By Beth Main
Think PINK and then add a tonne of glitter and a few diamond trimmings and you have the world’s first Barbie Cafe, newly opened in Taipei and fully licensed by Barbie brand owner, Mattel. Our visit on a Friday lunchtime, a mere two days since the grand opening on Wednesday, found the cafe surprisingly quiet with just a few mothers and daughters, a gaggle of girlfriends and a man with a large zoom lens being out-paparazzi-ed by the other customers camera phones.
It certainly lives up to your expectations. The decor and overall experience are everything Barbie: pink, plastic and placating. There is just so much to take in with Barbie photos, Barbie dolls on display, the waitresses’ tiaras and tutu’s, mirrors galore – there isn’t a place in the bathroom where you can’t see yourself!
The playlist, which suited the setting perfectly (Aqua’s Barbie Girl, Madonna’s Material Girl, and Gwen Stefani’s Rich Girl to name a few) managed to loop a distressing three times during our meal.
The menu is impressive. It resembles a glossy ladies magazine and reads like an inventory of sin: salad – 280kcal, strawberry mousse – 300kcal and prices to match. We did speculate that Barbie Cafe prices every calorie at NT$1, but that would be madness… surely?
Unfortunately like Barbie’s intellect, the food left something to be desired. The salmon salad was a hefty portion of tasteless cabbage, tasteless taro and tasteless okra with a bland sesame dressing. Three rolls of smoked salmon with a few capers provided the only flavour.
Surely we would be safe with dessert, how hard could that be? Unfortunately, the small cakes were over-sugared and waxy. Besides, with Barbie’s implausible figure everywhere, you can’t really enjoy your sweet treat.
As for that 10% service charge, they should use it to retrain their staff. The poor waitresses were lost, only able to carry one plate at a time, and unsure whether to bring the dessert before clearing away the main or to look at the till with distrust and trepidation.
Many suspect that the cafe’s target clientele are actually men who come to ogle at the doll-like waitresses, (as the well stocked bar in the centre of the children’s-toy-themed cafe suggests). I’m afraid they will be disappointed as the best they can hope to get are the Barbie dolls at the entrance – nothing comes between her and her frosting!
The most satisfied customers were three little girls in pink party dresses climbing on the pink sofas, completely oblivious to their pink milkshakes and cupcakes. If the cafe is to survive it will need to exploit the niche market for little girls’ birthday parties.
Themes are big in Taiwan, just take the Toilet restaurant or Hello Kitty airplanes as evidence.
Our verdict? It looks good but has no substance, rather like its namesake, and it’s unlikely it will last as long as the iconic doll.
But if you’re looking for some sparkle in your life you’ll find it at Barbie Cafe. Heck, you’ll find it lingering halfway down the street!
Barbie Cafe – 2F, 128, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Taipei