Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review: Mononopu

When you think of "maid cafes", what's the first thing that comes to mind? Frilly dresses, "moe" maids, curry rice and chocolate parfaits? Put them all together and what do you get? Yes, Japan's "warring states" era!

(Business card)

Mononopu is a newly-opened Sengoku-style cafe (July 18) located on Chuu-ou Dori a few blocks north of the JR Akihabara station, in the same building as Pinafore 2. In fact, it's on the next floor up, floor 5, and shares the same entrance at the back of the building. The layout is fairly spacious, again with enough seating for about 30 people at the wood-paneled tables and bar. Pictures of old samurai armor line the walls, with a few cloth banners interspersed between them. Fake torches burn on poles around the bar, and at the back is a closed off "VIP" room. One of the more interesting features is the door leading to the rest rooms. This door rotates around its center, rather than being hinged at one side, so it's almost like entering a secret passage to get to the toilets.

(Stamp card, AKA: Point card)

There's a 500 yen cover charge per hour, or 1000 yen for the "Gold Tea Room" VIP space. You need to be a little careful about this during slack times, because there may only be two people on staff and you'll find yourself being charged for a second hour simply because you've been waiting so long for your dessert to arrive. However, if you get the points card, according to the website, as you accumulate more points the cover charge decreases. It's 1 point per 1000 yen (it doubles on a rainy day), and the card's good for 1 year from the last stamp (if I understand the rules correctly).

(Back of business card, showing map)

The maids are extremely friendly, and at least one can speak some English. They're in "full-recruit mode" right now, with several maids standing out on Chuu-ou Dori handing out fliers. They're more than willing to guide you to the cafe and to talk to you along the way. Again, I was reading some Tezuka manga at my table and that was a good conversation starter. If you speak Japanese, the conversations will go a lot smoother. The outfits are a combination of frilly white apron and blue dress, with pink shoulder pads and gold-sheathed sword (plastic of course).

I only saw the one, Japanese menu, although the rules card describing the cover charge was printed with English text. The maids will describe the food items if you have trouble reading the menu. The foods include the standard curry rice, omelet rice and pasta, plus there are some desserts, soft drinks and some alcoholic drinks (beer and mixed cocktails). The menu link on the website hasn't been activated yet so you can't see the foods list at the moment. The prices are a little on the high side, with 1000 yen for a plain curry rice, especially when coupled with the cover charge. But, the food that I tried was good. I got the curry rice (1000 yen), an ice coffee (500 yen) and a maid photo (500 yen). Fortunately, while you're not allowed to shoot the inside of the cafe, you can take pictures of the food.

(Coffee coaster)

When the coffee came out, my maid carefully laid out the cream and sugar, and placed the straw in the glass for me. She then took her sword and "added flavor" to the drink by drawing out a heart-shaped attack pattern while giving a short chant. The guests are invited to mimic the pattern if they like. When the curry arrived, I didn't get a drawing on it, but the maid gave a completely different chant along with a wicked cross cut above the plate. (The couple at the next table even got a "sengoku beam" attack as part of the chant for additional flavor.) It's performance art and it's very cute.

Finally, I had to ask a couple of times to get the maid photo, but I guess that part of the confusion came from my initial maid going back outside to hand out more fliers, leaving only two women to work the bar and take food orders (there were a few kitchen staff doing the actual cooking) at about the time when business started to pick up. About one-third of the customers were women. During a lull, the maids offered to pull "Nobunaga" out for the photo and I then learned that Nobunaga is the name of the set of armor sitting on a wheeled chair in one corner, with a pink heart drawn on its chest. No idea how the real Nobunaga would have reacted to having hearts decorating his chestplate, but he'd probably be down with it. I was given a sword, directed to take a combat pose, and then the photo was taken to the front for detailing work.

The cafe does have a souvenir coffee mug for about 1560 yen, and some small snacks for purchase at the counter. They also have fliers for Mai Dreamin', so the two places may have a common partnership somewhere behind the scenes. While I was there I didn't see anyone using the VIP room, so I may decide to try renting it some time if the opportunity arises. Overall, I enjoyed myself, but having to pay 1000 yen for a 2-hour cover took some of the fun out of the experience. At a minimum, though, it was a lot easier getting a maid photo here than it was for Pinafore or Nagomi, and that's a really big plus.

Name: Mononopu
Location: Chuu-ou Dori, near the "Boku-tachi no Tarou" building, one floor above Pinafore 2, 5th floor.
Price: Moderately high.
Cover: 500 lets you stay one hour. Be careful about over staying the hour if service gets slow because you will be charged for the second hour if you go a few minutes over. 1000 per hour for the Gold Tea Room.
Food: The standard array of curry rice, omelet rice, pasta, desserts and soft drinks. Mononope does have a bar, with beer and some mixed drinks. The menu page on the website doesn't work yet as of this printing.
Service: Good service, friendly and outgoing if you speak Japanese. Does have a tendency to slow down during the early evening on Tuesdays, when I was there.
"Love": I didn't see drawings on the food, but they do have special chants and sword attack patterns above your food for "adding extra flavor".
Outfits: Blue dress, white frilly apron, pink shoulder armor, and gold-sheathed swords.
Photos: 500 yen, with one maid.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: No special events yet, that I know of. They do greet you with the "welcome back master" phrase when you arrive, and they have the entire Sengoku vibe going. Gold Tea VIP Room.
Recommendation: Highly recommended if you like the romantic sengoku-era manga or anime series ala Sengoku Basara. It is worth visiting at least once.

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