Aji WOW: Alice in Wonderland-style
Aji WOW is my series of unusual Japanese food/drink reviews. 'Aji' (味) means 'flavour', and the name's also a pun on 'ajiwau' (味わう) - 'to enjoy the taste of'.
This time: I went down the rabbit hole.
幻想の国のアリス (gensou no kuni no Alice) is 'Alice's Fantasy Restaurant' in the Umeda area of Osaka. I've been meaning to check it out for a while. They've currently got some summer 'set course' discounts on.
The entrance hallway gives you a first taste of how bizarre the whole experience will be. I almost walked into this by accident. (It's a painting. The real door's a giant open book off to one side.)
I was greeted by a cheerful server in a full Mad Hatter costume. Almost too cheerful...
"Do you have a reservation?"
"No," I replied, looking around at several empty tables and chairs.
"Okay... hang on a sec... let me just check our bookings... alright, you can sit here. But you need to wear these bunny ears until you leave."
I was seated at the head of a crescent moon-shaped dining table. The chair itself was shaped like a mask. Like the face of the magic mirror in Snow White.
The menu was an iPad in a 'book' cover. A nice touch, except you can't put in an order directly from the iPad. You still have to call someone over, which is done by yelling 'Alice!' instead of 'Excuse me!'
A bit embarrassing - at least it was for me. Many of the other diners didn't bat an eyelid.
The menu helpfully stated (in both Japanese and English) that you can only order a 'set course' if there's at least 2 of you. And that you have to order at least one dish and one drink regardless. A glance at the 'a la carte' prices and I nearly fainted.
So I did something very naughty. I pretended to be an idiot. I asked the Mad Hatter, very nicely, if there was any way little ol' me could do a course by myself.
Shockingly, they let me. I estimate I saved at least 3,000 yen on a course menu compared to ordering individual dishes.
While I awaited my salad starter, the Queen of Hearts rocked up at my table.
(As far as I could tell from the costumes, the waitresses wore Alice dresses and the Mad Hatter was front of house. This made the Queen of Hearts the floor manager. Scary.)
She left me this suspicious 'Drink Me' bottle.
Naturally the Queen's someone you don't want to offend, so I took a hearty glug. It was gazpacho. Cold tomato soup, and heavy on the salt at that.
Made sure to finish it (with a hand over my nose) before the Queen returned with salad.
She insisted I clap along while she mixed the dressing into the leaves. There was a song involved, but I was too self-conscious about essentially being a monkey with cymbals to make out the words.
The croutons were shaped like hearts and spades. Maybe there were diamonds and clubs as well, but I think I ate them before noticing.
It was billed as 'Mexican salad', but I'm struggling to think of anything especially Mexican about it. The dressing was so-so. The smoked chicken was something of an afterthought.
Pre-main course was pasta. Mushroom and black pepper carbonara. With plenty of egg for good measure. If layering a fried egg on top wasn't enough, the slices just make it.
Even after the playing card croutons, I wasn't expecting the eggy rabbit presentation style at all. Nor did I anticipate the Cheshire cat's appearance on my hamburger plate.
A quick point. When you see 'hamburger' (ハンバーグ) on a menu, most of the time that's without a bun. A 'burger' (バーガー) is the full burger you expect, bun, toppings, sauce and all. I once had a 'mixed grill' that was half a burger patty, a sausage and a chicken breast.
The cat theme continued into dessert. Not seen: a scoop of coffee ice cream sprinkled with silver balls. What you can just about make out is the Japanese tradition for all parfaits to be served with cornflakes.
Each course was a fairly small portion. I didn't leave feeling hungry, but I could easily have eaten more. If I'd been drinking I probably would've ordered more. The (expensive) cocktails I saw other people drinking included some with LED ice cubes and other funky details.
The bill came in a hollowed-out book, presented by the Queen.
Not only had I cheekily gotten away with the course menu for 1, the much-trumpeted 500 yen table charge was also conspicuously absent. I said nothing. I paid up and legged it the heck outta Wonderland.
Verdict: 7/10, at those prices I'd have to be mad to go back.