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MUJI Has a Diner: Do We Really Care?

Just take my money, already.

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

If you’ve passed by MUJI on Huaihai Zhong Lu, you’ve most likely ventured in at some point. You've probably browsed each OCD-arranged shelf on every floor floor of this Japanese retailer and walked out with several home organization solutions and a bottle of over-priced liquid hand soap.

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

But when MUJI puts the words Diner under neon lights. The question is, "Should we care?"

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

The previous concept, Café & Meal MUJI, didn’t work out apparently. Why? It’s essentially Wagas X Green & Safe food—pesto pasta, avocado salad, overpriced lamb chops, one or two desserts and the odd bowl of rice. There’s another Café & Meal at MUJI Zhongshan Park. From what we’ve seen, the menu is basically identical. Aha! The typical new name rebranding scheme. Guess it worked, since we've seen a few headlines like “MUJI has a diner and it’s awesome.”

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

We also found an article by Lonely Planet where they described MUJI Diner as "distinctly relaxed and unpretentious.”

Lonely Planet continues with, "On the menu is a colorful blend of cuisines including Chinese, Italian and Spanish.” You don’t say? But now you have our attention, and we are therefore here at MUJI Diner.

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

First of all, let's call this what it is: cafeteria food.

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

It’s curious why with pre-made canteen food—already sitting behind the counter, stacked high in huge casserole dishes—they even bothered with waitstaff. They could have saved spending at least five (the number of half-capable staff roaming the floors at lunch) monthly salaries by putting in an order counter.

On our visit, the server tried so hard to please us, double and triple checking our order and noting extra fees as we upgraded our rice from plain white to multigrain (RMB5). She even asked if we wanted our noodles (Pasta Bolognese, RMB58) to be "soft" or "normal." We erred on the side of caution asked for "hard", fearing that their idea of “soft” was to boil the tagliatelle to the consistency of congee.  

The food comes out instantly, as it should.

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

It’s a lunch set of two cold and two hot dishes for RMB68 from an unchanging daily spread. And it looks like hipster prison food. 

Let's address the elephant in the room here: Why is the potato salad pink?

Also, why is everything just barely room temperature? The breading on the fried pork is no longer crispy. It's just layer of sad, unnecessary carbohydrates. Are the cooks at MUJI trying to mask freezer burn? Yes, that is soup, served in a cup. 

If the pre-made options come to you immediately, perhaps it's a way of overcompensating for how long it takes MUJI to prepare the made to order items. You know, the really complex and involved dishes, like pasta, which clock in at around 30 minutes. With ticket times like that, we can only assume they're boiling a fresh pot of water for each order. 

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

This is what a serving a 30-minute pasta looks like. And no, it was not worth the wait.  

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

Let shift our attention to the atmosphere. It’s bright, clean and pleasant in that mildly soul-crushing corporate way. Thankfully, the music is not loud top-40 cranked to 11. The dining area is cordoned off from the shopping space so people can't just walk in and nab a table.

 

The lunch crowd arrives and a queue forms. We watched a family barge in and attempt to commandeer our side of the large communal table, employing the classic—but effective—“loud and dumb” technique while inching their belongings ever deeper into our personal bubble. Possession, they say, is nine tenths of the law. 

 

Who are you people and why are you eating here? Can't you just go to iapm? Its only one block away. And there are two perfectly good Japanese restaurants in the same building as MUJI. There are restaurants to play elbow wars but this is not one of them. Furthermore, you can Taobao everything in this store!

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

Most are single patrons burning away their afternoon, eating in silence on their phones, slaves to the incessant drone of subliminal conditioning that commercialism will lead to happiness. Just shoppers who couldn't care where they ate for lunch. Oh look, it’s kid friendly with designer wooden kiddie chairs that look sturdy enough to anchor in offspring. More families enter the dining area and it’s our cue to leave.

So. Is the MUJI Diner awesome? No. Relaxed? Maybe between 10am-10:30am. Unpretentious? Sure, like everything else in Shanghai. Colorful cuisine? The potato salad was actually not bad.

 

Shanghai's MUJI Diner on Huaihai Zhong Lu - Photos by Rachel Gouk

 

In the end, what really matters is that we walked out with a nice bottle of hand soap. Oh wait. Dammit, MUJI!

 

Details

What: MUJI Diner

Address: 3/F, 755 Huaihai Zhong Lu (near Ruijin Er Lu) 淮海中路755号3楼 (近瑞金二路)

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Rachel Gouk
Rachel Gouk is the dining editor and digital content manager at City Weekend Shanghai. She's a ball-buster, but manages to charm her way back into people's good graces. Likes food, cooking, photography and heavy metal.

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