5 weeks ago
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Here Kitty, Kitty
I hesitated writing this post because I didn't want the site to be indexed for all sorts of weird Hello Kitty SEO high jinks. But the way I see it, not much of anything is being indexed here these days, so might as well choose the Kitty over nothing.
Marilyn found it odd that I was so eager to try the official Hello Kitty restaurant when it opened a few months ago. I played it off as an ironic visit to appease the three or four Twitter followers who've inquired about it. Of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that my family dressed me in all sorts of Sanrio outfits (mostly Keroppi and Ahiru no Pekkle) when I was a kid.
I used to wear this lime-green Keroppi jumpsuit on the dodgeball court that earned me the nickname "Green Snot," which actually wasn't that bad as far as elementary school playground monikers go. You should have heard the names the other kids got.
I'm going to move on.
A few weeks ago, I published a blog post for work asking for people's thoughts on the worst meal they'd had in Beijing, promising readers that I'd try the places they named. A reader mentioned Hello Kitty, so I seized the opportunity to finally try it out.
The Hello Kitty Dreams Restaurant is the first officially licensed H/K restaurant in China. It's decorated as a sea of pink and white with waitresses in pink maid outfits and servers in oversized blue overalls. I was originally planning on eating alone, but Marilyn managed to get off work in time to join me for dinner.
I arrived alone, however, and found the manager talking on the phone (in a drab pink dress shirt). I snapped some pictures while I waited for him to hang up, but he kept talking and at one point was leaning on the counter. A couple minutes later, a lady walked up and he immediately hung up the phone and took her to a table.
I'm still not exactly sure what happened here, but I think he assumed I wasn't a customer. Frankly, I felt a bit creepy skulking into the restaurant on my own. Anyway, when he came back from seating the other customer, he realized that I was actually there to eat and apologized profusely. Other than that awkward incident, the service was extremely helpful.
Eventually Marilyn arrived and we got down to the business of ordering. We decided to try a curry (RMB 42, because someone had mentioned it as being gross) and the fish and chips (RMB 88).
Without getting too psycho-babbly on you, the thing about the Dreams Restaurant is that it creates an atmosphere that encourages pretending (dreaming, if you will) that you are Hello Kitty (or Dear Daniel). It goes beyond the kind of spectating you get when you see an actress in a Disney princess suit at Disneyland. So that's why I ordered the fish -- to stay in character.
I'd even tried to dress up in my very best Dear Daniel impression, which in my mind meant putting on a cardigan and a pink tie.
I ordered the Hello Kitty cocktail (RMB 56) because I was curious to find out what kind of drinks Miss Kitty turns to after a hard day of work at the Sanrio Ranch. Her signature drink tastes like dish soap.
The curry arrived with the rice in the shape of a Kitty head. Right about now is when the dream breaks down. Are we meant to imagine ourselves as participating in a fantastical act of symbolic cannibalism? Some questions are better left unanswered.
Depending on which side of the feline you fall, the cat-head rice is either the cutest or the creepiest thing you've seen today. Discuss.
Meanwhile, the fish and chips arrived as a solitary piece of fish, a handful of fries, and a few slices of raw onion. In all fairness, the food wasn't actually as bad (or expensive) as we'd heard it was. The curry was okay. It was slightly worse than if you just made one yourself from one of those Golden Curry boxes, but still edible. The fish was good, but not RMB 88 good.
If I were to arbitrarily calculate the Kitty Tax on our food, I'd say the curry had a 22 RMB markup just for being Kitty-themed. The fish, on the other hand, was about half the portion of Fish Nation's version for twice the price. I've had my share of terrible cocktails in this town, but normally I'd expect to pay around RMB 30-40 for a syrupy mess.
At one point, Marilyn wandered off in hopes of finding a Hello Kitty toilet, but all she found was a cat-shaped sink and mirror. Seems to me like that's a missed opportunity there.
I was surprised at how full the restaurant was when we visited. The few other times I'd walked by the place, it had seemed empty. I'm guessing that no matter what I say, some of you are still going to head down there to check it out. And frankly, I don't want to be the one to crush your dreams. If you're wondering what to expect, I'd recommend that you imagine that you're heading to a miniature theme park. That way you're not surprised by the over-priced, mediocre food.
One of my friend's kids was showing off her Hello Kitty jumpsuit (basically a pink version of my Keroppi one) the other day and it got me thinking. H/K has achieved an incredible mass appeal in today's society: four-year-olds, college kids and creepy twenty-something bloggers can all fall for her charms.
For as long as it lasts, Dreams Restaurant is going to make some people very happy. It's just unfortunate that the place is also going to make some hungry people very unhappy in the process.