Category Archive for Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants
Ready for a double-dose of cuteness? My spooky friend John Skeleton has a special report for you — about the Hello Kitty cafe (My Melody & Kuromi pop-up) and One Piece exhibition in Hong Kong.
Quick, the “Sanrio Star Chef Institute” only runs until September 14 at Langham Place mall in Mongkok… so I hope you make it there on time.
If you miss it, you can instead visit the permanent Hello Kitty Secret Garden cafe (address: 19 Ormsby Street, Tai Hang near Causeway Bay). The “secret” seems to be arriving early, since this is a small cafe that is specially packed on the weekends. They don’t take advance reservations, and patrons often must line up for hours to get a table.
Back to John, who braved the Sunday crowds to visit the Sanrio pop-up. “If you’re looking for cute character goods in Hong Kong, Mong Kok is the place to go. The cuteness doesn’t just stop with plush dolls and accessories though.”
“Now at Langham Place, the kawaii invasion is in full swing, with a mini Sanrio village in the main atrium and Sanrio Star Dining taking over some of the stylish cafés in the upper floor.” (Address: 555 Shanghai Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, HK.)
As you can see from his photos, the mall is filled with your favorite Sanrio characters, past and present. The Twin Stars, popular in the 1980s, have made a comeback (probably because their retro-pastel color scheme fits with the current pastel-goth and fairy kei styling).
You know the 1990s revival is in full swing when you see Bad Badtz Maru, the angsty black penguin. For some reason, I always thought he was a crow.
Kiki and Lala seem to be teaching a molecular cocktail lesson. All the Sanrio mascots appear in a food context, since this is a theme cafe takeover.
As you ascend the elevators, the statues indicate there is cute food on the way. Panda cake rolls, anyone?
Hana Maru, the white seal from the Bad Badtz universe, seems to be directing the crowd into an orderly queue. Hong Kong locals adore Hello Kitty and friends, so this exhibition got an enormous attendance.
It’s interesting to note that the usual star of the show — Miss Hello Kitty — is not the main focus. In fact, Kuromi and My Melody are the major players since they have their own temporary cafe here.
These gates welcome you into the culinary institute of Kitty. Notice that her pink hair bow is topped with a chef’s hat, forming a vaguely phallic symbol.
The kid’s face on the far left says it all. This is fun, fun, fun.
Everyone can pose and take photos with the giant statues of Sanrio characters. The backdrops are designed for 3D interaction, so that you can pretend to ride an ice cream truck with Hello Kitty, or take the cone from her hand. (I went to a similar exhibition in Songshan Park, Taipei — photos coming up soon.)
Every section was packed with people, especially families. John and his friend ate lunch at one of the themed eateries, “a collaboration with ishiyaki+café, known for its Japanese stone pot (ishiyaki) dishes.”
He says, “While the food is normally worth the price, now you can find enjoy your favorite cuisine surrounded by My Melody and Kuromi.”
“My latte, wrap, and scrumptious dessert were graced with the image of the mischievous Kuromi…”
“… while My Melody was featured in the stone pot dish surrounded by fresh salmon sashimi.”
“If you plan to visit, make sure you arrive well in advance, as the wait time was five hours when I stopped by! If you’re willing to brave the queue, ishiyaki-café’s My Melody and Kuromi pop-up café is more than enough to satisfy your craving for food, sweets, and extreme levels of cuteness.”
Langham Place also has a Little Twin Stars Pop-up Café at the moment. How creative are these decorations? I’d be tempted to eat the pastel Twin Stars macaroons, Kuromi berry tart and Pom Pom Purin pannecotta.
Remember that this Sanrio food fiesta closes on September 14 in Hong Kong, so get there stat.
Mr Skeleton went to another quirky Hong Kong exhibition, this time starring your favorite Japanese anime pirates.
“Avast, One Piece lovers, and prepare to be boarded! One Piece Docks in Hong Kong’s Times Square!”
The Straw Hat Pirates seem to have left a souvenir on top of the Causeway Bay clock. Unfortunately, the One Piece ship has sailed, but you should still check out Times Square Mall for its ever-changing free exhibits. (Address: 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay)
My Pirate reports, “First appearing in 1997 in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump, Oda Eichirō’s beloved manga has spawned 74 volumes to date and has also become a hugely successful animated television series.”
“One Piece (ワンピース) is now a global phenomenon, and Hong Kongers are also in love with the story of Monkey D. Luffy and his quest to become the Pirate King.”
“I visited Times Square to relive these favorite moments with Luffy and his crew, and an 11-meter-tall replica of their pirate vessel! If you’re brave enough to face the lines (up to 90 minutes!), you can even board the vessel for a one-of-a-kind photo opportunity.”
“Inside Times Square there is more pirate mayhem to be found, including life-sized statues of One Piece’s most memorable characters, and massive displays of the many figurines available.”
This little boy seems more enraptured with the toys than the gargantuan Battle Frankies, a type of battleship.
“Don’t forget to check out the Marketplace, where you can find a wide range of One Piece goods.”
“And be sure to get your picture with everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic reindeer, Tony Tony Chopper.”
Photography is allowed — unlike in Japan, the attitude towards photo-taking is more relaxed in Hong Kong. Regardless, this statue seem to be crossing her arms to say “forbidden” (or “dah-meh”) in Japanese.
Hong Kong always has funny, kawaii exhibitions — most are free, and open to the public. When you visit HK, make an effort to find out what’s currently on (most take place at PMQ, Langham Place, Times Square, and Tsim Sha Tsui terminal).
We also posed for photos at a Batman display — I’ll put those up soon too.
Thanks to John Skeleton for the photos and guest post on my blog! Stay tuned for the news about where I’ll be next… hint, I’ll be in three very different cities.
Who is your favorite Sanrio character? Do you watch or read One Piece?
Did you know Cape Town is so colorful? My face says it all: I loved it here. On Day 1, I experienced the city’s kind people, diverse neighborhoods, soulful cooking, and intriguing history.
Follow my rainbow shoes, as I explore the South African city by land, air and water.
Cape Town’s colorful architecture inspired me to dress accordingly. I’m wearing a Goth/rainbow tie-dyed tank top by Gladnews (the Japanese brand in Shibuya 109). My bunny ears hoodie jacket is by Peace Now. The cute Batman leggings are from Hyoma in Izzue, Hong Kong.
We started the day bright and early, with a private helicopter ride. There’s no better way to see the scenic city and its beaches on the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
I was here with my two filmmakers, thanks to Cape Town Tourism. Photography in this post by Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann. They captured a cinematic shot of helicopters landing with lens flare.
Up in the air — what fun! We felt safe during the helicopter ride, which was smooth and not too noisy. We could even communicate through microphones.
Out the window, we saw this mountain range with a Mohawk of African trees on top.
Cape Town began as a Dutch trading settlement, founded in 1652. As you’re probably aware, the city has a tumultuous history from the days of slavery and apartheid, to independence under Nelson Mandela. Today, Cape Town has a new and developed vibe, and is a safe destination for anyone to visit.
From any point in the city, you can see the famous flat Table Mountain, covered with a “tablecloth” of clouds. Next to it lies the Devil’s Peak, domed Lion’s Head, and Signal Hill.
We flew over Robben Island, in Table Bay. Since the late 17th century, the Dutch have used this as a jail primarily for political prisoners, and as a leper colony. The first post-apartheid President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was famously imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years.
Today, Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum. Many visitors take the ferry here, and go on tours led by guides who were formerly prisoners on the island.
Next, our driver took us to the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, a favorite destination among both locals and tourists. We sampled artisan bread, and browsed African goods in the gift stores. I posed beneath the Ferris wheel with my lion backpack from A Bros Products, Hong Kong.
Lots of quaint buildings dot the V & A. There are many attractions for families including the Two Oceans Aquarium, and four museums.
We went on a short boat ride around the harbor. A seal leaped out from the water!
A bunny popped out too. The kids on the boat were rather amused.
Onward to the Bo-Kaap district, distinguished by this row of rainbow-colored houses. This was the traditional neighborhood for the Cape Malay, an ethnic group descended from the Indian and Malaysian slaves brought over by the Dutch East India Company.
One of the oldest houses is now the Bo Kaap Museum, filled with photos and objects that chronicle the district’s history over the years. Our guide told us about the insane Dutch system of racial classification: Cape Town was divided into black, white, colored, and Indian (each with sub-sections). Many of residents were mixed, and rules were applied indiscriminately.
People of “lower” classifications were forced to relocate, often to segregated townships. They received worse treatment in prisons, and limited opportunities for jobs and businesses. I can’t believe that the apartheid system lasted in South Africa until 1994 — only 20 years ago.
Today, Cape Town feels peaceful, and the city is a mix of cultures. Wale Street, found under Signal Hill, is full of character. In this mostly Muslim community, these houses are painted every year before Eid.
The colors match my sandals with a rainbow platform heel, from Shinjuku Studio Alta. I felt like wearing bright clothing the entire time I was here.
Faldela Tolker lives in the purple house. She offers a unique cooking tour: visitors come into her house to learn how to make Cape Malay specialties, and eat lunch at her table.
Faldela is one warm, sassy lady! We loved her stories and sayings, like “salt is love.” From the staircase, I glimpsed her grandchild peeking at our table.
She served us samosas, with spicy sauces on the side. Next came a hearty tomato bredie (a distinctive stew with Indian flavors) and rice. We finished with sweet koesisters, a traditional syrup-coated doughnut, washed down with cardamom tea. It ended up being one of the most memorable meals I had in South Africa, and certainly the warmest.
Faldela then showed us how to fold and stuff samosas. She laughed at my bunny hoodie and insisted on trying it on! There’s so much heart in this home, and I’m so grateful I got to join her Cape Malay cooking “safari”.
Across the street lies Atlas Trading, a 70 year old spice shop with bins of exotic flavors. I’m not sure what “ass seeds” are. In the back, we even found cannabis and opium scented incense.
My crew and I ended the afternoon by taking the cable car up Table Mountain. Can you believe we did all of this in a day? Everything is close together in Cape Town, so you never have to travel far to reach attractions.
Before boarding the “aerial cableway,” each group takes a photo in front of a green screen.
When we left, we saw that this image was superimposed on various backdrops, and packaged as a souvenir! So touristy and cheesy that we had to get them. I can’t stop laughing at how ridiculous we look.
From the top of Table Mountain, we looked down at the rocky coastline and city. I admit we were a bit spoiled by the views we had already seen from the helicopter ride.
On the way back, we ran into a dassie, a squirrel-like rodent found only in southwestern Africa.
The dassie lives on rocky outcroppings, and since there are tourists carrying food on Table Mountain, they’ve become rather bold.
Melissa is doing a big no-no… One shouldn’t touch these wild animals! At least she didn’t get bitten, unlike the peacock that pierced her skin during our safari.
Back to my room at the Taj Hotel. I lay on the bed and stared out at this view of the mountain ranges.
A million thank yous to Cape Town Tourism, for bringing us to this fascinating and beautiful city! Coming up, I’ll take you on a tour of the street art, fashion designers, and African cuisine.
Did you expect South Africa to look like this? Don’t miss out on the bonus photos of my trip, on my @lacarmina Instagram.
Yes, that’s an owl sitting in my blue hair! This summer, I visited Tokyo owl cafe Fukuro no Mise. This newest Japanese trend lets you drink coffee while petting over a dozen live owls.
Keep reading for the shop address, cover charge, hours of operation… and tons of fluffy owl photos!
In Japan, cat cafes (where you can play with dozens of kitties) are old news. To keep the novelty fresh, people opened up petting spaces for dogs and bunnies, and penguin bars.
Now, owls are the stars of the show. Fukuro no Mise launched in 2012, and its bizarre concept became so popular that more have opened up. Today, there are two owl cafes in Tokyo (Tori no Iru and Fukurou Sabou), and two in Osaka (Owl Family and Crew), all run by different owners.
Let me take you inside! But first, the pertinent travel info…
Owl cafe address: Seven Star Mansion 1F, 2-6-7 Kiba, Koto-ku, Tokyo.
How to get here: Ride the subway to Tsukishima station (it takes about 40 minutes from Shinjuku, via Oedo or Yurakucho line). Walk out of Gate 10, and the café is a few blocks ahead.
Opening hours: Sun 12-6pm, Weds and Thurs 2-6pm, Fri 2-9pm, Sat 12-9pm. Closed Mon and Tues. English speaking staff every Friday.
Entrance fee: 2000 yen ($19.50), which includes a drink and gift book. Check their website for any changes.
I recommend arriving at least an hour before doors open to make a reservation, since the spaces fill up quickly and can’t be booked in advance. (I arrived at the exact opening time, which varies depending on the date, and the earliest availability was three hours later.)
At the designated time, the staff let me in along with ten other customers. I saw real-life owls staring at me from every corner — some were smaller than my hand, others were larger than my head. There were even adorable stuffed toy owls everywhere.
All the birds are tame, and have a leg attached to the perch by string. I had an hour to enjoy their company and sip a drink that is included with the cover charge. The café doesn’t serve food, so I didn’t have to worry about beaks pecking at my plate.
I wore a mint-colored dress with a royal owl print, to match the theme cafe. It’s from the Algonquins store in Shinjuku.
The staff gave a short introduction in Japanese (if you don’t know the language, there’s an English speaker on Fridays). Then, it was owl-cuddling time. I pointed at a horned one, and the staff helped me put her on my shoulder, hand or head. The birds are calm and I felt comfortable holding them. Up close, I could sense the power of their talons and bright eyes — such majestic creatures.
So far, these cafes are unique to Japan. Customers get to see these intelligent creatures up close, and interact with them for an hour. (All photos by Said Karlsson, Tokyo-based photographer.)
Fukuro no Mise houses a variety of different species, including barn owls. I was amazed at how tame they were, sitting quietly together.
The staff gave commonsense instructions, such as “Don’t make sudden movements. Only touch the birds gently on the head or upper back.”
With a cute cartoon, this sign reminds me not to take videos or flash photos.
A lot of customers took selfies with an owl on the wrist. The girls made cute poses with their hands, next to the owls.
These two are babies, so I was only allowed to touch them twice on the head. So soft and cute!
Before the hour is up, don’t forget to browse the owl-themed memorabilia for sale.
Fukuro no Mise sells owl-decorated goods like a jeweled iPhone case, statuette, and stationery.
However, the pet owls are not for sale — although you may be tempted to take one home!
Here’s a snap of the owl-petting cafe rules and cover charges.
As you can see, the menu includes a variety of soft drinks and coffees. One drink is included with every entrance. Alcoholic beverages cost slightly more.
My Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow, felt left out… so here’s a photo of him. With their giant round eyes and heads, this breed is often compared to owls.
Scottish Folds are so gentle — they never scratch or bite, and love to get tummy rubs!
You can watch videos of my Scottish Fold cat with his robot-kitty clone (a moving toy from Japan!) on his kawaii blog.
Would you visit an owl cafe? What do you think the next Jpop cafe trend will be?
Hong Kong is a fusion foodie paradise! It was Yukiro’s first time in the city, so I wanted him to experience the sky-high harbor views, and local spins on sushi.
My Pirates and I were invited to try some of Hong Kong’s newest restaurants, which are raising the bar on an already top-class food scene. We indulged in sexy naked rolls, got high on “magic mushrooms”, and drank wine with Miffy the blow-up bunny… Intrigued? Ready to laugh? Read on, and don’t miss the hilarious final photo.
(My skull dress is by Gladnews; more pics soon.)
We began at the top: or rather, on the 29th floor, at Sushi To (Soundwill Plaza II, 1-29 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay). Celebrated local chef Harlan Goldstein opened this Japanese restaurant earlier this year.
Causeway Bay is one of my favorite shopping districts, and this is the ideal place to stop for lunch — the iconic view says it all. From our window seat, we lorded over Victoria Harbor, silver skyscrapers, and traditional red junk boats.
Harlan has an immense local following, and is a rock star among Hong Kong chefs. He opened several European restaurants in HK throughout the past decades, and this is this first foray into Japanese cuisine. (More about our meeting with him, below.)
Sushi Tō specializes in omakase, and Harlan honored us with a “La Carmina Tasting Menu!” The selection encompasses more than sushi: there are his unique takes on robatayaki, teppanyaki and more, with creative ingredients such as “magic mushrooms maki”.
(I know you’re staring at my Totoro nail art. It’s hand-painted, using bio sculpture gel, by Vancouver-based Glam Nail Studio.)
We were speechless over the starter: a salad with slow-cooked salmon, 68 degrees onsen egg, and sesame soy dressing. Yukiro marvels: “I didn’t expect sushi to taste this good outside Japan. Its probably the finest fish I ever had the pleasure of consuming, and the way they served it was subtle and yet artistic.”
And then: kampachi and salmon sashimi. Simple and ocean-fresh. We’re all still salivating over this photo.
John felt this was the perfect first introduction. “The fresh sashimi melted in our mouths as their simplicity prepared us for the fireworks of flavor in the sushi rolls that came later, including the dragon fire maki.”
We sipped on a number of cocktails; the old fashioned and pineapple-infused one were winners. John adds, “Be sure to try the “sake-tini,” a refreshing summer cocktail to round out an amazing meal.”
My friends show their enthusiasm for the burdock pickle and wasabi konbu beef roll. “The panko crusted Hiroshima oyster with black truffle miso sauce was devilishly good too,” adds John.
The non-sushi selections were just as delectable. This is Hokkaido scallop, crab meat clams, shrimp, rice and soup in a stone hot pot. Dessert was so enticing — white sesame tiramisu — that we ate it before we could take a photo.
Let’s leave the last word to Yukiro. “The way they personalized their menu just for us really showed how much they care about their customers. They should change their name to “Sushi To die for!”
For dinner, we went to the newly opened Mama San in Central. Chef Will Meyrick’s restaurant made waves in Bali, and now has a branch in Hong Kong’s hottest food district, Lan Kwai Fong.
The interior sets the mood: Indonesian tradition meets young nightlife.
The PR team gave us this picture-perfect seat, overlooking the partygoers of Lan Kwai Fong. (Address: 1/F, 46 Wyndham Street, Central). As you can see, I had a special date with me… Miffy!
Mr Skeleton describes Mama San’s menu as “an eclectic mix of items from countries ranging from China and India to Malaysia and Vietnam. Beef tartar and cassava chips helped us whet our palettes before shifting to heavier dishes like the “Dhania ghost” slow-cooked lamb shank.”
Miffy seems to be a fan of the appetizers…
… and the cocktail menu, consisting of classics with a twist. My go-to is the “Dark & Stormy”, and Mama San put a nice spin on it: rum, house ginger beer, orange bitters and lime in a paper bag.
After walking in the humid weather, we were relived to have salmon sashimi with pickled radish, edamame, organic flowers and yuzu dressing.
The southeast Asian spices stirred our senses: coconut, Thai basil, chilis, kaffir lime. Miffy dove head first into the salt-crusted barramundi fish, stuffed with lemongrass pandan and lemon basil, served with nahm jihm (Thai dipping sauce).
John says, “After all of the amazing foods we tried in Hong Kong, I would have to put Naked Gurume Gyarari (グルメ画廊) at the top. Chef Justin Chan took us on a gourmet tour of Japanese tapas-style fusion cuisine.” (28 Elgin Street, 1/F Central District, Hong Kong)
Yukiro jokes, “It was so hot outside that we wanted to go in there completely Naked. At least our stomachs were naked on the inside, but when we went out, they were more than completely dressed in the finest materials from the world of Japanese-inspired food.”
I agree with the praise! Justin and his team blew us away with dishes that look like art, and surprise the senses – yet, let the flavors do the talking. As John puts it, “The name of the establishment refers to stripping down ingredients to their bare essentials, but the creations that pleasantly assaulted our tastebuds were anything but minimalist.”
The scallops with crystalline ice leaves are a great example. I’ve never tried these glistening Okinawan leaves before, and they paired wonderfully with the seafood and sauces.
Many dishes are inspired by Chef Justin Chan’s childhood memories. He houses fried oysters in a traditional dim sum basket. Naked calls itself a “gourmet gallery” that mixes art and food; Yukiro describes the interior as “hip, with subtle inspirations from Japanese art.”
This Sexy Naked Roll left us speechless. John says: “The perfectly grilled “nigirizushi”, or seared tuna on butter-toasted rice, had us begging for more.” You must order this, when you visit.
He kept serving home runs, like a rich and satisfying lobster risotto bisque, and this succulent hamachi collar.
Yukiro says, “Again I was astonished by the taste of the sushi and we had to order some dishes twice even though we were more than filled.” John adds, “For jaded foodies who are looking for flavor combinations you’ve never tried before, Naked might just be an eye-opening (and mouthwatering) experience.”
Now we’re back in the hands of Harlan, this time at Penthouse. (Same location as Sushi To, but one floor higher.) “Entering the bright and spacious restaurant, you would be forgiven for imagining that you had stepped into a hip Manhattan studio, but the ceiling window view of Hong Kong would soon convince you otherwise,” describes John.
Harlan Goldstein opened Penthouse not long ago, and despite being a celeb chef, he’s as hands-on as it gets: we saw him working right in the kitchen, alongside his staff. Harlan took a break to sit with us, and we chatted over bourbon cocktails called “Wall St After 5pm.”
Originally from New York, Harlan’s a strong and passionate personality. He’s been in Hong Kong since the 1970s, and locals can’t get enough of his restaurants. John says, “Harlan described his vision for his restaurant as a cosmopolitan East meets West establishment.” Looking around, Penthouse was packed with “loyal local customers, in love with the no-fuss contemporary cuisine.”
We couldn’t wait to try the rustic dishes that draw upon Italian slow-cooking and handcrafted pastas. The meal begins with salad selections from the buffet. Someone couldn’t resist taking a bite…
On the right: Yukiro died over this heirloom tomato tartare with burrata cheese, and balsamic jelly. On the left: I scraped the bowl clean of black ink bomba rice, with scallops and crisp baby squid.
Penthouse has a Josper oven/grill that heats up to 500 degrees, retaining juice while adding sumptuous flavor. The Spanish Duroc Pork Ribs were tender slow-cooked for hours, and fell right off the bone. John reminds diners “not to forget the hanger steak and the well-stocked, unlimited dessert buffet.”
Yukiro says, “I am hooked on Goldstein’s creative and subtle ways of mixing ingredients. I now want to eat my way through all his other restaurants.”
For the grand finale, we had dinner on the 49th floor of our hotel, the Upper House (we’ll do a huge post about our stay soon). John sets the mood: “From the simple and elegant interior featuring natural tones and Asian touches, to the spectacular view of Victoria Harbor, the ambiance of Cafe Gray Deluxe is perfect for celebrating a special occasion.”
You know the meal is off to a good start… when you photograph the table bread! Baked with sesame seeds and served warm, with a yogurt and olive oil dish… One of the best I’ve ever been served at dinner. Yukiro speaks the truth: “We stuffed our faces with it and had four refills.”
Once again, the staff made us a special menu with a wine pairing for each dish. Cafe Gray’s cuisine is homey yet gourmet, with carefully culled ingredients. We started with lobster carpaccio, prepared with Thai chili watermelon vinagrette, and pickled green papaya. John says, “One memorable pairing was the plancha seared kingfish chimichurri with fennel and peppers, served up with a glass of 2012 Dry Riesling from Lakewood Vineyards in Finger Lakes, New York.”
The staff impressed us with their knowledge of wines, and the wines were so delicious that Yukiro says “they helped us forget all the misery in the world for a little while.” Here’s a bokeh-ful image of the French Chateau Bordeaux, a sturdy red fit for a royal. We finished with Greek yogurt mascarpone cheesecake…
… while taking in this epic sunset view of the harbor and Tsim Sha Tsui. Tip: time your dinner so that you can catch the 8pm “Symphony of Lights” show, when skyscrapers like the ICC glow with moving images. That’s your first taste of our Upper House adventures, with more soon.
The best part of fine food reviewing? Sharing meals with your friends. We always have fun — isn’t that the point? — and hope you’ll try these restaurants for yourselves.
But don’t bring Miffy along… she drinks all the wine! (“Oh Miff-ehhhh!”)
Do you consider yourself an adventurous eater? Are you as fond of Japanese food as we are?