After waiting patiently for decades, a permanent Hello Kitty cafe has finally put down roots in the U.S. But this news is made all the more fantastic for the fact that it’s located right here in Southern California. I always envisioned having to book a flight and crossing the Pacific Ocean just to have an authentic Sanrio sit-down experience, but not anymore.
The Hello Kitty Grand Cafe at the Irvine Spectrum Center opened to the public on September 14, 2018. It replaced the Hello Kitty Cafe Pop-Up Container previously there. The Grand Cafe features “dual experiential spaces.” The front half of the suite is occupied by a fast-casual dining option while the back of the cafe offers a reservation-only concept. Separating the two enclosures is a locked door with a gold bow-shaped knocker affixed to it. This private space, aptly named the Bow Room is a family-friendly, pink, plush tea room by day and an adult-only posh cocktail lounge by night.
As little Ry would be accompanying me, I made reservations for the two of us to enjoy the afternoon tea service at the Bow Room. I scheduled it for grand opening weekend so the line for the to-go/casual cafe was up to a two hour wait, making our dedicated time slot for tea an even more special affair.
Ten minutes before our reservation, I approached the host to inform him we had arrived. He handed me a palm-sized two-sided etiquette card to review before we were seated. I read it aloud for Ry to hear and explained to him that we both had to be on our best behavior. After all, it was afternoon tea. Pinkies up!
THE BOW ROOM
Our host proceeded to escort us through the cafe and to “the door,” which required a key to unlock (ooh, the suspense). The door to the Bow Room is kept secure at all times to prevent curious looky-loos from walking in and disturbing the intimate vibe of the place and diminish the client experience. Totally on point from a guest’s perspective, but the private nature of the Bow Room also created a sense of exclusivity to it. Every time the door opened you could hear folks outside “oohing” and “aahing” trying to get a quick glimpse of the pink oasis before the door immediately shut.
Similar to its next door sister, the Bow Room is a small space with limited seating. However, it’s the more sophisticated of the two. The ceiling, walls, benches, and chairs are enrobed in a luscious pink. And the tableware, from the cups and saucers to the teapot and plates are all Sanrio-branded exclusives. Even the three-tiered caddy server is HK-shaped. But don’t let this overload of kawaii muddle your judgment. As much as the adorable plate setting would look fab in your dorm room or home, don’t try sneaking anything out. Besides the fact that theft is a crime, expect a charge of $100 per missing item tacked onto your tab. It’s one of the points emphasized on the etiquette card.
AFTERNOON TEA MENU
Prix fixe at $55.00 per person regardless of age.
Two-person minimum. No accommodation of odd numbered guests granted.
Two-hour maximum stay per reservation.
Wednesday to Friday, 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
~ strawberries and whipped cream sprinkled with pink dust ~
~ open-faced sandwich of cucumber and dill cream cheese on milk bread ~
~ egg salad with chives and paprika in a mini cone ~
~ smoked salmon with dill cream cheese in a pretzel croissant ~
~ mozzarella with vine tomato and pesto in a mini tart shell ~
~ buttermilk scone ~
~ mini cupcake fashioned into a miniature apple ~
~ hello kitty petite four ~
~ macaron with fresh raspberries and raspberry filling ~
~ double chocolate opera cake ~
TEA OF CHOICE
OUR TEA-TIME EXPERIENCE
The menu is prix-fixe (set price/menu), but modifications to accommodate allergies and dietary restrictions are possible. Fancy a little vino with your finger sandwich? A wine list is available too, as well as a limited selection of non-caffeinated beverages. But we were there for tea, so I opted for the lychee peach black tea, which was accompanied by a petite pink sugar cube in the shape of Hello Kitty. For Ry, a glass of milk sufficed.
Our first course came almost immediately. We each received a martini glass containing strawberries topped with a heaping dollop of whipped cream and Hello Kitty’s mug dusted on it in pink sprinkles. While the fruit was certainly fresh, I question whether the whipped cream was indeed homemade. My palate thought otherwise.
The highlight of the whole event would no doubt be the gold Hello Kitty shaped server containing sweet and savory goodies presented in pairs. My personal picks from the delightful ensemble include the open-(hello-kitty)-faced cucumber sandwich, the chocolate cake (a variation of their opera cake), and the raspberry macaron. The salmon croissant sandwich was also tasty.
Ry, on the other hand ended up consuming both of the miniature vanilla cupcakes (which I didn’t get to try) and he also enjoyed his glass of fruit and cream. He wasn’t much of a fan of the savories, except for the cucumber sandwich, but then again he’s kind of a picky eater.
If I had to point out any disappointing aspects of our tea experience there were mainly two: 1. the scones and 2. the inability to purchase souvenirs from the adjoining cafe. Addressing the first point, the scones were noticeably cold, hard, and dry and did not come with accouterments as per menu description. I asked the server about it who confirmed that the order didn’t come with cream or butter and jam – standard accompaniments to scones at any traditional tea. Maybe the first course of fruit and cream was intended to compensate for the glaring omission?
The second complaint is not being able to purchase souvenirs and edible goods from the cafe. If you want to buy exclusive HK Cafe branded items or sweets, you’re pretty much screwed. You’d have to go back outside and brave a long line just to complete the simple transaction. Don’t think most people would be up for that, and ultimately, that’s just lost revenue for the restaurant.
But as luck would have it, we happened to be sitting next to a family who seemed to know management because they acquired various souvenirs without a hitch. When I noticed that, I immediately pointed it out to our server and respectfully inquired if we could be extended the same courtesy. She politely obliged. Otherwise, I would’ve been out of luck. Got my cute thermos though.
All in all, I’m grateful Ry and I got to experience afternoon tea at the new and permanent Hello Kitty Grand Cafe in SoCal. While there were a few things that could be improved upon, our overall experience was positive. Now if only I could find a reliable babysitter to watch Ry because I’d certainly love to return for drinks during cocktail hour.
Who’s in for girls night out à la Sanrio?