So Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have opened restaurants in Hong Kong over the past few months. What, really, could be bigger than that? Who could make us squeal with delight more than those two international superstars? Hello Kitty, of course! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hong Kong’s most anticipated celebrity restaurant opening. A super-cute eatery that features the most celebrated cartoon character in the world.
Born in 1974, Hello Kitty is an icon. She's a cute lil cartoon that reportedly makes $54 billion every year as she personifies ‘kawaii’ and adorns all manner of stationery, bags and, well, anything and everything. And the world’s first Hello Kitty-themed Chinese restaurant, Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine, has already seen fans of all ages showing up in their droves to the Yau Ma Tei spot. The hype has been bigger than that for Ramsay or Oliver. Yeah, we don’t expect much with the super-gimmicky food but we need to find out if there’s more to this joint than just kit-sch and photogenic dim sum.
Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine sits next to the Austin MTR Station in an area that’s populated with soon-to-be-completed mega housing estates, tired furniture shops and the odd Nepalese and Tibetan restaurant. When we ask the bosses why Hello Kitty chose Yau Ma Tei for the new eatery, we’re told that rent was the major factor. And we’re also told that it took six months to complete the interiors. There are custom-made themed fixtures and specially commissioned artworks of the famous feline, as well as gorgeous red and gold surrounds, with Hello Kitty-themed lights and a wall of watercolour paintings of the cartoon character in Chinese dress. Even the crockery is marked with Kitty’s iconic bow and the chopsticks holders are shaped the same way too.
We’re warmly greeted by a three-foot statue of Hello Kitty holding a dim sum steamer by the entrance when we enter the venue. And then we’re shown to our seats, which are, of course, plastered with Kitty images. As are the tables. We’re not surprised at all. But you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by all the symbols and the red ribbons. Still, you get the picture. On to the most important reason we’re here: the food.
There are six Kitty-themed dim sum dishes and another six signatures – all created to look like the character or her bow – on the menu. There’s also a selection of other dim sums and dishes that aren’t themed – but these are afterthoughts. The signatures are the ones selling out, so we plump for some har gow ($68). And the presentation is adorable. One of the four dumplings has Kitty’s face on it and the other three sport her bow. However, the skin is sticky and, because of the extra dough needed to make the decoration, the consistency is thick to the bite. The prawn filling is fresh and well seasoned with a bouncy texture but we wouldn’t recommend this dish to those who are looking for a taste experience.
Hello Kitty har gow
Next up is the stir-fried prawns in XO sauce ($168) that’s served in a Kitty-shaped basket made of shredded potato. This is a solid dish with bouncy fresh seafood and crunchy peas. The XO sauce is flavourful without being too oily. Sure, the sauce needs a little spice to it – but it’s nevertheless a tasty dish. And it gets better with the beef chow fun ($108), which is the most outstanding dish of the evening. It arrives piping hot with enough oil to keep the flat rice noodles apart without them becoming too greasy. The meat is tender, the sauce is rich and the egg on the top is both fluffy and arranged into a Kitty bow. This is worthy of the best cha chaan teng.
But the custard bun, sadly, isn’t anywhere near as good. It is, of course, presented with Hello Kitty’s friendly feline face decorated on a smooth white surface, prompting almost every customer in the place to take a photo on their phone, but the taste is far from quality. We don’t want to compromise the texture of the bun and eat it while it’s piping hot. But it’s too chewy and, despite giving way to a fragrant custard that’s mixed with salted egg yolk, the consistency isn’t molten-smooth enough and the dish just isn’t as sweet as Kitty.
Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine is just what it should be – a super-cute fan haven where the emphasis is on the experience rather than the actual food. There are definitely a couple of tasty surprises, though, and the quality of a few dishes really surpasses our expectations. But don’t expect a gourmet meal here. Expect smiling adults with camera phones and excited kids. Still, that face. That bow. That iconography. Even if you’re not a fan, she’s good enough to eat at least once, isn’t she? Lisa Cam
Tea charge $24
Har gow $68
Stir-fried prawns in XO sauce $168
Beef chow fun $108
Custard bun $62
Service charge $43
Total (for two) $473
|Venue name:||Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine|
Shop A-C, Lee Loy Mansion, 332-338 Canton Rd, Yau Ma Tei