Cheap & Good

Spicy mentaiko don at Japanese Curry Express

The Mentai Don comes with fresh slices of torched salmon and a liberal dusting of chilli flakes.
The Mentai Don comes with fresh slices of torched salmon and a liberal dusting of chilli flakes. ST PHOTO: NATASHA ANN ZACHARIAH

Cheap Japanese food is mostly never good, while good Japanese food is hardly ever cheap.

But Japanese Curry Express defies the norm, especially with its Mentai Don ($10).

This dish comes with fresh slices of torched salmon over Japanese rice, topped with a generous dollop of mentaiko sauce.

For someone who loves a spicy kick with every meal, I appreciate the liberal dusting of chilli flakes over the dish. It balances out the creamy sauce, which is made by the chefs every few days.

As I devour the Mentai Don and see the bowl empty quickly, I regret not upsizing my order - it costs an additional $3 for a bigger bowl - so that I can savour more of the delicious flavours.

I order the Pork Katsu Curry Rice ($7), only to see if it has any merit, given that the eatery touts Japanese curry in its name.

  • JAPANESE CURRY EXPRESS

    03-04 Fortune Centre, 190 Middle Road, tel: 9689-6314, open: 11.30am to 3pm, 4.30pm to 8.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays and public holidays

    Rating: 3.5/5 stars

However, I have to admit that I am not the right person to judge Japanese curry. Often, it is too sweet for my liking and I am put off by its pale shade.

The dish, complete with slices of fried pork, arrives piping hot.

I enjoy the meat - it is evenly breaded and fried well - but as expected, I am not a fan.

Still, there is much to like about Japanese Curry Express, which was opened in 2014 by two friends who used to work at a Japanese eatery.

The menu is extensive, with 48 items, including Ebi Fry Curry Rice ($7) and Char Siew Ramen ($7).

Also, many of the dishes are under $10, which is value for money. You can order a few items to share without inflating the bill too much.

I enjoy the Spicy Tuna Salad ($7), which comes in a much bigger portion than I expect. The fresh cold cucumber, served with the tuna, has a good crunch and balances the spiciness.

Co-owner Valen Khoo, 38, says he provides a generous serving as some of his customers do not eat rice at lunch. This is a filling option for them.

Beyond the food, a part of Japanese Curry Express' charm is its location. Parked amid a hodgepodge of businesses such as beauty salons and shops selling religious artefacts, the Japanese eatery is truly a hole-in-the-wall find.

The place already has its fans, so expect to wait for a table, especially during lunchtime. But do not worry - the line moves fast as many people eat quickly and leave.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Japanese food with a spicy kick'. Print Edition | Subscribe