Thursday, August 6, 2009

Review: at_Home, Hana

One of the advantages of reviewing cafes that all belong to the same chain is that you can copy-paste all of the subsequent reviews once you visit the first location. This is especially true for @Home, where four of the five cafes are all in the same building, just on different floors. Each cafe has its own theme, but the menu and website are pretty much the same across the board. The menu does change occasionally to allow for seasonal entrees and desserts, but these are still shared by each cafe.

Hana is a variant on the traditional Japanese tea house concept. It's located on the 5th floor, and is the only one of the @Home cafes that doesn't have the floor number as part of the name. Inside, the main room is about 40 foot square and in the center of the room is a raised floor covered in tatami. Three sides of the tatami are surrounded by a wood laminated counter with stools capable of seating 16 people. The fourth side is up against the wall and has doors leading to the kitchen. There are about 10 booths along the outer walls of the room capable of holding another 8-10 couples. At the time, there were about 20 customers, three of them women, and all the women were there with their boyfriends. Most of the guys looked like college students or young salarymen.

When I entered the cafe, the guy running the cash register and the maid talking to him kind of looked at me coldly like I'd missed the "no foreigners" sign outside. But, they lightened up a little when I showed my points card, indicating that I'd been to @Home before. The maid led me to the counter - three other maids lined up and chanted the "welcome home master" line at me - and explained the menu to me, but she was still a bit cold. The rest of the maids, though, were much friendlier.

The primary idea is that you order the green tea set for 700 yen, and one of the maids will prepare it in front of you. No one ordered this set while I was there, so I didn't get to see what the ceremony consisted of (mostly, people got either desserts, or the shaved ice). Generally, the maids stay on the tatami mat with their shoes off. Because the tatami is raised, when they kneel on the floor, they're still about about eye-height to you. The "uniform" here is a kind of kimono cut short to make a miniskirt, bloomers underneath, and long stockings. They still have the added "love" in the form of drawings on the food, the "added flavor chant" (mine was "moe, moe gyu" while forming your hands into a heart shape), and they don't allow photos of the food. I didn't see a separate mention of the "chekki" (photo with a maid) in the menu, but most of the customers did get one while I was there, including all three female customers.

The menu consists of some simple entree dishes, lots of tea and dessert sets, and beer, in the 500 to 1500 yen range. For 500 yen you can talk to one of the maids for a while, or play games against the maid for prizes for 3 minutes. I ordered the "hot cake" set, which was a pair of small, thick dessert pancakes with cookie ears, whipped cream and red bean paste (anko) inside; a choice of hot coffee or hot cafe au lait; and a maid photo, for 1300 yen. The maid drew a cat face on the hot cakes using chocolate syrup, and then had me join in on the "added flavor chant" of "moe, moe, gyu". The hot cakes were a little chewy and dry, so nothing really special this time, but the cafe au lait was really good.

It took a while for me to realize that there was a small room around the corner behind me, with a raised tatami floor, that is used for the maid photos, and for playing board games against the maid. The room contains various props for the photos, including animal ears and large stuffed plush animal paws. The maids call your name, you get the photo, and then you sit back down and wait for them to embellish it.

There is a 700 yen cover just to stay in the cafe an hour, and because of the crowd the service was running really slow. By the time I finally received the touched-up photo, I'd been there for at least 75 minutes and I was expecting to be hit with a second 700 yen charge. Fortunately, that didn't happen this time and with the dessert set and cover the total came to 2000 yen. Expensive for what you get, but about normal for a maid cafe.

Some of the maids did chat up the customers a bit, but they pretty much ignored me this time, and I didn't get the "come back again" chant that other customers got when I finally left. It was an enjoyable experience overall, and I do want to come back once more for the tea ceremony set, but I liked 4F more than I did Hana.


That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, I returned with the intent of getting the tea set so I could write about it here. Unfortunately (for me, fortunately for the cafe) at 6 PM there was a waiting line of about 10 people waiting to get in to Hana. I didn't want to wait, so I went to 4F and there were another 10 people waiting there. Same for 6F and 7F. I even went to the Donkey building, and there were almost 20 people waiting to get in there. Not sure if there was a special event that day, or if it was just because of the hot weather and everyone wanting to get shaved ice desserts. In any case, @Home is one of the most successful maid cafe chains in Tokyo, and I'll just have to wait until later to try Hana's tea set.

Name: @Home Hana
Location: Just around the corner from Chuu-ou Dori, near the JR Akihabara station, on the 5th floor.
Price: Moderately-High. 700 yen cover just to get inside for 1 hour.
Food: Standard food and soft drink selection, and quality. Some alcoholic mixed drinks.
Service: Very friendly and outgoing
"Love": Drawing of your choice on the food. The "moe moe gyu" chant over your drink.
Outfits: Shortened kimonos treated as miniskirts, with stockings and bloomers.
Photos: 500 yen, with one maid, or 1300 yen as part of the dessert set.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Some English-speaking staff; tea house setting. Maids will play games with the customers for prizes. Website in English.
Recommendation: Recommended if you want the "tea house vibe", otherwise try 4F instead for the full "maid cafe treatment". Expect to stay at least 45 minutes, though, since the service can be slow at peak times.

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