscene), I dabble in exclusively eating economy-sushi from ‘Boots, the Pharmacist’. On those days I normally spend the afternoon at work feeling vaguely triumphant at my own weight-loss stamina whilst staring into space trying to remember what it was that I was doing. For the sake of productivity, if not just my own enjoyment, I need something filling, tasty and hot for lunch. For that reason, and due to the sheer amount of Asian fast-food chains situated around my office, I have become a bit of a Chicken Katsu Curry officiando.

(Where I work):

For the uninitiated, of which there are probably about three left in the world, Chicken Katsu Curry is fundamentally made up of chicken deep-fried in panko flakes and smothered in a silky golden curry sauce. It’s such a simple and delicious recipe that it can be found everywhere, so here's a quick guide to the big chains...

The City Kitchen, £4 – 0/5

‘What were you expecting?’ I hear you ask. I know, I know, ‘The City Kitchen’ is a ready-meal company, but it’s a ready-meal company run by Jason Gladwin of the Savoy and the Vineyard at Stockcross. For this reason, it’s not as terrible as you might expect: the veg tastes fresh, and the sauce, although a little watery, is silky and the right colour. Generally speaking it’s worth the £4 that Tesco are charging for it, and dieters will probably wet themselves over the fact that the meal is only 350 calories (gasp!).
However (and this is a big however), it is not a Chicken Katsu Curry. The huge flaw in this meal is the lack of Katsu, which refers to the deep-fried, breaded meat, NOT the sauce. The chicken in this curry was not deep-fried in panko, it was just sitting there in naked, pink little clumps. The City Kitchen therefore gets a 0/5 for flagrant false advertising.

In its box:

In my house:

Wasabi, £5.25 – 2/5

Everybody who works in central London will be familiar with the horror that is ‘Wasabi’ during the lunch rush. We queue for ages listening to grotesque men in suits talking about football, pay cheques and ‘sorts’ (??) interchangeably. When we finally reach the counter we are confronted with a ghastly array of shrivelled-looking food piled up in front of us. The counter-guy then grabs what appears to be a vase made of paper and starts filling it up to the brim with rice. On requesting a Chicken Katsu Curry, a few tiny pieces of deep-fried meat are balanced on top and covered in a spoonful of thinned-down curry sauce from the ‘chicken curry’ pot. Yet again there is naked chicken in amongst my Katsu. I am not happy.

Wagamama, £9.15 – 4/5

I like Wagamama. I like the whole set up. The waiters sit you down on little benches (this way, even if you’re eating alone you don’t feel self-conscious), they invade your personal space in order to jot incomprehensible things down onto your table-mat, the food comes quickly; and they serve everything with chilli flakes, so if your ramen is a little tasteless you can instantly solve the problem. But you knew all this because you’ve been there before.

The Chicken Katsu Curry is one of their most popular dishes for good reason: there’s a lot of it and it tastes nice. Wagamama serves the curry with a salad covered in red tsukemono pickles and adds star anise to the treacle-thick sauce, giving it a slightly different flavour to the other dishes on here. My only criticism would be the price, which at £9.15 is pretty steep for something so basic; and the intimidating mountain of rice that it’s served with, which I feel that I have to eat because of the starving children in Africa, leaving me bloated and slightly unhappy.

(On a side note, Wagamama’s Chilli Chicken Ramen is the absolute best way to stop a cold in its tracks and clear the sinuses. Ask for extra napkins.)

Japanese Canteen, £5.95 – 5/5

It may look like sick-in-a-box, but Japanese Canteen’s Chicken Katsu Curry has become my lunchtime staple. Put simply, it’s perfect: a layer of rice is placed on the bottom of the box and drowned with heavenly, thick golden curry sauce, crammed full of mushrooms, pumpkin, turnip, red tsukemono pickles and a very generous helping of Chicken Katsu.

The food is served so quickly that sometimes it’s ready before I’ve even paid for it at the counter. This is proper fast food.

I go to the Japanese Canteen under the Gherkin most days in the week, but you can also find branches on Tottenham Court Road and Hoxton Square.

At home

Chicken Katsu Curry really isn’t difficult to make. The key thing is finding the correct ingredients, which aren’t normally stocked in major supermarkets. You’ll need to locate the aforementioned panko flakes (breadcrumbs will not do) and golden curry sauce in an Asian food store, or you can order online. I’m afraid that substitutes simply do not work. You can find loads of decent recipes online.

Panko flakes:

Golden Curry:

At around 800 calories a serving, Chicken Katsu Curry is not about to make you any slimmer; and shoving it down your face is definitely not going to make you appear any more feminine. But fuck it, we're food rock stars and this is our crack.

1 comment:

  1. I went to Wasabi the other day and thought about buying the Chicken Katsu but then remembered it;s poor score on your blog so thought better of it. I also managed to look really clever by pointing out to some in the supermarket "That isn't real chicken Katsu because it is not fried in Panko flakes! Thanks for the reviews lady