Culinary Journeys

Review from a Kitty-phile: World's first Hello Kitty dim sum restaurant

Sophia Yan, CNNUpdated 17th May 2015
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(CNN) — Some disclaimers and warnings up-front: 1. I love Hello Kitty. 2. I love dim sum. 3. You're about to see Hello Kitty mentioned about 39 times in this story.
So here we go.
When the world's first Hello Kitty dim sum restaurant was opening in Hong Kong, I knew immediately I had a duty to investigate on behalf of fellow Hello Kitty fans and dim sum aficionados.
Hong Kong, like many Asian cities, is already chock full of Hello Kitty.
Hello Kitty frying pan (yes, I own one).
Hello Kitty calculator (on my desk).
Hello Kitty bandage (wearing it).
There's even a Hello Kitty panini maker where you can burn her face into your sandwich (I want one).
So who would've thought such a genius idea like Hello Kitty dim sum would take until today to happen?

The entrance

The new restaurant, Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine, offers about 40 choices ranging from HK$42 to HK$238 (US$5 to $30), half of which are Hello Kitty-inspired dishes.
The cuteness starts outside: Hello Kitty signs in red and gold -- two lucky colors in Chinese tradition -- adorn the front of the restaurant, along with Chinese-style latticed windows that feature the shape of her bow.
Chinese-style decor and Hello Kitty explosions continue on the inside -- in the best possible way.
She's on chopsticks, chopsticks holders, plates, bowls, spoons, teapots, ceiling lanterns, wall decor, wine glasses, wine bottles, and chairs.
Hello Kitty is even etched into the dining tables -- a Kitty-phile-friendly feature that allows diners to gaze at Hello Kitty while eating Hello Kitty food.

More hits than misses

My first Hello Kitty dim sum experience starts with a soft, delicious custard bun (HK$42 for a basket), followed by shrimp dumplings (HK$48), and a traditional Cantonese sponge cake (HK$48).
It's so cute, I almost can't eat it -- but dim sum isn't good once it gets cold, so I apologize to Hello Kitty and chomp down.
The custard bun and shrimp dumplings are my favorites -- as tasty as any other dim sum spot in town.
It's a pleasant surprise. In the past, Hello Kitty food hasn't proven as great as Hello Kitty (Remember this? Hello Kitty restaurant is terribly cute and its food is just terrible)
As any Hello Kitty fan knows, her favorite food is her mom's homemade apple pie, she magically weighs the equivalent of three apples, and is the height of about five apples. So it's no surprise that apple is a recurring theme in some dishes.
The sweet and sour pork (HK$98) uses apple instead of the more traditional pineapple.
And there's the Hello Kitty apple chicken rice (HK$108), which I find light and healthy.
The rice comes molded in the shape of her head, with black beans for her eyes, green Chinese leeks tied together for her bow, red pepper for her nose, and then eggplant skin for her whiskers.
It's paired with strips of chicken and vegetables placed in an apple cup.
For dessert, I have a traditional Chinese almond dessert soup (HK$38), which is a little thinner than I personally would have liked.
But I feel less bummed when I spot one piece of red gelatin in the shape of Hello Kitty floating in my soup.
And while I've known this since I was six, I am again reminded: food just tastes better when you eat it with Hello Kitty chopsticks out of a Hello Kitty bowl.

Not like any ordinary Hello Kitty dining concept

As I am chewing, I think to myself that the concept of Hello Kitty dim sum couldn't possibly get any better.
But not only does it have an adorable gimmick, the restaurant uses locally-grown, organic ingredients for some of the dishes.
Man Kwong, the restaurant owner and a Hong Kong entrepreneur whose businesses promote clean living, is using the Hello Kitty restaurant as a platform to encourage healthier lifestyles in Hong Kong.
In the long run, he plans to swap out more ingredients for healthier options, like coconut oil. But for now, he's using organic whenever possible, natural dyes, less salt and less oil.
For example, for the custard bun and shrimp dumpling, Hello Kitty's bow is dyed pink with beetroot, her nose is turned light orange with carrot, and her whiskers and eyes are colored black with squid ink.

The immense effort to open a Hello Kitty restaurant

The attention to detail at this place is staggering. The restaurant has been in the works for a year and a half, and everything -- from the decor to the food -- had to be approved by Sanrio, the Japanese company that owns the Hello Kitty brand, Man says.
Hello Kitty's creator Sanrio even "provided us with a kind of character training -- told us about Hello Kitty, her preferences, her family tree," he adds.
Some dishes took as many as seven tries before Sanrio green-lighted the final recipe.
"The hardest part was getting the proportion of Hello Kitty's features right," says Chan Kwok-Tung, a dim sum chef for over three decades. "Otherwise, it'll easily look like a knockoff."
Because of all the steps involved, it takes twice as long to make Hello Kitty dim sum compared to regular dim sum. And a special set of measuring tools were developed to maintain the quality, he said.
So is Chan a Hello Kitty fan?
"Before I joined the company -- I knew nothing about Hello Kitty," he says. "I saw it as a challenge but as I spent more time working on it, I grew to like Hello Kitty. She's really cute."
The restaurant seats about 70 and some dishes are made in limited quantity daily.
Anyone with a large party should consider booking the VIP room (named Apple House), which features Hello Kitty as China's four ancient beauties in Chinese-style scroll paintings.
And you just might see me there.
I have yet to try the Hello Kitty barbecue pork bun and sticky rice, and I'm hoping the chefs figure out how to do Hello Kitty turnip cake, a dim sum staple.
Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine, (Jordan MTR station exit C2), Shop A-C, G/F Lee Loy Mansion, 332-338 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong; +852 8202 8203; open daily for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
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