Category Archive for Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants

Alice in Wonderland cafe, Richmond Tea Rooms! Manchester’s gay village & LGBT bars.

japanese alice wonderland fashion

Where am I? And even… who am I? The answer seems to vary every day — but for this post, you can call me Alice in Wonderland.

During my Manchester stay, I got to experience the British ritual of high tea… in a Tim Burton meets Lewis Carroll environment. Come down the rabbit hole with me, and we’ll journey through the city’s vibrant Gay Village too.

kawaii japan makeup, living doll

Photographer Joey Wong thought our rental penthouse at the Light Aparthotel was aptly named — because the windows and sheer curtains created the perfect soft-box for portrait photography. Each day, before heading out, we shot images here.

I’m wearing decadent eyelashes from Velour Lashes (the quality is far and above regular plastic falsies). My lip gloss and eyeshadows are from Anastasia Beverly Hills (get it here)I swear by my Sigma Beauty makeup brushes, which come in travel size and let you blend and contour like a pro.

tokyo gyaru cute fashion, hair

I wanted my look to be a tribute to Alice in Wonderland, without doing a full-on cosplay. (My haircolor is by Stephanie Hoy – ask for her at Stratosphere Hair in Vancouver.)

My outfit is a little tip of the hat to Disney’s Alice, who wears a light blue dress with a similar skirt shape. The white rabbit necklace is something I made — with a tag from the Miffy store in China!

Richmond Tea Rooms

I met my friends at Richmond Tea Rooms — isn’t this the most adorable English traditional tea house? 

The tea rooms are connected to a cocktail lounge, decorated with quirky fixtures like antique clocks and taxidermy animals.

alice wonderland high tea

Walking through the entrance, I couldn’t help but feel like I was living in the storybook. The decor takes inspiration from the Queen of Hearts’ royal garden, and the White Rabbit’s pocketwatch.

eat me drink me signs

Inside, a case of homemade cakes and the signs “Eat Me” “Drink Me” hint at what’s in store for diners.

alice wonderland theme cafe

The smiling waiter took us “that way” to the prime tea enclosure, decorated like a garden patio draped in vines and birdcages.

tokyo alice wonderland outfit

Richmond Tea Rooms was at capacity when we arrived, so I recommend reserving a table well in advance. Ask for this semi-private area, especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion.

Now, the hard part — what to order, from the extensive menu?

white rabbit necklace miffy

The strawberry milkshake was an easy decision, as was the Earl Grey tea. (My steampunk clockwork nail art is by Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, Vancouver.)

rainbow cake, high tea

There are a few variations on the high tea sets, with names like Queen’s Tea and Alice’s Tea. The chefs can prepare vegetarian and gluten-free options for you. The stacked trays are ideal for sharing, and include both savory and sweet treats, like rainbow layer cake! 

manchester tea room

All the little details — like a chain of playing cards — make the Wonderland experience come to life. It also helps that everyone around me was speaking in British accents, and pouring tea with their best Victorian manners.

scones jam clotted cheese

Afternoon tea is something you can’t miss if you’re in England. I was all over the scones, clotted cream and jam. 

gothic lolita high tea, tea party

Cheers to Richmond Tea Rooms, which executes the Alice in Wonderland theme with flair! You can tell that the owners and staff genuinely love the stories.

richmond tea house england

Japan has an Alice in Wonderland theme restaurant (see photos), but it feels like a commercial enterprise. This, on the other hand, is the Mad Hatter’s tea party come to life.

yorkshire pudding, wales rarebit

In addition to the tea sets, you can order a-la-carte items. It’s an opportunity to try traditional English dishes like Yorkshire Pudding and Welsh rarebit (melted cheese and vegetables on bread).

miffy jewelry, purple hair girl

Miffy is my white rabbit for life.

Perhaps you can come here with a group of friends, all dressed up! The staff would welcome you warmly.

manchester tea parlor, cafe

Thanks to Visit Manchester for bringing us here. There are so many gems to discover in this city…

the molly house, gay club

… such as the Gay Village, which is where the tea room is located. I didn’t realize Manchester had such a big LGBT scene, center around Canal Street.

manchester gay village

Did you know Queer As Folk was set in Manchester? The Gay Village is full of energy — we saw colorful clubs and murals at every turn.

david bowie party poster

If you’ll recall from my Northern Quarter post, Manchester has a wonderful indie / alternative scene in general.

gay village manchester lgbt

Every year, the Pride parade takes over, proving why Manchester is one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities.

gay manchester england nightclub

The sign says it all… G-A-Y, in bright lights! Every weekend, the balcony is packed with revelers dancing to pop music.

gay drag queen bar, molly house

The Molly House is more my scene — a vintage-styled, laid back pub that serves cakes, ales and wines. The playlist veers to the indie side, and the music is kept low enough so that you can converse.

New Wakefield Street wall murals

Manchester’s city center is unexpectedly small, and it’s easy to get around by walking. From the Gay Village, it took us only about 15-20 minutes to reach New Wakefield Street, an area known for funky murals like this one.

Black Dog Ballroom new wakefield Manchester

There are entire bars under the bridge, like Black Dog Ballroom. I recommend coming to the New Wakefield area for a walk around.

light aparthotel penthouse apartment

After a long day, we were glad to head back to our luxe apartment at The Light ApartHotel. It’s a few paces away from Affleck’s Goth/alternative shopping center, and other cool spots in the Northern Quarter. We thoroughly enjoyed this view from our giant window, and free tea and cookies in the lobby.

pink cherry blossoms england

Thanks to Visit Manchester for the mad hatter adventures! If you’re keen to travel to this gorgeous city, you can find out more info on their site

asian cute makeup, eyeshadow

More from Manchester — including my New Order and Joy Division music tour — in my England category.

And if you’re intrigued by the Alice in Wonderland teahouse, here are my stories about theme restaurants around the world

Singapore Famous Cocktails & Molecular Restaurants! Tippling Club, Raffles Hotel Long Bar.

sunrise singapore landscape, marina bay sands waterfront

Ah, there’s no skyline like Singapore. I’m still catching up on posts from my recent trip to Asia (I was in Tokyo to filming with Travel Channel TV, and also Bali and Singapore). But things are about to heat up some more… as I’m now heading to three new countries on two continents.

Morocco, Portugal and Spain — here we come!

fashion bloggers marrakesh morocco outfit

I’m excited to share that I will be in Spain, Portugal and Morocco with my filmmaking partners, Borderless Media! (Above is a photo from Israel’s Jaffa market.)

Spain Tourism is sending us over to capture stories of cool culture. I went to Barcelona years ago, but never Granada and other parts of this gorgeous country. We’re also partnering with Eurail again and riding their trains around Spain, and to Porto and Lisbon. Finally, we’re heading south to Fez, Marrakesh and Ouarzazate with Plan-It-Fez tours, to support women-run businesses and get immersed in Moroccan culture.

We’re excited to hear your travel suggestions for all these cities. Please let us know in the comments or on Facebook, and check out my daily updates on Instagram and Snapchat (@lacarmina.)

merlion park, fountain statue

But for now, back to the pink skies of Singapore. Some travelers make the effort to wake before dawn, in order to shoot photos in the first light. However, I’m not a morning person, and never managed to make this happen. The only reason I was able to capture these sunrise images for you… is because I took an overnight flight to Singapore, and landed around 5:30am!

blacklane limousines, airport transfers

When you step out at the airport after a red-eye, disheveled and jet-lagged, the last thing you want to do is struggle with transportation. 

I was invited to try out Blacklane Limousines, and booked a driver to pick me up and take me to my hotel. I was impressed by the seamlessness of the process, from the online reservation to the meet-up. Blacklane texts you to let you know your driver is on the way and gives you his cell number, so I never had to stress about a missed connection. Each time, the driver was waiting at our exact meeting point, holding a sign that said “La Carmina.”

blacklane private car driver ervice

Blacklane’s service is a splurge but worth it. It’s a relief to have a calm, direct car ride after a long flight, especially if you have to travel a long distance to your hotel (such as from Narita to Shinjuku, which can take two hours in traffic.)

merlion mouth, water fountain

Blacklane’s drivers are a class act. My Singapore driver offered to stop by Merlion Park on the way to my hotel, so I could take these images of the famous fountain. He also gave me a bunch of local travel tips.

The mythical Merlion is the symbol of Singapore. The fish body symbolizes the city’s humble origins as a fishing village. The lion head refers to its original name, Singapura, which means ‘lion city’ in Malay.

singapore flyer ferris wheel, flower building

Across the bay, I spotted the unmistakable Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, and the ArtScience museum shaped like a lotus flower. Marina Bay Sands hotel stands to the right (I’ll take you inside, in an upcoming article.)

When I was a child, my family and I never went to Singapore (even though it’s a short flight from Hong Kong) because it wasn’t considered a “must-see” destination. All this has changed, and tourism has boomed in the past years. Believe it or not, the Ferris wheel, MBS hotel, Gardens by the Bay and ArtScience museum opened only in the 2000s! Yet they’ve completely altered the cityscape, and are now as iconic as the Merlion fountain (which was established in 1972 by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew).

singapore buildings cityscape

My driver stopped at a different look-out point so that I could see the Merlion from across the water, surrounded by skyscrapers. Crazy to realize that none of these buildings existed a few decades ago.

(All photos are taken with my beloved Sony A7 / Alpha 7 mirrorless camera. Available here; it’s a must for travellers.)

naumi liora hotel chinatown

However, Singapore is not just about high-tech architecture. The government puts careful attention into preserving historic, colonial homes and ethnic neighborhoods.

My friends at Naumi Hotel also invited me to stay at Naumi Liora, their boutique hotel that is dedicated to this mission. (Address: 55 Keong Saik Rd)

singapore potato head club, chinatown building

My hotel is in Chinatown / Tanjong Pagar, a hip area for restaurants and bars. The entire street consists of heritage buildings with charming shutters. (This is the view across the road.)

naumi liora room, lobby

Naumi Liora turned a 1920s Chinese townhouse into a 79-room boutique hotel that maintains the original Peranakan elements. Double-leaf doors, French style windows and lattice patterns give character to the lobby and rooms.

naumi liora boutique hotel singapore

However, the comforts of the modern world abound! Air conditioning, modern amenities — even free ice cream, lattes and snacks in the lobby. No wonder Naumi Liora is a hit among 20-something travellers.

bin 38, tippling club entrance

We were steps away from one of the city’s coolest and best-rated restaurants: Tippling Club (Address: 38 Tanjong Pagar Road). Look for the sign Bin 38, which refers to their new test kitchen and private dining space.

My white cut-out dress is from Chaser the Brand. The bunny-ears Japanese headband is from WeGo Tokyo.

tippling club bar

Tippling Club’s interior is modern eye candy, and hints at the fun-house meal awaiting you. The hanging bottles over the bar are both for form and function.

hanging bottles bar, bartenders

The cocktail menu looks like a map, with drinks sitting on a continuum: sweet, sour, fruity, dry. I loved the Occiton, created for  “Diageo World Class 2015,” which puts together gin, pineapple vermouth, thyme, basil.

tippling club cocktails

Tipping Club is famous for its cocktails, which come with a cheeky presentation. I ordered the bubble tea with melon and mangosteen infused gin — and it had a dome of giant bubbles on top, made with a fish tank air pump! The Panda’s Escape (left) creatively combined rum and coconut water with Southeast Asian pandan, with two panda cookies on top.

bottles chanderlier, modern lights

Tippling Room wins my award for “coolest lights.” The upper level is a private dining space, which lets diners sample new creations straight from the test kitchen. Many of these experimental dishes later become part of the main menu.

tippling club upstairs private dining room

Each creation is paired with wine from Penfolds’ celebrated Bin series. I’d love to have a party with my foodie friends here.

chef ryan clift, open kitchen

Downstairs, British born chef Ryan Clift works his molecular magic right in front of you. We sat at the open kitchen counter, and tasted over a dozen small bites.

singapore molecular gastronomy restaurant

As you can see from the photos, Chef Clift’s amuse bouches are playful and aims to defy expectations. He began with bite-size twists on bar snacks, anointed with flavors squeezed from droppers. I bet you’ve never had a white truffle cracker that looks like Styrofoam, and is served on the material itself!

Tippling Club is often described as molecular gastronomy, but it goes beyond that. Take the Singaporean curry (top right) with puffed rice and curry coconut foam. Although made with molecular twists, it captured the flavors of this traditional local dish.

singapore best restaurants

Same goes for their roasted monkfish with green curry and lime tofu. (Photos by Ken Yuen)

tippling club menu, food

Don’t miss out on their signature charred red pepper with a soy wasabi dipping sauce (right), and mango and togarashi sorbet white chocolate Meteorite for dessert (left).

fun molecular desserts creative

Chef Clift gets especially whimsical with his desserts. There are cheesecake pills served in a prescription bottle, and a rainbow Fizz Bomb packet that bursts on your tongue like Pop Rocks candy. On the right: a beetroot and blackberry sorbet sandwich came impaled on a moving metal rod, which I had to catch in my mouth. 

The word “memorable” gets tossed around a lot, but it truly applies to Tippling Club. A must-try if you’re in Singapore.

raffles hotel colonial architecture

I couldn’t leave without checking out the legendary Raffles Hotel and drinking a Singapore Sling. Established in 1887 and named after Singapore founder Stamford Raffles, the hotel maintains a feeling of colonial-era grandeur. (Address: 1 Beach Road)

My dress is from Alice’s Pig. and I got the cat-ear sunglasses at Parco Shibuya in Tokyo.

raffles singapore famous hotel lobby

Outside, anyone can wander through the courtyard gardens — you’ll feel like a member of the old gentry, on the way to a decadent ball. Raffles now has a row of high-end shops outside.

Inside, only guests of the hotel are allowed. I was invited to peruse the lobby and tea rooms, and it felt like The Grand Budapest Hotel come to life.

raffles hotel indian doorman costume

I couldn’t resist taking a photo with the doorman in a colonial Raj military-style uniform.

We were invited to visit the revamped Long Bar, which is now being more geared to locals.

long bar singapore, raffles

The staircase shows the hotel’s rich history over the years. Ah, to be a flapper in Singapore!

Inside, the architecture retains the old-time feeling, with a 1920s  spiral staircase.

singapore luxurious 5 star hotels

The Long Bar’s row of rattan fans is a throwback to the days before air-conditioning. This is probably the only place in Singapore where littering is encouraged. Every table has a bag of peanuts, and it’s tradition for customers to throw the shells onto the ground. 

(But what if you have a peanut or nut allergy? Then you can wave around this “no nuts or I’ll die” sign, which Naomi made to help out travellers! Just print out a copy of this helpful peanut allergy poster.)

Singapore

Raffles is the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, a pink cocktail made by Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. In these olden times, it was considered uncouth for women to drink alcohol. The bartender skirted these rules with a girly-looking mix that still packed a punch (ingredients include cherry liqueur, pineapple juice, Cointreau).

The Long Bar is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Sling with mixology classes and other events, making this is a good year to visit.

ferris wheel singapore flyer

I leave you with a few more glowing photos of the Singapore Flyer…

singapore marina view, buildings

.. and skyscrapers over the water.

merlion statue fountain, half fish lion

Doesn’t Singapore have a fascinating history? I’m glad I finally got a chance to travel here.

PS: Please let me know your suggestions for Spain, Morocco and Portugal — and add my Instagram and Snapchat (@lacarmina) for previews of this trip!

Indie Travels in Singapore! Youth malls, Haji Lane, Naumi hotel, Burnt Ends restaurant.

naumi hotel infinity pool, rooftop

If you’ve been following my Instagram, you’ll know that I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Singapore!

The city is known for having big malls, indoor attractions, and nothing too gritty. But is there an indie, alternative side to Singapore? 

Let’s see what I found out. It may surprise you. (And in case you’re wondering, my hat is from here.)

naumi hotel singapore

Singapore is packed with big-name accommodations, but when I researched them, most felt rather hollow. I wanted a more artistic, authentic experience — and found this at Naumi Hotel(Address: 41 Seah Street, Singapore.)

Naumi is an award-winning boutique hotel that puts you in a playful, art-filled atmosphere. “Naumi” refers to a fairy-like spirit who lives in these halls, adding a special energy to your stay.

boutique art hotels, singapore

These chic touches include holographic paintings in the hallways, and fun messages on the walls like “Dance with Me.”

The 73 rooms are spacious and have a modern, Asian-influenced design. Naumi knows how to make her guests happy… all of the room snacks and alcohol are free, and there’s a cocktail hour every afternoon!

1960s decor, bulldog sculpture

Several of the rooms have theme designs. My favorite was the Andy Warhol suite, which looked like a funky New York penthouse.

andy warhol theme hotel room

That day, my “Age of Aquarius” outfit was a proper match for the Factory Girl decor!

What I wore:
– Montana black hat from Lack of Color Australia
– Round hippie sunglasses by John Lennon
– Zodiac top from Pretty Attitude (they also sent me the Goth Pentagram swimsuit that you loved so much.)

Shop my 1960s style below:

 

mod furniture, singapore art hotels

Despite the Mod Sixties vibe — how cool is the soup bowl bathtub! — Naumi is equipped with today’s technology. I had an Apple TV and fast Wifi, and even the option to rent a video game console.

singapore famous infinity pool, bar

The rooftop is not to be missed: there’s a bar and infinity pool! I had the space to myself, and a grand view of the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel.

Trust me — this infinity pool is better than the famous one at Marina Bay Sands, which is overrun with children.

street art singapore

Looks like the resident fairy left some street art for me to find! I loved the playful attitude of this hotel. The location is also ideal — right next to Raffles, and 20 minutes from Changi International Airport.

Shout out to the friendly staff, for making my stay at Naumi Hotel a pleasure. In an upcoming post, I’ll show you their Naumi Liora branch in Chinatown as well.

haji lane, singapore

I was within walking distance of Haji Lane, a narrow street lined with psychedelic murals, hipster cafes and vintage shops. Young locals come here to chill with friends, and look for handmade items that you won’t find in the big malls.

hippie shops, haji boutiques

My 1960s look of the day went well with the Haji Lane hippie atmosphere. “Going Om” is about right.

bali nail arts, om buddhist nails

Even my Hindu / Buddhist / Sanskrit nail art fit the theme. These gel nails are by Glam Nail Studio, award winning Japanese artists in Vancouver.

arab street singapore architecture

This road is located near Arab Street, and you’ll see shisha bars amidst the colorful storefronts. Singapore’s ethnic neighborhoods are worth visiting; I’ll later show you Little India, Chinatown and more.

selfie coffee shop

Photographer Ken Yuen and I wandered by a cafe called Selfie Coffee, which prints your portrait on a latte. We had never seen this type of store before, and simply had to give it a try.

selfie portrait printed latte

The staff handed me an iPhone, and I took a self-snap. Then, with a secret process that they wouldn’t let us witness, the barista printed my edible selfie in color, on top of an iced coffee drink.

Pretty neat, isn’t it? Although it felt zombie-ish to drink my brains from a straw…

vintage dresses haji lane

Haji Lane is a longer street than you may expect. I popped into the cute artisan and vintage boutiques, run by local designers.

black white cat sleeping

A lot of Singapore feels hectic and high-tech, but Haji Lane has the opposite vibe — as epitomized by this lazy cat.

scottish fold cat toys

Inside this craft and home goods store, I found Scottish Fold cats in tea-cups.

singapore haji lane murals, walls

I encourage you to support local, indie designers by shopping on Haji Lane! Bring your camera, as you’ll want to take snapshots of the bright walls and murals.

scape youth mall singapore

Since we were a short taxi ride from Orchard Road, we went to check out this famous shopping area. I confess I’m not interested in 95% of Orchard Road’s malls, which sell international brands that you can find anywhere in the world (like Nike and Zara.)

However,  *SCAPE Youth Mall takes a different approach. This building is run by a non-profit organisation whose mission is to support young talent and leadership. (Address: 2 Orchard Link, Singapore)

singapore orchard road malls

*SCAPE is the site of various community programs that nurture burgeoning dancers, filmmakers, musicians and other artists.

We saw a group of teenagers working together on choreography. On another floor, a team was making posters with empowerment messages like “dream it, live it”.

kendama asian yoyo, eyeball toys

In addition to workshop studios, *SCAPE has shops and restaurants for hanging out. An entire floor held youth recreation centers — something I’ve never seen elsewhere in Asia. Teens are welcome to drop in for film screenings, play pool and video games, and practice Kendama (a cup and ball catcher toy, above).

keepers singapore designers collective

Nestled by the big malls is Keepers Singapore Design Collective, which sells fashion made only by local and independent designers. The store carries small-batch treats too, like nougat and popsicles. (Address: 230 Orchard Rd, at Orchard Green and Cairnhill Road)

singapore independent fashion, clothing stores

At Keepers, you’ll find designs such as silk blue dresses with asymmetrical collars, and clockwork statement necklaces.

This Collective also lets shoppers get to know Singapore artisans with talks, exhibitions and other creative showcases.

cute singapore kawaii shops

I poked my head into a few more Orchard Road malls, just to see what they were like. I wasn’t impressed by the big-box shopping selection, but saw some fun optical illusion art and cute displays.

singapore line friends shop

And… we discovered that there is a new Singapore Line Friends store!

brown and cony line statues

I have a soft spot for this bear character, especially when he does this morose “finger tips together” signature pose. Remember when we went to the Line Friends Harajuku shop, and I hugged a giant Brown?

burnt ends restaurant singapore

We ended this spectacular day with dinner at Burnt Ends, a modern barbeque restaurant that is lauded as one of the best dining experiences in Singapore. The charred-looking exterior hints at what is in store for me.

singapore bar, zodiac tank top

We sat down at a long counter top table, which looks right into the open kitchen. Australian Chef Dave Pynt prepared a selection of plates right in front of us. My mouth watered as I watched him smoke up ingredients in custom built ovens and on elevation grills.

What I wore:

singapore chinatown cool top restaurants

Burnt Ends’ menu changes daily and uses only the freshest ingredients, including wines from family-run wineries.  I recommend that you let the chef prepare whatever he feels is best.

Chef Pynt started us off with a smoked quail egg topped with caviar, a tasty burst in our mouths. His specialties are, of course, the proteins: slow roasted, baked, and coal-grilled to primal perfection. 

singapore Barbeque, burnt ends

The photos above aren’t exactly “Instagram-friendly” — but they were some of the best dishes we had in Singapore. The top shows a charred marshmallow on a stick. I’d return just for another bite of the juicy sesame chicken at the bottom.

Burnt Ends has mastered the fine balance of charred exteriors and moist interiors. One of their specialties is a Onglet hangar steak, with bone marrow infused bread on the side.

mint chocolate deconstructed dessert

We ended with a palate-cleansing mint chocolate dessert, and flamed creme brulee. Out of all the meals we ate in Singapore, we’re most looking forward to coming back to Burnt Ends again.

Did my travel stories give you a different perspective of Singapore? If you’ve been here, what did you enjoy most about your visit?

Taipei has a Barbie Cafe! Weird Taiwan theme restaurants, hip cocktail bars & art shops.

barbie cafe logo taiwan

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?

barbie themed restaurant taipei

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)

barbie home decor, interior design

If your friends are late, you can sit on the plush handbag-shaped sofa and relax on poodle pillows.

barbie pink house, chairs

Mattel opened this “dream house” in 2013, and it is the first officially licensed Barbie cafe in the world.

barbie cakes, desserts

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?)

mattel barbie museum exhibit

In the back, there are Mattel dolls for sale. I saw Barbie, Ken and friends in various outfits.

rare barbie doll display

Here’s a princess Barbie, wearing what looks like a cake dress with swirls of icing. (All photos by Ken Yuen and noircorner).

barbie cafe costume, waitress uniforms

The waitresses even get in the spirit by wearing hot pink skirts and tops, topped with tiaras. None of them had blonde hair, however.

barbie purse shaped sofa, poodle pillows

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.

barbie cafe taipei taiwan

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.)

soma tea mocktails

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.

taiwanese tea boba shop

I had a grapefruit mix, which had chewy, gelatinous basil seeds in it. Such a bizarre texture, like a mouthful of little eyeballs.

jay chou deja vu restaurant

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).

castle themed restaurant

The velvet curtains open into what looks like a tall European castle, with royal portraits and gargoyles staring down from the high stone walls.

jay chou piano, taipei

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.

jay chou's deja vu restaurant

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.

taipei secret bar, alchemy cocktails

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.

barcode, alchemy bar taipei

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.

taipei cocktails, mod bar

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.

Huashan Creative Park entrance

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.

Huashan creative art park taipei

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.

shima risu bookstore taipei

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.

children's toys bookstore asia

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.

kawaii toys, cute taipei

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.

robot hello kitty, toy store taipei

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.

doraemon collectible statues

All your favorite Japanese mascots are here, including collectible figures of Doraemon the earless robot cat.

stayreal clothing taipei disney

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 eslite mall

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.

cute panda bear art

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.

taiwan character mascots shops

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.

taipei night market entrance

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?