Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: MIA Cafe

If you look at the wikipedia entry under maid cafes, you'll see that it's a subset of cosplay cafes, where the serving staff dress up in costumes for one reason or another. The maid uniforms are then just a costume and the staff are just acting out the characters, as would someone in a batman or spiderman outfit.

MIA Cafe, AKA: Maids in Angels, is one of the cafes that fully embraces "cosplay" as a lifestyle, rather than simply as a marketing gimmick. Among their several location, there is MIA Costume, where you can rent various outfits and wear them, and MIA Studio, which is a photo studio you can get your pictures taken at in costume. MIA Cafe has a small selection of character costumes (sailor dresses, red sequin tops, etc.) for rent. However, the main draw is that the staff all wear outfits linked to a specific showcased anime for a few weeks before switching to the next show.

This was the case when I visited this week. The highlighted anime was "Pia Carrot e Yokoso" (Welcome to Pia Carrot), and it was playing on the TV over the serving counter. "Pia Carrot" tells the story of staff that work in different cafes within the Pia Carrot chain, and in at least one episode, the female staff all wear an off-the-shoulder lime green jacket with detached green sleeves, green skirt and white trim. This is the outfit that the MIA Cafe maids were wearing as well. And believe me, it's a very cute costume in real life.

As implied above, Maids in Angels consists of several shops located on the western edge of Akihabara, along Kanda Myojin Dori (go out the north exit from JR Akihabara station, walk to the street in front of the UDX building, turn left and go past Chuu-ou Dori to the next major intersection and the MIA shops will be in this rough general area to your right). MIA Cafe and MIA Relax are kitty corner from the Coco's Curry shop at the intersection of Kanda Myojin Dori and Tsumakoika (the Kanda Myojin Shita signal) in the same building. The cafe is on the second floor, and Relax is on floor 4. Relax is a "reflexology" location specializing in back and foot massages (strictly non-sexual), with the staff also in cosplay outfits.

MIA Cafe has kind of a homey atmosphere, with light wood paneling, a split-level floor and a scattering of tables, chairs and benches for about 20 people. The floor is fairly narrow, with benches on one side and the costume display on the other, the kitchen and TV at the back of the shop and a more open sitting area in front of the windows at the other end (the smoking area is if front of the windows). Fliers and advertisements for the food litter the walls. The staff when I was there couldn't speak English and there was no English menu. However, the menu has some pictures and there are more pictures of the food on the walls.

The menu is available online if you want to check it out in advance. There's a separate lunch menu. For dinner, they have the standard curry rice, rice omelet, pasta and spaghetti and soft drink items. The hamburg steak list consists of a cup of soup, rice, and a hamburger patty with a sauce topping of your choice (meat sauce, mustard sauce, etc.). They also have salads, desserts, beer and some mixed drinks. I got a hamburg steak with white cream sauce and an ice coffee. The food serving isn't all that big, but there's enough rice to take the edge off my hunger, and the cream sauce on the hamburger patty was pretty good. Unfortunately, the rice was a litte dried out and the soup didn't have much favor. The coffee was good. Entire meal came to 1,400 yen ($14), which is pretty reasonable for a maid cafe.

I didn't ask if I could take a photo of the food, but no one else had taken a camera out either and the food didn't look all that interesting, so I didn't bother with it. You can't simply buy a maid photo - this seems to be a growing trend in the cafes I've visited lately; you can only get a maid photo by filling up their points card. 500 per point, and it's a 40-point card.

I was greeted with the standard "welcome home, master", guided to a table, and given a menu. At the time, I was the only customer and there were 3 maids on staff. However, it was right at the shift change and they dropped to two maids. A short time later, the cafe got busy with several 4-person groups coming in, and the service slowed down as a result. Mostly, it was just salarymen but two of the customers were middle-aged office women. I didn't see the maids drawing on the food, and there was no "added flavor chant", but the maids are very careful about properly arranging the silverware around the drinks and plates, and they do pour the milk and sugar for you if you order coffee or tea. When I left, I was followed out by "please take care, master".


Overall, it was a pleasant experience and I liked the Pia Carrot cosplay. It was also fun being able to watch anime during the meal. The food was ok, and not too over-priced. Can't say how crowded MIA Cafe gets during lunch, but it was starting to get packed during dinner when I left.

Name: MIA Cafe
Location: Near the Kanda Myojin Shita intersection west of Chuu-ou Dori, on Kanda Myojin Dori.
Price: Moderate. Entrees are around 800 yen, soft drinks around 500, mixed alcoholic drinks between 800 and 1000 yen. Desserts around 500 yen.
Cover: None.
Food: Standard curry rice, omelet rice, pastas and "hamburg steak" (hamburger patty with sauce) sets; desserts; salads; soft drinks and some alcoholic drinks.
Service: Friendly, but during the evening in the middle of the week they may be a little under staffed. Not overly chatty with the customers.
"Love": No "added flavor" chants. I didn't see anything written on the food. No games against the maids.
Outfits: This is a cosplay cafe, so the outfits may change based on the featured anime of the week.
Photos: When you fill a points card.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: This is a cosplay cafe. Costumes available for rental. Anime showing on the TV on one wall.
Recommendation: This is one of the more reasonably priced maid cafes, and the maids dress up in cosplay based on the featured anime of the week. And, the maids are very cute. The location is a bit off the beaten path, near the west edge of the Akihabara district, so the streets are not quite as crowded. Recommended if you want to sit down, rest and watch anime for a while.

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