Anybody growing up in the ’90s was bound to have a favourite cartoon that they would religiously follow on TV. For me, I was an ardent Pokémaniac. Much as I hated waking up early, I made the effort to drag myself out of bed before 10am every Saturday just so that I could watch a 30-minute episode of Pokémon on Kids Central (now okto). That was before the internet became a household commodity so unless I blew my meagre pocket money on VCDs, there was no way I could catch up on episodes I missed. Even as an adult now, I still go into a frenzy at the thought and sight of Pokémon (I have a Nintendo 3DS purely for playing Pokémon). Hence, receiving the news about the opening of Pokémon pop-up cafe in Singapore has got to be the best thing that has ever happened to a Pokémon aficionado like me.
In collaboration with Everything with Fries (EwF), the pop-up cafe at Bugis Junction happening between 27 May and 31 July 2016 is the first in South-East Asia following its roaring success at Shibuya PARCO in Japan. The concept of the food and drinks in the cafe’s original menu are inspired by Pokémon stories and characters with Pikachu as the main protagonist.
As I had expected, the queue had already started to form before the opening of the cafe. Then, as if the 5-hour waiting time wasn’t intense enough, everything was sold out about 2 hours ahead of closing time on the first day. HA! Beat that, Hello Kitty!
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Pokémon merchandise is also sold exclusively at the cafe alongside other official Pokémon products which you may find at, no doubt, a way cheaper rate at the Pokémon centre in Japan. When I was there, however, popular items like the Pikachu T-shirt for adults were already out of stock, leaving only the plainly-designed one for kids. The key holders (cheaply made with plastic that scratches easily) and can badges each encased in silver plastic packaging to prevent customers from choosing the design. The only thing that is honestly worth buying is the Pokémon XY Omnibus Kalos Region at S$22.90. The merchandise corner is open to walk-ins so you don’t need to dine in order to get anything there.
Occupying the entire EwF space, the Pokémon cafe is adorned with yellow balloons, blown-up Pikachu figures and decals of other favourite characters from the Kalos region. It is apparent that considerable thought had been put into the look and feel of the cafe. Apart from the familiar tunes of the Pokémon game playing rather softly in the background, all the waitstaff sport Pikachu ears headband and have Pikachu tail dangling from their backside. Perhaps it would seem more coordinated if they have worn a yellow shirt instead of their white EwF (I suppose) uniform.
But that’s beside the point. I would rather more effort be put into the execution of the dishes because many of them turned out to be a huge letdown and embarrassment. If you haven’t been there yet, maybe this review would save you the hassle of making a trip to the cafe and waiting at least 1 hour in line (the dwindling crowd speaks for itself) only to spend close to S$100 on substandard food. In this entry, you will be treated to some behind-the-scenes happenings relayed to me by a staff as well.
Pikachu Smiling Rice Omelette with Magma Sauce (S$25++)
I wouldn’t have bought this Pikachu Smiling Rice Omelette with Magma Sauce if not for the complimentary Pokéball mug that comes with this dish. For the price of S$25++ for a big insipid mound of Saffron rice as Pikachu’s face and two miserably dry, malnourished and thin omelette rolled up into the shape of the ears, surely that is daylight robbery. Seaweed was used to recreate the darker areas of the face and ears. I was appalled by the ridiculous use of ketchup for the cheeks and mouth. I mean, they could have gone with red-dyed crackers or something since this rice omelette was starting to remind me of Nasi Briyani. And at the side was some salad to inject some greens in the dish. Basically, I felt like I was having a vegetarian meal because of the apparent absence of meat on the plate.
The profit margin from the sale of this dish alone must have already been enough to cover the overhead costs of the business because it’s so overpriced and bland, to say the least. How cunning of the owners, I thought, to have used the mug as a bait to diehard Pokémon fans.
The highlight of this dish was the Primal Groudon’s magma sauce which tasted like curry, except that it was reddish-pink and not spicy at all. The overall lack of flavour of the rice was momentarily salvaged by the semi-sweet and earthy taste of the sauce which filled only half the small Pokéball cup. Goodness me! Can they get any stingier than that?
Special Move “Fire Blast”! Primal Groudon’s Bolognese (S$20++)
Upon learning that the beef patty dish was unavailable, we reluctantly switched our next order to this Special Move “Fire Blast”! Primal Groudon’s Bolognese.
Worse. Decision. Ever.
It was a typical chicken bolognese paired with egg white patty in the middle and two sides of a toasted bun with a faded Pikachu imprint and that’s it. No pasta, rice whatsoever. You’re expected to fill your stomach with just bread as your main carbohydrate food from this supposedly main course *slow clap* Perhaps the overwhelming amount of Saffron rice from the Pikachu Smiling Rice Omelette is meant to be shared with whichever poor soul has ordered this dish. Taste-wise, it was unsurprisingly mediocre. The chicken bolognese from Pastamania certainly tasted heaps better with a more generous serving of meat. So, steer clear if you’re hungry.
The “Pokéball” – looking nothing like the fondant-textured one on the menu – is made of egg white and had ketchup once again (what’s with the excessive use of ketchup, though) smeared on the upper half, thereby adding even more acidity to the already-acidic flavour of the chunky bolognese sauce. Despite the fact that all the recipes and artistic direction of the dishes were provided by the licensor (which I doubt were conscientiously conformed here because it’s quite unlike the Japanese to produce such unacceptable standard of food), the whole dish seemed to be put together by amateurs and there is clearly no attempt in flavour balancing at all.
Wanna Get Tingling!? “Volt Tackle” Soda (S$10++)
Just when I thought things would get better once we had our beverages, we were subjected to yet another disappointment. As per usual cafe/restaurant protocol, we expected our drinks to be served first before our mains. But alas, they only came just before our dessert. Even though we were thirsty from eating too much Saffron rice and ketchup, we were still rather cool with the wait.
About 30 minutes into our dining experience, our beverages finally came. Everything was pretty much identical to what we saw on the menu except for the mango sherbet in the “Volt Tackle” Soda. From my knowledge, sherbet is a sweetened frozen dessert made with fruits and dairy product such as milk or cream. But the barely-recognisable Pikachu sherbet in my drink looks more like coloured ice. And to top it off, there is not a single mango flavour. Nevertheless, the passionfruit soda was refreshing but no way it is worth S$10++. Not even with that less-than-one-teaspoon amount of popping candy for the added tingling effect.
(Seriously man, want to give so little popping candy then might as well don’t give la)
Iced Pikachu Latte (S$9++)
The best item on the menu is surprisingly a beverage – the Iced Pikachu Latte – partly due to the perfectly execution of the latte art as well as its overall visual appeal.. which is sadly almost nonexistent in this cafe. The sweetness of the cream lent a refreshing contrast to the mild bitterness of the espresso which was pulled in the morning (yes, that’s right, the staff are asked to prepare the espresso early in the morning daily). But they somehow don’t blend easily so we had to keep licking the straw to taste the sweetness. One cup of iced latte takes approximately 10 minutes to make due to the pasting of Pikachu’s face and adding of the cream.
The cheeks you see here are colour melts but now the cafe has changed to using red whipped cream (man, the inconsistency..). The ears are formed with monaka (the same thin and airy wafer used in Japanese ice-cream sandwich) dipped in dark chocolate sauce forms the ears. Monaka has an light, airy and elastic texture, somewhat like our biscuit piring wafer, but is more resistant to liquid.
Pikachu’s Sweeeeet Pancake (S$20++)
Although we were told at the entrance that we weren’t allowed to request for desserts to be served later, we still ended up having to wait more than half an hour (from the time we settled down) for our Pikachu’s Sweeeeet Pancake to arrive and only after we incessantly chased for it because we were in a hurry. An insider divulged that food service can be slow at times as the cafe staff go in order of highest demand, hence the preparation of the less popular food items may be delayed. To cope with high volume of orders, the pancakes – which were the most sought-after – were made in batches of 20, kept aside and reheated in microwave oven when they need to be served. Even so, reheating takes time, thus greatly affecting the speed of service. Sometimes you may find thyme and mint leaves (for decorative purposes anyway) missing on your plate as well because the cafe has run out of them. Apart from these two ingredients, the cafe also constantly faces shortage in milk. I find this sloppy considering that the ingredients were all gotten from local suppliers.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Puffs and crepes are perpetually served a lot slower as they require much longer preparation time.
So I guess the above explains why the queue hardly moves? It all stems from the poor management of the cafe and shortage of manpower which contributed to the long waiting time for food to be served.
Going back to our expensive dessert which also comes with a free Pokéball mug, the first thing we noted was the disproportionate appearance of Pikachu’s face compared with the ears. The edges of the uppermost pancake were ripped off as if it was scooped out of the pan in a haste with no hoots given to quality control (do they even use the mold?). Despite being supposedly reheated, the pancakes we had were still cold but that’s honestly fine with me because the sweetness of the refillable maple syrup would have taken the attention away from it.
Pikachu’s facial features on the pancake are neatly constructed with cocoa powder and topped with monaka ears. The star of this dish is undoubtedly the tail. Made using a slab of Japanese-style butter cookie, it provides a soft crunch and a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. I personally prefer this to plain-tasting monaka.
Now, I believe many of you have read this review by Vivian Tian on the “bleeding” Pikachu served with the Pokéball Cream Puff. Here’s the other side of the story, provided by the preparer herself:
The blogger (Vivian) is my friend and whatever desserts and drinks you’ve seen here is done by me. And I will take this time to explain the reason behind it.
Originally the moose you’ve seen here is meant to have film used (the same EDIBLE FILM used on our iced lattes). And I have a minimum standard of professionalism when making food, and when we found out we had no film left, we had to make red whipped cream. And, obviously, those who baked before will know that too much red food colouring will make it more liquidy. And alas, I tried my best handling something new, and it bled.
NEVERMIND, WANT TO REMAKE. But the bloody server decided to serve my pikachu from hell to them WITHOUT ASKING. Pissed, but nevermind. Knowing they will reject, I remade it. Cause I know them well, they will know what I go through.
And she forewarned me how strict she will be, I said okay.
In conclusion, my experience was tainted by the unnecessarily long waiting time and expensive dishes prepared using cheap ingredients which I can readily find in my home refrigerator. But then again, I don’t blame the cafe staff because their morale has probably hit rock bottom after getting pushed around by their bosses. As much as I’m a huge Pokémon lover, I don’t condone the owners’ blatant profiteering and their poor staff management. So no, I don’t recommend dining at this cafe.
Thanks for reading!
Pokémon cafe @ EwF – a concept by PARCO
Bugis Junction, 4th Floor
200 Victoria St, 188021
From 27th May (Fri) to 31st July 2016 (Sun)
Operating hours: 11:00am (last order at 9:30pm )
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