Category Archive for Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants
Where can you find the world’s most bizarre theme restaurants? Japan still has the most madcap ones, but Taiwan is coming in at a close second.
While in Taipei, I visited some of these quirky theme cafes — which include a Barbie dream house, and a fake European castle. Let’s start with the blonde plastic doll, shall we?
She’s a Barbie girl, and this theme cafe is her world. The glowing staircase is a prelude to the spacious, neon-pink restaurant upstairs. (Address: 2F, #128 Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an, Taipei)
If your friends are late, you can sit on the plush handbag-shaped sofa and relax on poodle pillows.
Mattel opened this “dream house” in 2013, and it is the first officially licensed Barbie cafe in the world.
A glass case displays cakes and other sweets stamped with Barbie’s ponytailed profile. Other pastries are topped with hearts and bows (colored pink, what else?)
In the back, there are Mattel dolls for sale. I saw Barbie, Ken and friends in various outfits.
Here’s a princess Barbie, wearing what looks like a cake dress with swirls of icing. (All photos by Ken Yuen and noircorner).
The waitresses even get in the spirit by wearing hot pink skirts and tops, topped with tiaras. None of them had blonde hair, however.
As typical in theme restaurants, the food is nothing special and on the pricey side: a set lunch with salad, curry and cake costs $15-20 US.
Still, it’s a unique venue for a girly-girl bonding session. The Barbie cafe is not far from Zhongxiao Fuxing station exit 2, and next to the SOGO department store — in case you suddenly get the urge to dress in pink ruffles.
(Personally, I will stick to Gothic dresses! Purchase a skull dress like mine here.)
Walking around this district, you’ll come across cute shops and unique eateries. My film team and I stopped by Soma, a “tea and mocktail” parlor.
I had a grapefruit mix, which had chewy, gelatinous basil seeds in it. Such a bizarre texture, like a mouthful of little eyeballs.
While I’ve visited plenty of theme restaurants, I haven’t seen anything quite like Deja Vu. It’s located in Huashan Creative Park (Address: No.1, Section 1, Bade Road, Taipei).
The velvet curtains open into what looks like a tall European castle, with royal portraits and gargoyles staring down from the high stone walls.
This restaurant is the brainchild of Jay Chou, Taiwan’s most popular singer-actor-idol. Fans love to take photos of the personalized decor, which includes his Batmobile and an aristocratic piano.
The food, however, is nothing to sing about: mediocre and over-priced Italian (around $12-15 US a plate). I suggest coming just for a coffee and to pose in the grand space.
How about Taipei’s nightlife? My friend Boris took me to several laid-back, artsy bars in the Xinyi district (by Taipei 101). For those in the know, there’s a secret bar inside the popular nightclub, Barcode. (Address: 22 Songshou Rd, Taipei)
Walk in and to the right, and look for an unmarked door. It leads to a narrow staircase, which ends at a bookshelf. But if you slide the shelf open, you’ll find yourself in Alchemy. The speakeasy theme matches the “insiders only” cozy feel, featuring a fireplace and dark leather seats.
Try a signature Prohibition cocktail, made with whisky and wrapped in an American newspaper announcing the 1920s ban on alcohol. The Miso-Tini comes in a miso soup bowl, and smells like bonito flakes — but when you take a sip, it’s sake and wasabi with a light, pleasant sweetness. Cocktails are around $12-15 US each.
Boris also took me to Mod bar, and his favorite MonoMono, which has architectural photographs on the walls. We ended our final night at “F-king Place” (above) — yes, that is the actual name — and drank cocktails while listening to a retro-rock playlist!
Go on a pub crawl to all these Taipei bars, and you’re guaranteed a fun night.
During the daytime, I encourage you to check out Taipei’s contemporary art scene. Many of these exhibits are free, and found in the unique Huashan 1914 Creative Park.
In 1997, a group of young actors discovered an abandoned factory that used to produce wines and breed moths. They took it over and started putting on experimental performances. More artists set up workspaces, and today, Huashan is a protected center for art.
When I visited, there was an exhibit dedicated to the Japanese manga One Piece, and a shop for the Korean Line characters. I loved poking my head into the local design shops, which sold creative goods like the “color-me” robot toy above. Have a look at Huashan 1914’s website for upcoming event listings; the hands-on art workshops are excellent for children of all ages.
Where else can you find cute character goods in Taipei? At Shima Risu picture books store. “Shimarisu” means “chipmunk” in Japanese, so this children’s shop is designed like a fairytale forest hideaway.
The books are in Chinese and English; I found my childhood favorites like Miffy, Tintin, Babar, Moomin, Peter Rabbit. The shelves also stock gorgeously bound and illustrated works by new authors, especially from Taiwan. There are miniature seats all around, and parents are encouraged to read to their children right in the bookstore.
The little ones, however, might be more interested in the plush toys and mascot accessories placed all around Shima Risu. I picked up a small stuffed Miffy bunny for $320 TWD, or $11 US.
Toys aren’t just for children. Taipei has many anime collectible stores, like Hot Dog Toyz in Da’an. A Robot Hello Kitty beckoned us to enter.
All your favorite Japanese mascots are here, including collectible figures of Doraemon the earless robot cat.
As you can see, “kawaii” is big in every part of Asia. The subway had a poster for StayReal’s Disney clothing collaboration.
Songshan Park is another creative art destintaion, and home to the Eslite Spectrum mall. Be prepared to spend hours inside, mesmerized by the selection of cute gifts like these cat-in-hat notebooks. The bottom floor is a cluster of speciality cafes, including a stall for Ice Man shaved ice.
Upstairs is a seemingly endless hall of hip design: I spotted panda bear soap, owl pillows, plants in beakers, oversized fringe pillows and more, mostly by local designers.
The top floor is an Eslite bookstore with an immense collection of photography and art books. Look for the traditional tea house hidden among the racks, which go well with the sun biscuits also sold in the mall.
I leave you with a shot from the entrance of the Raohe Street Night Market. So many bizarre street foods inside…
Taipei has more strange theme restaurants, including Modern Toilet, Sky Kitchen (which looks like an Airbus A380), and DS Music (hospital themed). There’s also a Hello Kitty Sweets Restaurant! However, since I went to the one in Seoul, and John covered the Hello Kitty pop-up in Hong Kong, I decided not to visit it. (I did, however, go to the Sanrio exhibition in Taipei’s Songshan Design Park, which I’ll show you soon…)
Have you tried Taiwanese food? Would you eat at any of these theme cafes?
There’s no place like Tokyo. A city filled with cute shops, theme cafes and game centers. As you know, I love to write about these wonderful places on my blog.
However, Japan can be a confusing place to visit. It’s hard to figure out where to go and how to get around. But I’ve been working on a project with Odigo, to make trip-planning a whole lot easier.
Read on to see the Gundam giant robot, Hello Kitty shops and much more kawaii!
I visited the Odigo team at their Tokyo office. They’ve built a community of passionate experts like me, who want to help travelers get off the beaten track in Japan.
What I’m wearing: Killstar skirt with witchy patterns, and a Nightmare Before Christmas sweater from Lumine Shinjuku. My blue coat with a zig-zag front is by Alice’s Pig.
Odigo is a newly-launched website that lets you create your own custom trip. You can search for cool local spots, and link them together in a customized trip.
You can then download the itinerary to my phone, or print out a pocket-sized version. That way, you have all the necessary info — addresses, opening hours, subway routes — right on hand.
I’ve been helping the team with ideas. Our goal is to make Odigo as helpful as possible for English-speaking visitors to Japan. It’s free to use, and anyone can add their own writeups to the site. If you’re intrigued, you can also keep track of our collaboration on Odigo’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For example, when I search for Gundam… the site shows me there’s a giant robot exhibition in Odaiba! I can click to see photos, prices, and a review by a local expert.
Thanks to Odigo, I know exactly how to get to “Tokyo Teleport” station (how sci-fi!) and walk to the Gundam Front.
It’s located in Odaiba, the Japanese man-made island. You can spend a whole day here, shopping and enjoying the various entertainment activities.
On the way, we passed by the Fuji TV headquarters. I’m digging this futuristic glass building, with a big “hachidama” ball at the top that serves as an observation room. hachidama ball
Odigo’s travel tips including arriving at the top of the hour, to see the robot in action. We got to Diver City just in time, to see the Gundam’s head turn and lights flash.
Somehow, this towering metal mecha fits into the Japanese landscape.
I felt so tiny, looking up at the Gundam’s bright yellow eyes. The statue rises 18 meters from the ground.
DiverCity mall also has a Gundam Cafe, which serves roboto-themed drinks and food. (There’s one in Akihabara too.)
I ordered a green tea Haro latte. I suppose matcha tastes better when it’s decorated like a cute little robot.
You know you’re in Japan when you are ordering coffee from the Gundam cafe, and the signs tell you to “cooperate with judgment.”
Later that evening, a colorful Jpop boy band performed at the foot of the Gundam. Their look and dance moves reminded me of the Power Rangers.
Hundreds of Japanese teen girls gathered and screamed, while waving neon lights above their heads.
Odaiba is a great place to visit on rainy days, since most of the attractions are indoors. In addition, you can usually take photos and videos without a storeperson running up to you and screeching “Dame-ehh!”
I said hello to children’s TV character, Gachapin the green monster, at the Sweets Paradise cafe.
Odaiba is full of cute characters gift stores. You’ll even find obscure mascots like Chikin the ramen chicken. I found Miffy coin purses and cards in other parts of Diver City.
So many big-eyed cuties, everywhere you go!
Of course, there’s a Sanrio store. This one features traditional Japanese-themed goodies, like Hello Kitty in a pink kimono.
One side of the shop sells My Melody and Hello Kitty pancakes. The batter goes into special molds, to make the shape of these characters.
Odaiba is home to Rainbow Bridge, and this electric tunnel that leads to Venus Fort. The colors change every second.
Illuminated in space-purple. Odaiba is full of wonders. (Photography by Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann)
Random… there was an antique car show inside MegaWeb and VenusFort. This mall is decorated like ancient Italy, with Roman-style fountains and a sky-painted ceiling.
We continued to this humongous game center. So many video games, crane machines… and even robot pandas and lions that you can ride for a 100 yen coin.
I tried this sumo fighting game, where you lean on this stocky wrestler and try to push him back. I lost…
I hope my Jpop adventure showed what you can experience, with travel website Odigo! Soon, they will also have a mobile app that lets you add your own discoveries, and be part of a community of travellers.
What type of features would you find most helpful, in planning a trip to Japan? Stay tuned, and we’ll release a video of my adventures in Tokyo.
Get ready… for a lot of cute, yummy characters in this post!
Yukiro and I went to three new attractions in Tokyo: the Pokemon cafe, Pompompurin theme restaurant, and Line Friends shop. Follow along on our funny adventures, which include eating Pikachu pancakes, and posing with a 10-foot-tall stuffed Brown bear!
First, we waltzed into the very popular “Ruby & Sapphire” Pokemon-themed cafe, located at The Guest diner in Shibuya Parco. We couldn’t wait to chow down on the adorable food.
(Address: 7F Parco Part 1, 15-1 Udagawachō, Shibuya, Tokyo. Open 11am to 10pm daily. Phone: 03-3477-5773)
We walked to the seventh level of Shibuya’s Parco department store, and saw lineup of Japanese girls snaking down to the floor below. Were they waiting to see a pop star? Not quite, but close. They had come to dine with Pikachu and friends.
The cafe has a “first come first served” policy… and these diehard fans usually end up waiting 2 hours in line. Fortunately, we had made press arrangements, and were able to walk right in for a table.
The themed experience starts as you get inside. There’s a rack of Pokemon costumes, ears and props for you to wear. Yukiro and I climbed into the funny backdrop, and posed away.
A waiter led us to a booth filled with colorful toys. If a diner comes alone, she can sit with a big plush Pikachu to keep her company.
(Behind me: do you think the girl is laughing at my conversation with this stuffed toy?)
Everything on the menu is cute. We drank lattes that looked like Pikachu’s smiling yellow face.
All of the food is creatively decorated to look like various Pocket Monsters. This is a hamburger wrapped in an omelet sheet, and dolled up with carrot cheeks and nori eyes.
Our waiter brought over a giant red Poké Ball. When he opened it, steam poured out… and a smiling cream puff Pikachu appeared!
Yukiro used a chocolate pen to draw his favorite Pokemon character on a crepe. Can you recognize it?
Everywhere we looked, there was something Pokemon going on. You can see the wallpaper and stuffed toys behind us.
This Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire video game just came out on Nintendo 3DS, hence the pop up cafe.
Stop by the gift store at the entrance, to pick up limited edition Pokemon goods. There’s a good selection, although the Pokemon Center has more.
Hurry and visit the Pokemon cafe, since it closes at the end of the month! However, it will transform into yet another cute theme cafe — this time, dedicated to the Sanrio characters My Melody and her sheep friend “My Sweet Piano.”
(Find out more info about the upcoming My Melody cafe, at The Guest cafe from April to June 2015.)
Let’s continue our “kawaii characters” adventure… at the Line Friends Store in Harajuku! Located on the main street near Laforet department store, these waving cuties are hard to miss.
(Address: 4-32-13 Jingumae, Harajuku. Phone: 03-6434-0597)
It’s astonishing to see how popular Line has become, in only a few years. The messaging app debuted in 2011, and grew to 500 million worldwide users. Now, Line’s cartoon mascots have their own stand-alone store in Tokyo.
Fans can take photos with Line Friends statues and backdrops. I hugged a towering plush Brown the bear — he’s my favorite Line character, probably because he lacks expression. This bear is so tall that his ears hit the ceiling!
On the main floor, you can pick up eccentric gifts. These range from Sally the Chick toys, to cushions shaped like Cony the rabbit’s head.
Downstairs, Brown has his own hibernation den. Looks warm and cozy.
Also in this area are more luxurious items, including a Line crystal jewelry collaboration.
I encourage you to visit the Line Friends store, and do Brown’s signature “fingers together and sad face” pose!
Not far from Harajuku station, there lies another cute new cafe… this time, dedicated to the yellow Sanrio puppy, Pompompurin.
(Address: Cute Cube Harajuku, 1-7-1 Jingumae, Harajuku, Phone: 03-6212-0639)
Pompompurin is one of the lesser known characters in the Sanrio universe. However, as the saying goes, “every dog has his day.” At this Harajuku theme cafe, he is finally the star of the show.
The beret-wearing golden retriever is everywhere you look: playing on the wallpaper, and smiling from the placemats. (My trippy prism sunglasses are a gift from H0les Eyewear.)
At the center of the room is a statue of Pom Pom Purin, surrounded by dancing animal friends.
The dog in the back right — with a top hat, pipe and bow tie — made me crack up.
Yes, this drink is called “Floating Tush”… and it shows Pompompurin diving into your hot chocolate.
Like the Pokemon cafe, there can be long lineups and it’s not possible to make reservations in advance. I suggest coming on weekdays and at off-hours.
The food is as adorable as the decor. I’ve never had pancakes and mashed potatoes together… but when they’re shaped like these cuties, why not.
Many of these entrees came with a free ceramic Pompompurin cup — a nice souvenir to take home.
This omelet looks like a sleeping puppy with a hat. Vegetables taste better when they are shaped like hearts and stars, right?
The menu includes seasonal items, like a White Day dessert. (Photos by Melissa Rundle and me)
Be sure to stop by the gift section, since these Pompompurin items can be hard to find in regular Sanrio stores.
I leave you with some bonus photos of theme cafes in Tokyo. We passed by the Moomin theme restaurant, in Roppongi Hills. Customers can sit with this giant family of Moomins!
This Finnish character is surprisingly popular in Japan. One room is filled with framed prints of the comic strip.
We also took our friends to our much-loved Kagaya, the theme izakaya that defies description. (I wrote about it many times here.)
Mark remains at the top of his game. I’ve been coming to Kagaya since 2008, and it hasn’t lost its magic. One guy performing the most surreal, hilarious, surprising, ribald acts — while his mother cooks Japanese homestyle food in the back.
I encourage you to try at least one theme restaurants when you come to Japan. For more inspiration, read about the dozens of theme bars and cafes I’ve visited over the years.
Are you a Pokemon, Sanrio or Line fan? Which of these places are you adding to your dream-list?
Life is now complete (joking, sort of)… because I’ve been to the Hello Kitty Cafe in Seoul, Korea!
I know you want to step inside this Sanrio theme restaurant, and eat Hello Kitty cake… so let’s hop right to it.
First, how to get to this pink house? If you’re taking a taxi, tell the driver to go to this address: 헬로키티카페: 서울시 마포구 서교동 358-11
In English, this says Hello Kitty Cafe: 358-112 Seogyo-dong, Hongdae, Mapo-gu, Seoul
If you’re riding the subway, disembark at Honggik University station (aka Hongdae) and walk out of exit 5. The tall pink facade, topped with her signature bow, is impossible to miss.
Hello Kitty’s most diehard fans come to Seoul specifically to visit her theme cafe. Try to come on a weekday and during off-hours, since this is a popular destination and the two floors may be packed. If you’re lucky, you can nab a table and plush chairs, overlooking the Kitty-faced window.
At the entrance, you can place your order for cakes, waffles and lattes decorated like Hello Kitty (6000-10,000 won each, or $6-10).
How can you resist getting a cheesecake shaped like Hello Kitty’s face? It comes in three different flavors and colors.
The pink one tastes like strawberries. Only sweet dishes are served here, so be prepared for a blood sugar spike.
I also ordered a tiramisu. I don’t usually have much of a sweet tooth, but this is one of my favorite Italian desserts.
Rounding up the sugar-loaded meal: a decorated mocha and cappuccino, a pink milkshake that celebrates her 40th anniversary…
… and chocolate-covered waffle, shaped a la Hello Kitty. This one looks more like an earless Scottish Fold cat face to me.
To be honest, the pastries are priced on the high side, and look far better than they taste.
We cut Miss Kitty open, and poked at her sugary, bland insides. Not exactly the meal of a lifetime.
But if you’re a fangirl, the “kawaii” decor — including a Hello Kitty statue in a sparkly pink dress! — make up for it.
On the back wall, there’s a mural showing Hello Kitty shopping in Paris. Visitors write notes or leave their signatures here. One of the customers seems to be giving me the side-eye…
Another window shows white stones, scrawled with Korean wishes. (Photography by Ken Yuen and Noircorner)
“Kitty’s room is full of fun and play!” Why not. I’m a fan for life.
Downstairs, you can shop for special edition Sanrio souvenirs, including Korean-style ones. Shop for Hello Kitty items below >>
I was tempted to get this keychain of Hello Kitty in a hanbok (traditional Korean dress).
Let me warn you, the hurried staff is not known for its customer service. They pointed aggressively at an English sign, to make sure we understood we had to return the plates after eating. I guess some naughty diners tried to smuggle the custom dishes home as souvenirs.
Since the cafe has such a high turn-over, the tables and restrooms may not be satisfactorily maintained either. Perhaps I came on an off-day, but there was no toilet paper in the stalls — not even a square to spare! — and the staff neglected to mop up a spilled drink.
However, this didn’t damper the mood of these smiling Korean girls. Most of the customers are young and female, and come here in groups.
The “cottage” doesn’t really exist (unless I’m mistaken), but the Hello Kitty Cafe is a must-see if you’re in Seoul, and a lover of all things Sanrio.
● For more tips about places to see in this neighborhood, check out my Hongdae guide featuring Eat Your Kimchi.
● I’ve covered various Hello Kitty attractions in Asia; here are my blog posts about Japan’s Puroland theme park, and the Hong Kong Hello Kitty pop up cafe. And don’t worry if you aren’t in Asia; you can still find her products below!