Hello Kitty restaurant is terribly cute and its food just terrible
Hello Kitty-fans might be the world's most spoiled travelers as the tourism industry seems determined to build a complete service chain out of that five-apple-tall bobtail cat.
Taiwan's Eva Air flies a fleet of five Hello Kitty airplanes. Dubai houses a posh Hello Kitty spa. Anji, a county some 220 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, is building a US$200 million Hello Kitty theme park (scheduled to open in 2014).
And now in Beijing, a Hello Kitty-themed restaurant is creating a lot of new buzz.
'Couples come here to propose'
Located in an upmarket shopping mall in Sanlitun, Hello Kitty Dreams opened its doors to much fanfare in December last year.
According to the restaurant's staff, the Sanrio-licensed business is the first Hello Kitty-themed restaurant in Asia.
"When we first opened you had to book days in advance," says restaurant manager Ted Chen. "We were packed from when we opened at 11 a.m. everyday."
Couples make up a large part of the restaurant's clientèle.
"The most exciting thing is when couples come here to propose," says Chen.
"Men think that this will be a memorable place for the proposal, and so far all the women have said yes," he continues.
Singer and actress Sarah Wang is the CEO of the restaurant. Wang, only 25, said in an earlier interview that Hello Kitty Dreams is targeting at female customers aged between 15 and 35.
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The restaurant seats approximately 70 people and is bursting with Hello Kitty paraphernalia.
There is a Hello Kitty sink and mirror, pink cat-shaped dining booths, and toys are arranged on every surface with a huge, multi-tiered pyramid of stuffed animals at the restaurant's entrance.
Waiter Wang Bing has been working at the restaurant since its grand opening.
"I had other options for work, but I chose this job because I find Hello Kitty really interesting," he explains. "My friends don't think it's weird that I'm a guy and work here; they know it’s just my job."
One of the diners at the restaurant is Cao Ning, a 36-year-old male international trade manager.
"I take my female colleagues here for lunch sometimes because I know they grew up with Hello Kitty and still enjoy it," he says.
Meanwhile, his three female fellow diners, in their 20s, collapse into fits of child-like giggles, admitting they still buy Hello Kitty souvenirs, such as mobile phone cases and cosmetic bags.
The menu at the Hello Kitty restaurant is an eclectic mix of both Asian and Western fare, featuring roasted meats, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, fried rice and curries.
Waiter's recommendation is the cheese baked chicken chop (RMB 58, or US$9.3) with sides of pasta, French fries, and vegetables moulded in the shape of Kitty’s face.
But this was a disappointment -- the chicken looks gray and tastes stringy, the cheese is solidified, and tepid spaghetti sauce tastes like it came straight from a can.
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Secured with cute Hello Kitty toothpicks, the mini burgers (RMB 88) weren't much better, with stale buns and a selection of four bland fillings -- beef, chicken, fish, and tomato and mozzarella.
The Hello Kitty Homemade Ice Cream (RMB 36), on the other hand, provides a tasty end to an otherwise terrible meal. A concoction of fluorescent fruit loops and layers of whipped cream, the ice cream was creamy, refreshing, and actually tasted homemade.
The pink-overload restaurant is also extremely popular with families, with plenty of toys for sale and an arts and crafts section full of kids.
When we ask six-year-old girl Jiang Yichen if she has been excited to come, her mother sheepishly admits that it has been her idea to bring the family for lunch as she was quite the Hello Kitty fan herself.
So, who's been to Hello Kitty Dreams and who wants to go?
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Hello Kitty Dreams (Hello Kitty梦幻西餐厅)
F408, Shimao Department Store, 3 Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing
北京市朝阳区工体北路世贸百货F408室, +86 10 8405 9021, open 11 a.m.-10.30 p.m.