Tokyo's Hello Kitty Cafe purr-fect for lovers of the cartoon character
After a long afternoon of shopping in Shibuya, I took a wrong turn as I made my way back to the Japan Rail stop and happened upon a sweet surprise: The Hello Kitty Café.
In Japan, the land of cat cafes, bird cafes and monkey bars, there should be room for Hello Kitty, no?
Featuring a gift store and a special menu — all in celebration of the cartoon cat’s 40th anniversary — this temporary pop-up in the Guest Café and Diner is a sampling of existing Hello Kitty Cafes in South Korea, Hong Kong as well as the soon-to-be-opened Orange County, Calif., store.
Getting there is a bit of a journey that involves dodging shoppers inside the Shibuya Parco department store building, then waiting amongst the crowds for an elevator to the 7th floor. Once there, the crowds thin and give way to a massive tableau of pink décor.
Café patrons line up, and a hostess delivers a menu and a set of rules: a one-hour table limit and no second orders. I waited about 15 minutes for a seat.
The attention to detail meant that everything, down to the placemats and coasters, were pink and Hello Kitty-themed. This darling little place was clearly put here to be photographed, ooo’d and aahh’d over. The hostess offered to use my cell phone to take my picture in front a photo opp staging area.
The limited menu offers fried chicken, pot roast and veggies, and even a small Salisbury steak-looking patty in the Kitty’s likeness, along with a few desserts and coffees. And for the adults, there’s Hello Kitty wine.
I chose the Hello Kitty apple pie, which the menu tells me is HK’s favorite. At 1,580 yen, HK’s tastes are pricey, but my very photo-worthy dessert arrived quickly and did not disappoint. To look at this and not feel all smushy would be a disservice to the craftsmanship.
While the marriage of sweet, warm cinnamon apples and flakey, buttery pastry pieces may sound simple, the presentation really made the dessert. The pastry was in the shape of Hello Kitty’s face, the features outlined in cocoa and topped with a bow of delicious raspberries, all served in a hot iron skillet. A mini apple and a souvenir mug with vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle stood ready to make it pie a la mode. The flavor was just the right amount of sweet so as to not overwhelm and it was by far the most kawaii pie I’ve ever had (sorry had to).
And it wasn’t just my table. Everyone around me was busy admiring their food brimming with Hello Kitty cuteness. The lady sitting next to me was enjoying her cappuccino with Hello Kitty espresso foam art. The little girl across the dining room had an ice cream sundae fashioned to look like a Christmas tree using pastel green cotton candy and decorated with edible HK ornaments.
After I devoured my pie, I headed to the gift shop featuring items exclusive to the café, including Hello Kitty Café souvenir totebags and cups. For the wine lovers, the shop also stocks red, white and sparkling bottles to take home.
I bought the 3-pack of postcards with the café logo (about $2.50) to send to my jealous friends back home.
Despite being a Hello Kitty fan since childhood, I admit that as a grownup without children, I felt a little ridiculous sitting in the café until I realized that plenty of other adults were soaking up the Hello Kitty nostalgia, too. I loved the experience. It was very Japan and so fun.
The Hello Kitty Café with its over-the-top-ness ended up being the perfect outcome for taking a wrong turn in this big city.
Hello Kitty fans should note that this café is on limited engagement until Dec. 25.
If you go
◾ The Hello Kitty Café runs through Dec. 25 inside The Guest café and Diner at the Parco building in Shibuya.
◾ Location: Shibuya Parco building - 15-1 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-8377. 7f restaurant floor.
◾ Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 pm.
◾ Parco online site