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January 17, 2010

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Princess palace to suit sweet little cupcakes

IT is unusual that a restaurant starts its menu with a poem but at "Guilty Pleasure" -- a Chinese pop music-blaring, candy pink cupcake world catering for Shanghai's princesses -- its opening verse reads like the preamble to some bizarre consumerist constitution.

"Shopping indulgences, decadent desserts, guilty pleasures; Sometimes we need a little pampering; Sometimes we want a little spoiling GP too put fun and color in life; And who are we to deny ourselves? So dig in ..."

Self-restraint isn't big on the list of things the Taiwanese owners of Guilty Pleasure considered when they came up with their saccharine sweet eatery at Shaanxi Road N.

In case you miss the princess overtones in the pink and white entrance, the large cake cabinet housing a creation shaped like an LV handbag (pictured top right) might be a sure giveaway.

Or it might be the doll-house interior complete with fake arches, trippy Alice-in Wonderland chessboard-like floor, velvet covered faux antique chairs and pink and grey color scheme.

After ensconcing ourselves in what my companion simply described as "the boudoir" -- a curtained off area with dark red velvet oversized couches °?°?-- Candy, our appropriately named waitress, felt the surrounds needed some explaining.

Candy helpfully pointed out the restaurant was aimed at Shanghai's young, female white collars who, according to the GP team (as they are named in the menu), like their dining atmosphere to have a distinct cutesy aesthetic.

But back to that menu.

Having been encouraged to "dig in," the GP team from Taipei then tells diners they have scoured the culinary world to select "new favorites of celebrated restaurants."

Subsequently, the menu is an ambitious affair strangely kicking off with desserts and drinks and promising everything "from American grub and Italian eats to the cuisines of East Asia."

It is an exhaustive list from all day brunches and omelets, to brioches and waffles through to burgers, tapas, curries and even a Mexican fiesta curveball thrown in on the last page.

My companion tentatively went for a beef stew that came with a choice of soup, and mashed potato and vegetables (79 yuan/US$11.60). We also delved into their canap?? offerings (two for 20 yuan) and the J burger.

The menu promised the canapes would showcase the chef's creativity. The first was a gluggy dollop of creamy, herbed, canned tuna concoction served on a crouton and the second was a piece of plastic-textured cheese sandwiched between two halves of a cherry tomato, speared with a toothpick and resting on a small puddle of bright green pesto-like sauce.

They both tasted like they had been sitting in a fridge for a while.

The vegetable soup that accompanied the stew was tame but had large pieces of tomato and carrots and a smattering of cabbage.

Having been promised indulgence, the main course offering came with a distinctly frugal feel. Despite supposedly coming with bacon and egg, the J burger was limited to a thick beef patty dripping with melted cheese and chunks of red onion served on a wilted lettuce leaf and accompanied by a side serve of fries -- so much for being spoiled.

The beef stew had a few large chunks of meat and some stray pieces of potato and taro in an anemic thin tomato sauce. This stew was so drab it would be suited to be dolled out onto metal plates for boarding school lunches. However, the thick pieces of grilled zucchini and buttery mash on the side at least provided some salvation.

They were disappointedly out of their French brioche with signature peanut butter and condensed milk sauce, so we had to settle for a cinnamon and banana Belgium waffle (28 yuan) and a couple of their cupcakes (8 yuan each). The waffle was a passable but decidedly unglamorous offering and would have benefited from the banana being grilled.

The cupcakes were a lemon cream topped chocolate brownie and a bland white sponge on strawberry cream icing. Both were finished with a sprinkle of love heart candies.

Sometimes a restaurant is so bad it has a certain kitschy charm.

I have to confess that for all its over-the-wwtop cloy cutesy sweetness and its barely passable food, this little homage to all things princess still managed to be a guilty pleasure.


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