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2 cutesy cafes for the kawaii fans

Sanrio characters are about to dominate our F&B scene. If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em (Hello Kitty and Pokémon, anyone?)

1. Pompompurin Cafe
1. Pompompurin Cafe
11 May 2016

1. Pompompurin Cafe

#04-08 ORCHARD CENTRAL, 181 ORCHARD RD, S238896. TEL: 6509-8672. Open daily 11am-10.30pm. Last orders at 10pm. www.facebook.com/pompompurinsg

Step aside, Hello Kitty. It’s time for Pompompurin to shine. This Sanrio cutie-pie is actually a chubby and cheery golden retriever who’s just got its own eponymous cafe two weeks ago at Orchard Central. You’d be forgiven if you think Pompompurin is not a canine but a wobbly pudding with limbs. ‘Purin’ means pudding in Japanese, while the onomatopoeic ‘Pompom’ is added to make the character’s name sound cuter. There are outlets in Tokyo, Hongkong and Taipei.

The Singapore outpost is brought in by Create Restaurants Asia, the folks who run other Japanese restaurants like dessert café Maccha House here. “It’s a mystery to me why there was no Purin-chan cafe in Singapore,” says the Group’s managing director, Kiyoshi Kawaguchi, 58. Guchi, as he’s known, says he has no plans to open more Pompompurin branches here. “It’s our company policy to open only one outlet [in every city] as we want to control the volume,” he tells us. But the company is planning to set up shop in Bangkok, Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh next. The Pompompurin cafe will go head to head with a Hello Kitty cafe by F&B company Europa Specialty Restaurants (who’s behind Swensen’s and Tip Top Curry Puff) that is opening at Changi Airport Terminal 3 this month). But is Guchi worried about being out-cute? He confidently says no. “It’s good that Hello Kitty is coming to Singapore, because it’s a good chance for us [to be noticed]. The battle of Purin-chan and Kitty-chan is just starting!”

THE LOOK: Pompompurin is everywhere — as a door arch, plastered on walls, peering curiously at you on place mats and crockery. Even the sofa is shaped like Purin-chan. A giant Pompompurin statue and his critter friends hold court in the centre of the space. For prime Instagram photo-ops, go for the adorable booth seats decorated to look like doghouses, while ‘Pudding Room’ is a cosy corner at the back of the cafe good for small groups.

Pompompurin Cafe: The food
Pompompurin Cafe: The food
11 May 2016

Pompompurin Cafe: The food

Bagel’s Special Pancake Tower $21.99
Each of the five dainty palm-sized pancakes stacked on top of one another is slathered with a different spread, like custard and caramel. Surprisingly, the soft, fluffy dessert isn’t too sweet, and is rather moreish. Maple syrup is served in a separate tiny Purin (but, of course) mug, which you also get to take home for free. We’d order this again for afternoon tea.
 

Pompompurin Cafe: The food
Pompompurin Cafe: The food
11 May 2016

Pompompurin Cafe: The food

(Left) Taco Rice in a Cup of Friendship $19.99
The food here appeals mostly ’cos it’s adorably Purin-shaped, but you may feel monstrous for devouring your cute canine friend innocently gazing back at you. The cafe tries to make its dishes interesting with different types of Western-style dishes, like this Mexican-inspired one with a Japlish moniker. It’s really a deconstructed ‘taco’, with a pool of pretty yummy savoury minced beef and pork plated with chopped tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and sadly unripe avocados. A Japanese riceball Purin sits in the cup wearing a beret cleverly made from a (alas, dry) hamburger patty. Mix the rice with the rest of the ingredients for a bibimbap-ish meal.

(Right) Beef Stroganoff $18.99
The traditional Russian fave gets the Purin treatment with the same yellow tumeric-spiked rice, though the gravy is a little too bland. The richer Coconut Milk Chicken Curry version ($17.99) with tender chicken chunks fares better, though it does get jelak after a few bites. Capsicums cut in the shape of forks and spoons and Purin’s face doodled on with demi glace (rich brown) sauce add to the fun.
 

Pompompurin Cafe: The food
Pompompurin Cafe: The food
11 May 2016

Pompompurin Cafe: The food

Mango Parfait, $19.99
This dessert makes a custard pudding out of ole Purin, who’s perched on a throne of sponge cake with vanilla and mango ice cream and mango chunks. The eggy pudding doesn’t wobble much, its texture denser and harder than we’d have liked. The mélange of ingredients is too overwhelming if all you want is a simple dessert. But Purin’s chic brown beret, made from a savoury-sweet dark chocolate biscuit, is good. We much prefer the I Am Purin Pompompurin (pictured right, $9.99). It’s the same pudding served simply in a small jar, but strangely, softer and better made than its parfait counterpart. Delish when it’s drenched in maple syrup.

BOTTOM LINE: Yes, it’s all quite gimmicky, and is likely to attract more Sanrio fans and Instagrammers than gourmands. But there are a few standout dishes, like the taco rice and pancake tower, that we would return for — if we can get past the current two-hour waiting time (no reservations).

2. Characters Cafe
2. Characters Cafe
11 May 2016

2. Characters Cafe

#B1-36 DHOBY XCHANGE, S238826. Open Sun-Thu 11am-9pm; Fri-Sat 11am-10.30pm. Only advanced reservations accepted. Book through www.worldsnackday.com.

You can say that this cafe is ahead of its time. Characters Cafe quietly opened last December in the maze of shops at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. It offers an intriguing combination: your favourite cartoon character made into food and served in an enclave decked out with the character’s theme. The cafe rotates its themes on a weekly to monthly basis, so no worries if you prefer Doraemon over Rilakkuma.

The cafe is run by Bonjapan, a local company distributing Japanese snacks and character merchandise. Oddly enough, you can’t just swan into this place. Customers have to book a one-hour dining ‘session’ through the company’s website, and show up on the appointed day and time with their ticket. Kinda like booking a slot with the ICA to pick up your new passport. There are only three menu options: a savoury meal, a dessert ($19.90), or a set comprising both that costs $45. “This is a kawaii wonderland. We don’t want our customers to have a fast food experience, so we don’t do ala carte,” explains co-owner Nelson, who declined to reveal his age and last name “to remain low-profile”. At press time, the company is planning to roll out a week-long Pokémon theme which will, gasp, clash with the highly-anticipated Pokémon pop-up cafe in Bugis Junction in end May.

THE LOOK: Don’t expect gourmet fare here. The tiny 16-seater cafe space has a ‘kitchen’ that’s really a shop space doubling up as a snack shop. The facilities are modest — a rice-cooker and microwave oven — while desserts are from a supplier. The dining space itself is small, cramped with shelves selling stuff like $125 toy figurines (“All original products or money back,” Nelson assures). A giant HD TV plays cartoons. It’s probably a hit with kids, but even the most devoted fan would be exasperated with the cluttered and messy layout. “It’s like a pasar malam,” remarked our colleague.

Characters Cafe: The food
Characters Cafe: The food
11 May 2016

Characters Cafe: The food

Hello Kitty Rice $25.90
They’d run out of Doraemon-themed food when we dropped by, due to their prep for Hello Kitty’s arrival the following week, so we made do with something that ought to be renamed Horror Kitty Rice. It’s lumpy with two ketchup dots for eyes, and the accompanying pork cutlet fried in a small portable fryer is dry. We could only console ourselves with the sure-win themed lucky dip.

BOTTOM LINE: Promising in theory, but disappointing in real life. The sub-standard food is made worse by the high prices, though Nelson tells us similar sets in Japan would cost even more.

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