Themed cafes have become all the rage in Shanghai. You don’t need to be a Sherlock Holmes to figure out what’s behind the new trend. But is the coffee any good? We visited three of cafes inspired by popular overseas TV series to do a bit of sleuthing.
221B Baker St
Inspired by the British drama series “Sherlock,” this café is located on Ruijin Road No.2, near the busy Huaihai Road M. The entrance door is painted in signature black, with the golden address 221B. As soon as enter, you will feel like you have you traveled to London in a time machine.
Its decor is amazing down to the smallest detail to evoke the setting of the show. Sherlock’s living room in the middle of the café even has wallpaper of a similar pattern to the series. The green walls are framed photos and decorated with animal head. After two rows of fully packed bookshelves along the corridor to the open kitchen, there is another seating area with an open-air yard outside. This café is definitely a cool meeting place.
The menu is printed in a “newspaper” style, dated July 28, 2013, when the café was established. It’s also a very creative touch to name each drink and dish after some element of the show. For example, Sherlock Coffee is a mocha topped with whipped cream and decorated with chocolate sauce and peppermint leaves, while Watson Coffee is latte with shots of tiramisu syrup, with 221B written in cocoa powder on top. I thought the Watson coffee was a tad too sweet. The café offers a wide range of food and drinks. Its afternoon tea is popular with customers despite a hefty price tag. Only the tiramisu is made on site; other desserts come from nearby bakeries. Oddly, the teabags were a German brand.
Surprisingly, the café offers packages of single origin coffee, which also provides customized roast levels. Half a pound of single origin coffee sells at 108 yuan (US$17.4) while a pound of Italian blend is priced at 78 yuan.
The service here needs a bit polishing. The outside promotion board of the afternoon tea special wasn’t valid inside the café, and the waiters sometimes don’t seem to know the menu very well.
A group of five Westerners was sitting on a sofa facing out to the street. As I walked in, I recognized the scene immediately. Yep, this is Central Perk, a café inspired by the 10-season American comedy hit “Friends.”
Founded in 2009, the café has carefully reinvented the famous hangout from the show — from the seating arrangement and the blackboard with chalk menu to the café logo on the window. The seating area is not very large, and there’s a TV playing a loop drama at the corner of the bar.
Central Perk has a wide choice of food and beverages, including coffee, tea, pasta, waffles, pizzas, cocktails and cupcakes. But what would a café be without excellent coffee? The quality of beans used here is superb. The espresso menu includes con panna, or shots of espresso topped with whipped cream. The Americano has a strong taste with a delicious cocoa flavor, owing to deeply roasted beans that are low acidity.
Central Perk’s signature cupcakes are named after the six leading characters in the TV series. The top sellers are Rachel and Chandler. The former is a red velvet cupcake with a cheese cream topping; the latter a chocolate and vanilla cupcake with a chocolate butter cream frosting and espresso flavored filling inside. A cupcake is priced at 30 yuan, a bit dearer than elsewhere. All cupcakes are homemade on site. The banana waffle features freshly made waffles, and slices of a small banana, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
The environment of Central Perk is lively and service is very attentive.
Waiters and waitresses patiently answer any questions you may have about the menu, without making you feel silly. They even asked: “Do you want your water iced, warm or at room temperature?”
The café has personalized napkins, printed with famous lines from the TV series, like “Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You’re gonna love it!”
Mr Bean Coffee’s Xujiahui Branch has an eye-catching London underground theme, with the exterior of the café styled like a London tube train. However, the “underground” in the logo has been replaced with “Shanghai.” The café is inspired by the long-running British sitcom “Mr Bean.”
The interior décor is oh-so British. The backs of the chairs and the lampshades sport a Union Jack pattern. The seating area is very spacious, with seats and sofas in different styles. Some of them are very comfy. Mr Bean Coffee’s flagship store in Pudong has a vintage Mini Cooper car parked inside the cafe.
The menu here is short but covers a range of offerings, including salads, sandwiches, pastas, baked rice and soup. The service was pretty standard. A waitress who served me didn’t know what kind of coffee beans were used and seemed ill at ease answering my questions about the menu.
If you are not a coffee snob, this café offers decent coffee at a good prices, especially with special offers online.
Address: B1 (East side), Phase II, Buy Now, 339 Caoxi Road N.