Themed cafés are great anywhere, but when I’m in Asia, all bets are off. This time, I decided to take a trip with my friend Katy to the only Mattel-licensed Barbie Café in the world, located right in the heart of Taipei.
At this ridiculously pink place, you will find a specific demographic, not too unlike the Hello Kitty Dreams Restaurant I frequented back in Beijing. The most common guests are naturally overzealous young mothers with their young daughters (and sometimes sons). Add a few 20-something year old girls having lunch between university classes, a few foreigners who TripAdvisor-ed their way there, and a few reluctant dads, and you have your crowd.
I should preface the next couple of photos by explaining that the menu is rather confusing. You have the choice to go “snack” or “non-snack” route. All you have to know is that you cannot simply order any “non-snack” item à la carte, and must order it in a set. The price that you see beside the item is already the prix-fixe price, plus an additional 10% service charge (by the way, there is no tax or tip in most restaurants in Taiwan). Most set meals range between 280-580 NT.
For snack options, you might want to opt for something fancy-looking like a toast tower with chocolate ice cream. I asked the girl next to us who had ordered one whether it was good, and what it tasted like. She shrugged her shoulders and stated simply, “well, it kind of tastes like…toast. With ice cream on top”. Very helpful. The “jewellery box” (toast cube topped with whipped cream, evaporated milk, fruit, and a random macaron in the corner) looked just as fancy.
We opted to go for the meals. After starting with a drink each, we were also given a tiny two-bite salad, Barbie-imprinted rolls, and a cream-of-something soup. But the drink, salad and soup are not all you get to start a meal, oh no. We also have an appetizer to choose. The “tuna” appetizer turned out to be the fanciest little blob of mushy canned tuna I had ever seen, and my “pumpkin” appetizer was more or less a small ball of rice with apple and sausage slices on top of a bed of pumpkin soup. Very creative indeed.
The mains though, were actually surprisingly good. Katy ordered the seafood risotto off the “Healthier Menu”, which must be a joke given the cheese to rice ratio.
I could only imagine how many calories must have been in my “Normal Menu” selection. I decided to pull out the big guns and ordered a tomato-based cuttlefish risotto (just a tomato-risotto with a giant cuttlefish on top). Only in Taiwan would it make sense to have cuttlefish risotto as one of the top choices at a Barbie Café. From an authenticity perspective, these were not risottos at all, but casting that aside, they were not bad.
Walking outside, I had to actually readjust my eyes to a normal spectrum of colours, as the pink overload had offset my natural white-balancing abilities.
When it comes to themed restaurants, I continue to preach that it’s not about the food, but about the experience. So if you find yourself in Taipei with nothing better to do, why not come have a meal with Barbie and friends?
P.S.: On a personal note, the absolute best part of the whole day was me finally being able to use my ridiculous limited edition Barbie Visa card in an appropriate setting. Yes, it’s real, and no, it is not available.