Category Archive for Cute Yummy Time
Finding Miffy stores in Amsterdam! Shopping at De Winkel van Nijntje, Mr Maria lamp studio, bunny chocolates.
I’ve got Miffy mania! My favorite mascot, the minimalist bunny, is a Dutch creation. Naturally, when I was in Amsterdam, I sought out everything related to her.
My friends and I visited her De Winkel van Nijntje store, and swung by Mr Maria’s lamp studio (they create the glorious Miffy lamps, as well as other cute creatures). We bit off her chocolate bunny ears, and even took her to a castle in the form of a balloon.
Enjoy this travel guide to all things Miffy in the Netherlands!
(PS – if you aren’t anywhere near Amsterdam, don’t worry. Miffy is taking over the world… she has a new animated TV series, and just released a product line available at Walmart in stores and online. Above are some toy figures from this collection, plus books, bags, stationery, a rainbow lamp and and more that she sent me! You can find out more on the Miffy and Friends US Facebook.)
Now, let’s follow the white rabbit through Amsterdam.
Because of her “kawaii” round look, many people mistakenly assume Miffy is Japanese. In fact, Dutch artist Dick Bruna released his first bunny book in 1955, 20 years before Sanrio’s Hello Kitty.
I loved Miffy as a child, and continue to be… a tad obsessed. Her minimal look and narrative leave tons of room to the imagination, and make her adaptable to numerous products. (You might recall that I have a lot of her designs in my apartment decor.)
If you’re a Miffy fan in Amsterdam, you must head straight to her largest store. It’s called De Winkel van Nijntje, which translates to “The store of Miffy” (Nijntje means “little rabbit,” and is her name in Dutch). I snuck up behind her giant window display, where she wears the traditional clothing of her homeland.
(Address: Scheldestraat 61, 1078 GH Amsterdam, Netherlands)
This is heaven… A wall of Miffy stuffed toys in every size, color, material and costume! From Santa Claus to steampunk, she seems to have an outfit for every occasion.
(If you aren’t in Amsterdam, you can still shop for her character goods with a click below):
At the counter, there was a warm tribute to Dick Bruna, who passed away on February 16 of this year. The kind-hearted illustrator is loved for his storybooks and unmistakable designs.
I’m most drawn to Miffy in her most minimal form, such as the all-white statuettes above. I ended up taking home at postcard with only the outline of her bunny ears, drawn with Bruna’s brush. (You can see it in my bedroom, on top of my books).
Behold, a massive Miffy! I must go over and squish it.
When you push the numbers on her feet, she talks (not sure how, since her mouth is an unmoving X!)
A lot of Miffy items are designed for babies and children, which makes De Winkel Van Nijntje a great shop for families to visit. There are items for every stage of life: I saw teething rings, bibs and nightlights.
But no matter how old you are, you can enjoy a hang-out session with the Dutch bunny!
My local friend Leyla, who runs LeylaFashion blog and @leylafashion YouTube, grew up with Nijntje and now has a young son. She picked up some interior decor in this shop, for Danny’s room renovation.
Above, watch Leyla’s vlog about our visit to De Winkel van Nijntje store in Amsterdam, as well as Mr Maria’s studio, and the Miffy chocolate shop.
I was pleased with the large selection of items in this store, which encompassed all types of products in different price ranges.
On the right, there are collectible Miffy statues from the 60th anniversary Art Parade. Artists made their own interpretation of the bunny: one turned her into a duck, one spraypainted her gold, and another put her in Goth vampire piercings!
It all began with a storybook about a little white bunny. All of the Miffy books ever written and illustrated by Dick Bruna can be found here, in different languages. They’re charming and timeless, with universal lessons about family, loss, friendship and strength.
That’s the Tao of Miffy: she reflects who we are, in any stage of life.
Thanks to Arina Dresviannikova for the photos in this post. I was keen to visit De Winkel van Nijntje for ages, and it was even more fun to do so with friends.
On another day, I crossed off another bucket-list item: meeting the Mr. Maria studio team in Amsterdam! I’ve been friends with the lighting designers for years, but never got a chance to meet them in real life until now.
Mr. Maria famously created the Miffy lamp, which I have in my living room. (You can see it in the window above, along with their upcoming Miffy cushions and bean-bag chairs).
Dutch designers Jannes Hak and Lennart Bosker welcomed us with heart (literally — they just released this Lia white heart-shaped lamp!) They showed us around their inspiring Mr. Maria studio, and then we sat down for a coffee and chat.
Although their lights are often found in children’s bedrooms, these two are alternative spirits like us. Mr Maria established their design studio with a go-getting, DIY attitude — they used to make Miffy lamps late into the night, while blasting Rammstein!
To this day, the studio is a space for joyful experimentation. Lennart and Jannes showed us 3D printed prototypes of potential new designs (they are now producing more home interior design objects, in addition to lamps). They sometimes make one-offs for special occasions: playfulness and modern, simple creativity are truly at the core of this brand.
Kawaii minimalism is the connection between all their designs. With only white rounded shapes and a few black strokes, they convey pure happiness. (Above is their Kokeshi Japanese doll lamp; you can see the full Mr Maria collection here.)
Although the team is constantly pushing forward with new concepts, the X-mouthed bunny remains the star of the show. “Miffy is like the Buddha,” said Jannes. It’s true; she sits in silent repose, and is everything and nothing all at once.
In the bottom corner, you can see another similarly Zen-like character: Brown, the bear from Line friends. I have this lamp in my apartment too; they really do feel like calm, glowing Buddhist statues.
Above are a few experimentations: a cut-out 3D paper design, and a Snuffy prototype (Miffy’s dog).
Mr Maria lives up to their motto, “making people smile.” It was an absolute joy to visit their studio and see the creative energy in action.
I’m excited for the release of their next products: sleepy Miffy beanbag chairs and oversize cushions! Here’s your first glance at what is coming soon.
(My bag is from Hong Kong, and no longer available… but you can get my dress and tights directly from me, on my shop.)
The sweetest family ever sits on one of their shelves: Snuffy the dog, Smiley face, Anana the elephant, Line’s Brown, Kokeshi, Nanuk the bear, and Miffy in small and large. Which one is your favorite?
After, my friends and I went on a hunt for Miffy chocolates! We walked over to chocolate shop T Goede Soet (Address: Keizersgracht 95, Amsterdam, Netherlands).
T Goede Soet is a specialty chocolate shop, and always carries a number of hand-made Miffy sweets. I had a hard time deciding between the white chocolate lollipops, dark chocolate bunnies (I guess they represent her brown bunny friend Melanie). Each was only 1 Euro each. There’s also a larger bunny chocolate that comes in a box, which is a nice gift.
The chocolates are locally made and well-designed — and absolutely delicious. I felt bad biting Miffy’s ears and head off, but it was worth it.
Finally, you can find lots of Miffy products at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. The shopping center there (which anyone can access) has several gift stores — and I found this funny bunny balloon floating above a display.
I cut Miffy loose, and took her with me on an outing with Leyla and her mom. (Above — this is a trick photograph. We’re actually standing up behind a board, designed to look like a bed).
We took a day-trip to Kasteel de Haar, the largest and most luxurious castle in The Netherlands. Once you see the moat and draw-bridge entrance, marked with coats of arms, you know you’re in for a grandiose experience.
(Address: Kasteellaan 1, 3455 RR Utrecht, Netherlands. To get here, I rode the subway to Vleuten station.)
Naughty Miffy kept trying to blow away from us! I was afraid she’d get spiked on gates of De Haar Castle.
We took Miffy for a walk in the splendid gardens, which include a pond and labyrinth made from hedges. Every year, the castle hosts a Renaissance fair that Leyla attends.
(I am wearing this exact Iron Fist silver and black dress.)
The castle was always owned by the van de Haar family, and this building dates back to 1391.
In the last 19th century, Etienne Gustave van de Haar married the fabulously rich Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. They hired Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, who set about in rebuilding the castle in a neo-Gothic style.
The finished castle has 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms, and was inhabited off-and-on by the couples’ descendents until becoming a museum today.
The staff of volunteers did a terrific job at telling us tales of de Haar castle. The Baroness loved pink, and insisted on decorating her room in pastel hues — much to the dismay of the architect. We also learned that the family was afraid of ghosts, so the architect attached spikes to the ceilings to keep them at bay! (Thankfully, our Miffy balloon didn’t pop on one of them.)
We were in awe at the castle interior, decorated with ornate woodcarvings and chandeliers. The maximalist rooms are filled with rare art from the Rothschild collections, including rare Flemish tapestries and European church relics.
The wealthy couple traveled to Asia (quite a feat in those days), and came back with Chinese and Japanese antiquities including a palanquin (carrier coach) that belonged to the Shogun’s wife.
Oh Miffy, you’re so fine! If you’re as mad for the Dutch bunny as we are, you’ve also got to check out the Miffy museum in Utrecht (I visited with Leyla last year).
Thanks iAmsterdam for making this dreamy trip possible.
If you’re going to Amsterdam, I hope you get to check out these Miffy attractions in her homeland. Do you have a favorite cute character, like I do?
I leave you with a display of Nijntje souvenirs at Schiphol Airport (you can also shop for her cute items below). And take a minute to watch Leyla’s fun vlog about our Miffy escapades!
Yet another reason you should drop everything and travel to Hong Kong… there’s now a Hello Kitty dim sum restaurant!
At Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine, diners can bite into fresh steamed buns that look like the famous cat. Read on for dozens of photos from the theme restaurant.
I’ll also take you inside the somewhat-controversial Gudetama cafe in Hong Kong (where you can squeeze chocolate poop out of the egg character), and a Sanrio anniversary exhibition in Taipei.
And if you’re a fan of Hello Kitty, you’ve got to check out the cute fashion items below!
Let’s start with my visit to Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine. There are many Sanrio theme cafes worldwide — remember the Seoul Hello Kitty one, where I ate cake shaped like her face?
However, this is the first time anyone has done a Cantonese-style Hello Kitty restaurant. It’s a cute-faced version of dim sum, the traditional dining where everyone shares bite sized dishes around a table.
The local owner pitched the dim sum idea to Sanrio, and won them over. The restaurant’s interior design is magnificently executed, combining Chinese tradition with Japanese kawaii. Case in point: the paintings of beautiful ancient Chinese ladies… with Hello Kitty’s face!
Hong Kong Hello Kitty Restaurant Address: Shop A to C, Lee Loy Mansion, 332-338 Canton Road, Jordan, Kowloon.
It’s about a 3 minute walk from the Jordan MTR subway station, or ask your taxi driver to go to 佐敦廣東道332-
The Hello Kitty Chinese restaurant is extremely popular, so don’t expect to walk in and get a table. Fortunately, you can make a reservation in advance through their website.
The excitement begins at the entrance, where there’s a glass case glittering with Sanrio jewelry and wines.
Even the table and chairs have Hello Kitty faces, carved right into the wood. The attention to detail is apparent here — a nice change from other Asian theme restaurants, which often skimp on quality.
The menu is in both Chinese and English, with illustrations. You can choose from a range of Cantonese dishes or fusion creations, all decorated with a Hello Kitty touch. (On left, a giant bread-cat, with Chinese patterns imprinted on her bow!)
The restaurant has several special dishes, such as this one made with apples since this is Hello Kitty’s favorite fruit.
Another happy departure from other theme restaurants: Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine uses “real” ingredients such as vegetables and beans to make the decorations.
The owner focuses on healthy ingredients, and it pays off. The har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) were so good that we wanted to order several more baskets!
We were pleasantly surprised that the quality of the food was so high, considering the pristine Hello Kitty faces on everything.
Every aspect of the dim sum experience gets a Kitty makeover, even the paper lining of the steam baskets.
I’m sure you “awwed” at this photo of Hello Kitty steamed buns… We won’t show you the “after”, where we tore into her face! Inside, there is a light and delicious red bean paste filling.
(Photos by noircorner and Ken Yuen.)
Finally, we ended with this light egg white custard and fruit. A perfect palate-cleanser, without added sugars or fake flavors.
This was by far the best Hello Kitty theme restaurant I’ve visited, with high standards for the Cantonese food, cute presentation and interior design. The prices are also very reasonable.
It’s the small touches that make this dim sum experience such a pleasure. I love how the owner was able to create an authentic Hong Kong dining experience, fused with Hello Kitty.
More info including how to make reservations on the Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine site.
Sanrio characters are extremely popular in Hong Kong, possibly even more so than in Japan. One of their new mascots — Gudetama, the lazy egg — seems to be everywhere.
We stopped by Mongkok’s Langham Place, where they were celebrating the mall’s 10th anniversary with a Gudetama exhibition. I admit I don’t really “get” this character’s appeal… maybe someone can explain it to me?
People lined up to take photos with the funny displays, including Gudetama as an egg sushi, and a subway train. There was special Gudetama merchandise at the pop-up store, but fitting with his attitude, I was unmotivated to take a look!
Hong Kong also opened up two Gudetama theme cafes. The one in Kwun Tong is a “YATA Gudetama Café by Izumi Curry” (Address: LG/F, apm Millennium City 5, 418 Kwun Tong Road).
I took photos of Dim Sum Icon, the sort-of controversial Gudetama restaurant. (Address: L308, 3/F, The ONE, 100 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong)
Similar to the Hello Kitty restaurant, this one has dim sum dishes that look like the egg character. However, there are also international selections like burgers and ramen, and the decor is much simpler.
Do these diners look engrossed with their food? Perhaps they are grossed out… by the Gudetama bun, which has a rather bizarre design…
If you squeeze his body, chocolate sauce comes out of his butt! I doubt I’d be able to eat something that looks like a mascot with brown liquid oozing out the back…
On the other hand, I was gung-ho to pose with Hello Kitty statues at her 40th anniversary exhibition in Taipei.
We actually took these Taiwan photos a while ago, but I never got around to posting them. Last year, Sanrio celebrated Kitty’s big birthday with an interactive exhibit at Songshan Cultural Park (松山文創園區). (Address: No. 133, Guāngfù South Rd, Xinyi District, Taipei.)
Fans paid an admission fee of about $20 to see Kitty in various guises, such as Marilyn Monroe and Holly Go Lightly.
The exhibit consisted of several giant rooms, each decorated with large-scale displays that you can pose with. Most of these feature Kitty, but there are also statues of other Sanrio mascots. Above: Pom Pom Purin, Lala from Little Twin Stars, Keroppi the frog, and Pom Pom Purin.
The Taipei exhibit hall also had a Hello Kitty pop up cafe, serving desserts and drinks decorated like her mouth-less face.
This pop up has now closed, but you can still visit Taipei’s permanent Hello Kitty Sweets Restaurant. (Address: No.90, Sec. 1, Da’an Road, Xinyi Distict, Taipei).
These colorful macaroons and cupcakes, topped with Hello Kitty candy decorations, look too cute to eat!
I paid a bit extra to see the Hello Kitty hologram show. (Hey, you only live once.) We weren’t allowed to shoot it, so imagine a bizarre hologram of Hello Kitty entering the stage — it was basically someone in a glittery purple dress and giant cat-head mask. She sang and did para-para moves with two background dancers, while soap bubbles floated in the air. We had a lyric sheet, and wanted to sing and dance along to the “Kitty Kitty Kitty” rap song… but nobody else in the audience was moving a muscle.
Are you curious as to why I’m doing this bizarre hand pose? It’s a tribute to Brown, the bear from Line Friends — yet another character with a single expression! He always does this tentative morose pose, with the tips of his index fingers pointed together.
One of the best ones was “Hepburn Hello Kitty: Breakfast at Sanrio’s.” You wouldn’t expect to see this cute cat combined with Hollywood icons… but it works.
I was impressed by the amount of creativity that went into these intricate sets. In front of Marilyn Kitty, there’s a grate that puffs up air, blowing up your skirt! The designer even incorporated Kitty’s bows into the background architecture.
Hello Kitty’s design has changed over the past 40 years. One room was like a museum, showing her evolution from baking pies in the 80s, to Charmmy Kitty in the 2000s.
Is that a tattoo on my arm? Nope, it’s a Sanrio stamp. There were special stamps and inkpads located all throughout the exhibit. Fans collected these prints on notebooks or on their bodies.
This exhibition took place in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. Originally a Japanese colonial tobacco factory, Taipei’s government has converted this unexpected space into a “Creative Hub” for artists and innovators. The park transforms ghosts of its past — boiler rooms, warehouses — into modern design museums, gardens and stores.
You can check the Songshan Park website for upcoming special events. This “Hell Kitty” presentation is no more, but there are always other kawaii displays.
Taipei is crazy for this cat. In addition to the Sweets theme cafe, the airport has a Hello Kitty lounge. EVA Air also has a Hello Kitty airplane, which I’m keen to fly.
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt turns into Hello Kitty and her teddy bear. A wonderful use of colored mirrors to recreate the Art Nouveau work.
You all know I love Italo Disco… so this was perhaps my favorite backdrop!
Wouldn’t you love to party all night with me and DJ Disco Queen?
The life-size sets encourage guests to pose and be silly. In front of this retro TV, there were giant Charlie Chaplin shoes that you could step into.
Near the end of the maze-like exhibit, you could see the concept drawings and a video of how it all came to life.
Pretty amazing how a simple character design can inspire so many artistic variations, over the course of four decades.
Taipei’s Hello Kitty exhibition encapsulated what I love about Sanrio. They’re more than cute merchandisers. Their designs inspire creativity, unite fans of all ages, and put smiles on their faces.
Would you visit a Hello Kitty dim sum restaurant, or exhibition where you can pose with the characters?
(Here are my favorite Sanrio fashion items and toys below — click the images to shop them.)
Winter is coming… and autumn has most certainly arrived!
My friends and I love this time of year because we can finally take out our leather jackets, and vamp up our wardrobes with cold-weather accessories such as gloves.
I was excited when Farfetch invited me to create an Autumn / Winter look from their latest collections. This online fashion portal carries an immense selection, including a lot of independent and Japanese designers — and you know I’m all about that.
I love taking walks outside any time of the year, but there’s a particular joy in crunching through autumn leaves, and breathing in the crisp air. So I thought I’d show you what I wear on one of my outdoor excursions.
In the Farfetch workout essentials section, I found this cut-out Michi top that doubles as a sports bra. It’s perfect for wearing under a leather jacket, and if you start to feel cold, you can simply zip up your coat.
I love these black leggings with white line details — they’re Y-3 by Yohji Yamamoto. I usually have a hard time finding activewear that I love, but this Japanese edgy label is right up my alley.
I paired my Gothic activewear with a studded, dark blue leather jacket from Hong Kong. It’s by the brand Bauhaus, which is only found in Asia.
In the wintertime, it’s still important to protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses. The glare from the snow can be blinding, and the harsh weather can dry out and irritate your eyes.
Happily, Farfetch has a treasure-trove selection of sunglasses. I picked out Linda Farrow x Phillip Lim sunglasses: I adore retro accessories, and couldn’t resist these round glam-hippie frames. I also thought the blue color was a nice fit for winter.
Finally, my hands get cold easily, so I’m always in need of gloves. Many people think of winter accessories as “utility garments,” but why not get something with style?
When I saw these Moschino gloves on Farfetch, I couldn’t resist. The style is 100% “me,” with a red heart, leopard print, and black leather!
I hope my outfit post got you inspired to revamp your autumn / winter wardrobe. There’s no need to stick to black colors and boring accessories… have fun with this season!
If you liked these looks, you can get everything I’m wearing (plus much more) on Farfetch. They invite you to share your finds on social media with hashtags #farfetch #myfarfetch.
During the winter months, you’ll inevitably be spending more time inside.
Instead of seeing this as a negative, I make this an opportunity to re-boot my workouts. Keeping fit also helps me feel energized, even if I’m staying indoors.
Have you heard of the term Health Goth? The media has been talking about the trend of people wearing black, Gothic-looking activewear. But in fact, this has nothing to do with the subculture, and the sportsgear is still by mainstream brands.
Nevertheless, I like the general idea of “health Gothic” — in the sense that you can work out hard, and still dress and feel like yourself. I don’t think any of you could picture me in a pink yoga outfit, right?
I’m wearing black workout leggings with a stripy twist: Y-3 by Yohji Yamamoto. They’re functional for all types of fitness activities, and well made so that they won’t thin out or stretch out of shape (two of my pet peeves about leggings).
This Michi sports cropped top fits my aesthetic perfectly. I’m a big fan of cut-out designs, and the bra has built in support.
I hope these outfit photos give you some ideas for how you too can be Goth at the gym.
What type of workout routine do I have?
When I’m home for an extended period of time, I enjoy taking fitness classes. This month, I did a mix of pilates, yoga, and TRX (a Navy Seal suspension training method that’s brilliant for core).
I also work out on my own. I do bodyweight exercises, videos (such as Tracy Anderson), and high-intensity interval training. I choose cardio that is gentle on the knees, such as sprinting on an elliptical or rebounding on a trampoline. And, as mentioned before, I go on long walks.
Overall, I mix up my workouts and try to maximize efficiency (no moderate chronic cardio for this girl). I focus on exercises that build up my core, flexibility, and balance. This all works toward my goal of “functional” strength and endurance, which helps me on my sometimes grueling travels.
Now, let’s talk about food and diet! When I’m home, I try to eat “clean” about 80% of the time. It’s not complicated: I focus on high quality whole foods (especially organic / grass fed / free range / seasonal / local). Everything is prepared simply (baked, steamed, poached, stir-fried) with simple flavors.
I eat a lot of vegetables, healthy protein and fats, and low-glycemic fruits. I love my raw cheeses and organic plain yogurt / kefir. I avoid “junk foods” (with chemicals and unrecognizable ingredients), added sugars (including fake sweeteners), and empty carbs / gluten (I stick to brown rice, sweet potatoes etc). The above sashimi salad from Hong Kong’s Sushi To is a great example.
However, it’s important to stay flexible, and thoroughly enjoy the other 20%! (Coco Ichiban curry gets a thumb’s up and bow, during our Norway travel TV shoot in Tokyo.)
Now, when I travel, I don’t stick to the 80/20 equation. I consider food to be a huge part of the traveling experience, and eat my fill of local dishes while I’m there. (It’s actually good to mix things up, to avoid having the body adapt and stagnate. You can Google “leptin reset” for more on this phenomenon.)
Eating freely while you’re overseas lets you learn so much about the local culture. I often didn’t realize certain ingredients or dishes existed — or that the Japanese were this creative at cute food design!
Did you enjoy reading about my diet and workout? What do you think of my fall / winter “health Gothic” outfit?
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?