I was tasked with the duty of finding a place for a girls get-together. My brief: after work, good food, optional cocktails, a nice chat, a place where you would opt to leave the kids at home.
The owners of Cho Cho San were inspired by the Japanese izakaya dining style - the type of place to eat and drink sake after work - sounds about right?
Chic and Sophisticated
I like to hang out in sophisticated, modern, hip spaces as much as the next person. Cho Cho San is no exception - the aesthetic is sort of minimalist warehouse meet scandi design with white painted brick, concrete-look share-high tables and wooden elements.
It certainly has the modern restaurant obsession with hard surfaces that bounce noise in all directions, but happily, my party of 3 got ourselves a little corner table for our girls' get-together - I recommend booking.
Now, I draw the line at bathroom signage. My view is that there are internationally recognised symbols for male and female toilets... none of these include either a chicken or a butterfly. After several moments staring perplexed at the bathroom signage, a waiter kindly pointed out that I should go for the butterfly. Although innovative and perhaps conveys some deeper meaning, I can't help but wonder if this has ever been the cause of some embarrassing moments. (Having looked it up, Cho Cho San is the main character in a book called "Madame Butterfly" - so perhaps it should have been obvious?)
Set Menus: the answer to modern day decision fatigue
Decision fatigue is a popularised phenomenon by psychologists and productivity junkies. The theory conceptualises decision-making as a muscle - that is, the more decisions you make the more tired you become and therefore are more likely to make poor decisions. Some public figures (Barak Obama, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg) famously wear the same outfit daily in order to reduce the number of decisions they make each day in order to have decision-making battery power to (for instance) run the United States, or their multi-million dollar corporations.
For me, my decision fatigue hits on Friday night after a long work week, having dragged myself out of my cosy abode, on public transport, through the rain ... staring at the dinner menu. It wasn't so much that I was unable to make any good decisions... I was incapable of making any decisions.
Don't get me wrong - on any given well-rested weekend, I would generally savour the idea of reading each menu item and weighing up the pros and cons, ordering a balanced mixed of dishes with a variety of proteins and sides (who wants three chicken dishes together after all?).. but today was not one of those days. The menu gives you an option to order a la carte, or the choice between two set menus ( /- Sake flight). Each set menu compromises of several curated favourites from their a la carte selection.
We closed our eyes, picked the Izakaya Set with the sake flight and settled into our girls night.
Dish by Dish
To be honest, the sake was a little forgettable for me - keeping in mind my commonly frequented, favourite drinks in descending order are tea and water - that's it. So I will move on to the food...
Endamame, Nori, Togarashi I usually find the edamame at the beginning of a meal to be a bit "meh" - not bad, but not really why I left the house. The Cho Cho San Edamame was hands down the best-seasoned version of this dish I have ever had. I am not sure if it was the Nori or the spices, but they somehow made this generic starter into something with massive wow-factor. Exciting start to the meal!
Eggplant Miso Stick Eggplant miso seems to be having a bit of a moment in foodie circles and I have to say it is a flawless combination.
Petuna ocean trout, wasabi I can't go past a well executed raw fish dish. Fresh, sharp and flavours were spot on.
Chicken karaage I am one of those people who are a little neutral about fried chicken (Japanese or otherwise). My dining-mates tell me this dish was one of the better than others they have had, I enjoyed it as much as a generally-not-fan-of-fried-chicken person can.
Teriyaki fish collars Definitely a highlight dish, although looks a bit scary when it comes out - black with spines (generally something you associate with villains in Disney movies). Well cooked with a lovely tangy sauce which soaked nicely in the koshihikari rice.
Pork Cutlet, Koji, Apple Really classic European flavour combination (one that horrifies and confuses my father) with a Japanese twist. I was not convinced, but it didn't taste bad either.
Cabbage Ginger Salad
Cabbage, tangy sauce - the type you get in Japanese katsu restaurants - designed as something fresh to cut through the heavier dishes.
Green Tea Soft Serve Green tea soft serve is becoming synonymous with Asian fusion. But there are soft serves and there are soft serves. The Cho Cho San version was respectable enough to compete with the best - creamy, generous and packed with green tea flavour.
This place has all the hallmarks of a sophisticated dining space, it is a tad pricey for a casual after-work get together, but the right place for a special night out with the girls (or guys, significant other, or all of the above).