A few of my friends and I have been interested in visiting the Hello Kitty Dreams Restaurant in Beijing since the restaurant opened last December, however things never materialized. Fed up with waiting and surprised that the restaurant had survived this long, I arranged to have lunch with a food writer friend of mine. Unfortunately she canceled on me as soon as I arrived at the restaurant.
Instead of backing out and going eating somewhere more "conventional" I entered the HKDR with my head held high and my headphones blaring. To my surprise and delight the restaurant was pretty much empty save a two tables. When HKDR opened last year, it was a welcome addition to Beijing's small list of theme restaurants. The restaurant is supposedly a place where "dreams" come true...
Located inside an "upscale" shopping mall in Beijing's Sanlitun area, HKDR looks very out of place. Unlike how the Barbie Store in Shanghai meshed well with the Omega and Gucci stores around it, the HKDR looks like a mall restaurant—almost like a pink version of TGI Fridays.
Standing outside next to a podium with the menu were two young ladies dressed in pink maid outfits welcoming guests to enter through the pink threshold that is the official Hello Kitty eatery in China. Once inside it was like stepping into a Sanrio store on steroids. Hello Kitty dolls were everywhere. Keep in mind that the Japanese sensation Hello Kitty is so popular in China that Chinese jewelry stores even carry Hello Kitty Jewelery.
The restaurant was actually quite small; it seats about 60 people, with two private rooms that seat up to eight. The furniture was rather ornate, many of which were decorated with red hearts. The walls were pink and on them hung portraits of Hello Kitty and her many friends. Littered all over the place were plastic wrapped Sanrio plushies, all of which I am told are available for sale.
Walking in past the big Hello Kitty, I felt dirty, this being an obvious restaurant for children and in particularly little girls. There was an overwhelming feeling that I was being looked at and judged by the restaurant staff and it's four (count four patrons during Sunday lunch) patrons. Luckily for me, my waitress who shall be known as KT said that it was common for single men to appear at the HKDR.
"Most of our patrons are families with young children but it's common to see men here," said KT. "About 20 percent of our patrons are single men."
I asked KT what kind of single men came and why they dined at the HKDR and she said that most of the men came to purchase a gift for their lady friend and that in fact, I was the only singular male to ever show up and just eat...
HKDR's menu and wares seemed very weathered and it makes sense. According to KT, the restaurant is packed with people for dinner and the weekends. Logically it makes sense, lots of little children flipping through the menu fraying the edges and such—I can see it.
Sitting at a booth and feeling like I needed to get the heck out of dodge, I flipped through the menu. It was very common western fare, albeit a bit pricier than I would've liked. There were PB&J sandwiches, steaks, fried chicken and even fish and chips. I ordered an appetizer, a drink and a sandwich.
KT recommended the homemade Hello Kitty yogurt to start off my meal and the chef's special sandwich. I picked the Hello Kitty Blueberry soda to wash everything down. The yogurt was an odd choice for an appetizer but it wasn't bad. It tasted like a liquid blueberry cheesecake, very delicious!
The sandwich on the other hand was very disappointing. The chef's sandwich looks like someone threw up on a baguette. All it is, is a baguette split in half covered with "taco" meat, bell peppers and tomatoes, all smothered in cheese. The only redeeming factor of the sandwich was the fact that it came with a healthy helping of crinkle-cut french fries. After trying to swallow the disgusting "taco" meat sandwich, I washed everything down with the blueberry soda. It was really refreshing, though I couldn't taste the blueberry.
Altogether I had spent about 40 minutes in the restaurant, and the decor started to get to me. As I was eating my "taco" meat sandwich, a table left, leaving me alone in the restaurant with two patrons and about 10 staff members. Looking to lighten the mood, I asked KT a little more about the restaurant. She was reluctant to answer my questions so it became idle chit-chat.
I wouldn't say that it was a pleasant experience. I kept feeling that everyone thought I was some kind of bad pedophile looking to spy on children. Taking pictures of everything didn't help. The food for the most part was passable (I'm overlooking the sandwich because it came with good fries, you have no idea how hard it is to get good fries in Beijing!). The only thing I felt missing from my Hello Kitty experience was that there weren't any Hello Kitty video games or cartoons playing in the restaurant. There was a noticeable lack of televisions and electronic displays. And grown men.