Thursday, June 24, 2010
Review: Gundam Cafe
Ok, you may say that the new Gundam cafe in Akihabara doesn't belong on Maid Runner because it's not a maid cafe. To this I say "Piffle! Piffle to you dear sir and your outmoded ways!" Actually, I just say piffle because it's fun.
The Gundam cafe is a a theme restaurant, much like Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood. Initially, it was also a cosplay cafe, with the female staff dressed up in character uniforms (I like a woman in uniform and jack boots... Mmm, jack boots...) However, while early newspaper reviews stated that you could get your photo taken with the staff, that seems to have been only as part of the opening celebrations. As of this date the standard outfit is dark jeans and dark polo shirts with the Gundam logo where the alligator would be, and no mentions of maid photos in the menus.
I asked one of the staff (the serving staff and bartenders are all female) if it was ok to take pictures of the cafe interior and was told it was fine, but I decided to not use the camera flash. Most of the shots turned out well, but a few were really blurry. The decor is kind of a cross between the interior of a giant robot and the interior of a space colony military base set 10,000 year from now. Lots of white shiny plastic, geometric corners, and black stenciled warnings of "fast opening hatches". A scale model of a Gundam robot stands near the ceiling at the top of one wall, there's a projection screen playing ads for Jaburo coffee and highlights of some of the anime DVDs a little further to the left, and a display case of robot miniatures along the far back wall. The smoking room is walled off to look like a futuristic airport waiting area.
The lines to get inside have thinned out considerably over the last month, but a few people still line up for the 9 AM opening on Sunday mornings to get in for breakfast. One reason why the lines were so long before is that the cafe can only seat 60 people, and everyone does tend to linger after they get inside. When I went at 6 PM on a Monday, there were 5 people ahead of me and the wait was about 10 minutes. Turned out that there were a number of empty seats inside and the staff were just trying to keep the volume of people at a manageable level.
Some of the staff do speak a little English, but the menus are all in Japanese (lots of pictures to point to for placing your order, though). The system's a little different from what I'm used to. Once you have your table, you go up to the cash register next to the door to place your order and pay for it at that time. You're given a number, and if you ordered a coffee drink then you're told to stand at the bar to wait for your drink to be made. Then you take your drink back to your table, and wait until the staff brings your food out to you. You don't have to bus your own dishes afterward, but if you feel like it you can toss your paper or plastic drink cup on your way out. Soft drinks are served in disposable cups so you can take them outside with you and finish them on the way to a DVD shop if you like.
The menu is divided up for lunch (11:30-5:00), "bar time" (after 5 PM) and dinner (after 5 PM). The dinner entrees include hamburg steaks, omelet rice and curries in the 800 to 900 yen range. Beer and cocktails between 450 and 500 yen. Soft drinks and coffees around 350 yen, and ice cream desserts between 300 and 600 yen. There's no cover charge or maid photos, so the prices come out kind of reasonably for a restaurant in Tokyo.
I got a "Haro Latte" and a "Char Aznable beef curry". The latte was gussied up with a picture of the floating beach ball robot from the series in bitter dark chocolate powder. The coffee is supplied by Jaburo estates, and is a good, strong dark roast. Bags of roasted whole beans can be purchased at the goods shop next door for 980 yen for 200 grams. The beef curry was heavily spiced and was closer to a thick Indian-style red beef stew. Very tasty and a decent portion size, but the bed of rice was rather mushy and over-cooked.
(Goods shop and Gundam-yaki counter.)
The staff isn't overly talkative and spend most of their time running between tables and the kitchen bringing out orders or busing used dishes. Interestingly, it was the cashier at the souvenir shop next door who was more interested in talking with me, primarily after seeing the Japanese kanji study book I was carrying around. The goods shop has badges and coffee mugs, wall ornaments and themed snack food packs. Most of the items are over-priced, and will appeal only to fans of the series. There is a "Gundam-yaki" stand near the door where you can buy 2 stuffed Japanese-style tai-yaki pancakes in the shape of the giant robot for 400 yen (one type of filling is red bean paste, and the other is mayonnaise, cheese and bacon).
The cafe is pretty easy to find. Just go to the Akihabara JR station and take the exit to Electric Town on the west/north side of the station building. Stand facing the UDX building, and the cafe will be on your right on the other side of the taxi circle.
There is a points card, of sorts. When you pay for your order, the cashier will give you some "lucky cards". These are scratch-offs. Only scratch off one of the 3 spots (doing more than 1 invalidates the card. Cards are worth 0, 1, 2 or 5 points. Bringing in a total of 5 points gets you a free drink worth under 400 yen. 20 is a "wing commander" card; and 40 is a "colonel's" card. My coffee and curry came to 1350 yen, giving me 4 cards, which then gave me 5 points. Assuming a relation between the meal price and the number of cards received, I could have gotten a free coffee the next time I went (if it hadn't been for the fact that I scratched all the numbers off to be able to look at the artwork underneath, thus invalidating them).
The Gundam Cafe is worth going to at least once just to take in the experience. If you're a fan of the franchise, you'd already have your colonel's card sitting next to your monitor without having waited for me to write up this entry.
Name: Gundam Cafe
Location: Northwest taxi circle in front of the Akihabara JR station, on the way to the Tokyo Anime Center.
Cover: No cover.
Food: Curries, hamburg steaks and omelet rice around 900 yen, soft drinks between 300 and 400 yen, beer for 500 yen, mixed drinks for 480, and desserts under 400 yen.
"Love": No love.
Outfits: Dark slacks and dark polo shirts with the Gundam logo on them.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Recommendation: Recommended. Get some Gundam yaki's for take-out dessert when you leave.