On the Loss of Go Go Curry in Singapore, and Monster Curry

Happier times: this might have been my last Grand Slam, at Millenia Walk

Go Go Curry was one of my favorite things IN THE WORLD.

For the uninitiated, a primer: a casual dining restaurant serving Japanese curry rice of the Kanazawa variety — which has no surviving example in Singapore now that the gorilla mascot-fronted Go Go (“Go” being the number 5 in Japanese, 55 being the jersey number of a Japanese baseball player with which the franchise owner is obsessed) has left the country.

There were three outlets in Singapore, with the brand brought in and (mis)managed by the En Dining group in 2009, I believe. Some elements of the experience were lost in the journey over (the original low-rent diner aesthetic, with food served on metal plates, somehow translated to porcelain in a FOOD COURT setting here, to say nothing of the missing red pickled vegetables) and it was clearly underpromoted — I’ve told my sad story of curry withdrawal to many who returned blank stares, “What curry?”, and then, “Oh that sounds like the kind of thing I would have liked, too bad.” We often say Singapore is a small place, one easy to tire of, but things in the middle of town can still elude notice.

Every time I’m in Japan, I find myself eating at least two precious mealtimes’ worth of the stuff, just because. I was grateful for the Singapore branches, only the second country outside Japan to have any, but it’s naturally best in its native land.

Native habitat: the Go Go Curry branch in Shinjuku

And so, finally, after a couple of years of disappointing sales despite my best efforts (I sometimes clogged my arteries there more than once a week), it just disappeared. I haven’t a clue if the contract just expired, if it was given up, or taken back. Tears were cried on the inside. I blamed myself for not soliciting a job with En Dining’s marketing department when the thought once occurred to me; the conceited idea being that maybe I could have helped prevent this. I daydreamed about making it big so I could one day buy the franchise rights back and do it right by myself. I railed on Twitter, I had a public breakdown on Facebook, and then I renounced this awful life and shook its grasp on me, wandering into the mountainous hinterland of my gastronomic impulses. Over time, in between the valleys of fading memory and hopeful promise of one day meeting its rich, dark, peppery flavor again, I finally found peace. And now I am ready to address its would-be successor.

Of all the colors in the world: the Monster Curry identity is too close for comfort.

Monster Curry. From the first moment one sets eyes on its circular yellow & red logo, featuring a cartoon dragon face where the gorilla’s face should be, there is the overwhelming sense of deja vu, and treachery.

With the birth of this new enterprise, in the same three places where Go Go Curry once stood, The En Dining company has engineered itself a stand-in to the throne. The large serving options are intact, and some new twists added. Inspired by the more successful CoCo Ichibanya chain, 5 levels of spiciness are now offered. In addition to the handful of fried meat options from before, some new menu items, including NATTO CURRY (abandon hope, all ye who dine here!). The porcelain plates have reached comically-large proportions: I swear the one I just ate off was larger than a 12″ pizza.

And yet somehow, the same staff who once cooked pork katsus under the Go Go banner now do a worse job in their Monster uniforms. Something’s not right, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the curry.

Heart disease by any other name: the Mountain Monster Curry comes satisfyingly close to the decadence of Go Go’s Grand Slam/Major Curry.

It’s thinner, and doesn’t taste anywhere as moreish. I don’t think it qualifies as Kanazawa style. This situation is helped a little by the proprietary new hot sauce they add according to your scale-of-1-to-5 spice wishes. I don’t want to give it too much credit, but the hot sauce is the best thing Monster Curry has to offer. If you don’t get at least one dollop of it (that’s my personal limit), you may as well not eat here.

There’s a spiel I’ve seen written up on a couple of food blogs around the net (must have gotten the same press release), about the lengths En’s head chef went to in the creation of this ‘ultimate Japanese curry’. The stuff is purportedly cooked for two whole days before being given another day to collect itself in silence before being served. He needn’t have bothered! It’s flat and devoid of character without the hot sauce. I’ll bet that’s made in a blender in under 5 minutes.

I’ve been back to eat the stuff several times now, not nearly as frequently as before, but close. It’s all I’ve got for now, anyway.

In all fairness, would I have willingly traded Go Go Curry in for this? Of course not. But the list of things I wouldn’t pick over having Go Go in Singapore is long: The Whopper, Colonel Sanders’ original recipe chicken, Frappucinos, steady employment, the love of my parents…

I’ll end with an excerpt from my smartphone diary:

My $19 “Monster Egg Curry” large enough for two (pfft!) has arrived. The cheese is off to one side instead of being placed on the hot curry to melt. Why are they getting this wrong now? It’s as if being privy to the methods of a leader in Japanese curry as an official franchisee for over 3 years has taught them nothing. What.