Maidreamin - a place which has to be experienced to be believed, and could only thrive in Japan. In the place that brought us Hello Kitty and the pop group AKB48 (complete with holograph member), it was only a matter of time until overly themed cafes of kitsch cuteness appeared.
Hidden upstairs (no peeking) on an Akihabara corner is a small, but very impressive branch of the Maidreamin cafe. The waitresses are all dressed up as maids (the uniforms can be purchased as souveniers), with a cute, kitsch, totally over the top eating experience that you might love, hate, or just be bemused by. It's silly, audience participation is vital, but the fun is unmistakable.
Electric town-exit store, Akihabara
You're seated at a table and the ritual begins, as a maid blows on a magic (electronic) candle which mysteriously lights up. Much cheering ensues, and you're given a call for table service. Whenever food is brought you're asked to make a heart with your hands and pronounce various Japanese words for e.g. delicious.
Loud music plays in the background, turned down to allow for the ritualistic squealing that accompanies service. There's a massive buzz about the place, with tourists and locals, men and women all piling in for their fun. Occasionally the little cafe errupts into a a more formal live entertainment video, with maids singing on the stage. All the diners are encouraged to join in with claps and dance moves. The maids are described on the website as 'cast', and with the performance they give, you can understand why.
If you order a set menu, you get to choose a gift, as well as pose for a photograph with a maid. The gifts include kitsch keyrings, a clear folder, or 'animal headband' ( = bunny ears).
For an overly themed 'experience' cafe the food is remarkably good. The set menu includes Japanese staples such as the 'omurice', rice cooked inside an omlette. Maids will grab a bottle of ketchup / other source and draw pictures on the food and plate, bringing a basic meal to cute life. From the main menu you can choose from a range of reasonable meals, including a standard 'hamburger'. There is a special menu section of decorated food, where this burger becomes part of a bear, but you can order a normal version.
Desserts are based around ice cream sundaes put together to look like animals. They are cute, substantial and taste good: cornflakes, chocolate mousse and ice cream make an unusually good combination! They have the usual (limited) selection of soft drinks available in Japanese eateries, but are also very happy to bring you water. If the time of day and mood is right, a cocktail might add to the surreal nature of your dining experience too!
Photographs are not allowed inside the cafe - food can be photographed, but this isn't made clear; if photography were allowed, I suspect that people would concentrate more on that than on the experience. The set menu, however, comes with a staged photograph where you can pose on the stage with a maid. They're happy to use your camera, or an instant (modern Polaroid) and bring you the picture, with lots of cute doodles around the edges.
This could never become a place to pop out for a quick bite to eat. For a dining experience, with friends looking not to take things too seriously, however, it's quite extraordinary and should not be missed. There is a lot of joy and excitement, which is carefully handled to ensure it doesn't get out of hand.
There is a cover charge of 500-1000 yen, which entitles you to stay there for an hour per order that you place. The main meal set is 2,630 yen, while the dessert set is 2,060 yen. Non 'set' meals come out much cheaper (but also remember that tax is not inclided in these prices). For two people you can realistically expect to pay around 6,000 yen for a full meal.
Akihabara is the main centre for Maidreamin stores, but there are 18 in total, with 15 in Japan (mainly areas of Tokyo). The cafes are all small, so you might benefit from making a reservation, particularly for a larger party. They'll do you a special offer in the month of your birthday, and have lots of other events and party ideas to suggest.