The mad new ‘2D restaurant’ that feels like you’re walking into a cartoon

There's nothing like this place in the whole city

By Ben Arnold | 16 August 2023

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Walking into Waku Waku, just opened on Portland Street, is like walking into a cartoon. It’s pretty disorientating at first, but you eventually get used to it.

Then you start looking at the details. There’s a rendering of the Last Supper, but with cats wearing cool sunglasses instead of the apostles.

There’s the 2D version of The Scream by Edvard Munch and Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (also cats).

The chairs are painted white and then the edges have been drawn in roughly in black, so they blend into the walls, as do the tables.

Waku Waku

It took owner Chris Lui, who arrived in Manchester from Hong Kong two years ago, four months to draw it all, by hand. He’d stay until two or three in the morning every night.

He used 150 paint markers in the process, and of course, he now gets a discount at Fred Aldous, who would see him every few days.

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Most amazing though, more than the brilliant art on the walls, more than the fact that this is his first restaurant, is that this is the first time he’s picked up a marker pen in his life.

Prior to this, he was working for HSBC before moving to the UK with his wife Chi Chi and their young daughter.

waku waku

“The concept was from my wife,” he told Finest (‘waku waku’, by the way, means ‘thrilling or exciting’ in Japanese). 

“She thought that the people in Manchester would like the concept, in 2D style. We’re the first one in Manchester, and I think, the UK. There are some 2D cafes in Taiwan, in Korea and in Japan, but nothing here.”

Waku Waku

He only realised that he loved painting while he was actually up all night drawing on the walls – he’d pencil in the outlines, then go in with the poster pens.

“There’s the Last Supper there, I just changed it to cats,” he laughs. “We want people to feel like they’re in a cartoon world. We use the 2D concept to bring people in, and then hopefully the food is great as well.”

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His chef has more than a decade of experience working in Japanese restaurants, so the menu is solid. 

There’s even a signature dish – a Japanese ‘omurice’, a portmanteau of omelette and rice, popular across the Far East. It’s a fluffy omelette that’s cooked on the outside and slightly scrambled in the middle, which is then wrapped around fried rice like a warm blanket.

Waku Waku

As well as a plain version, there’s an upscale iteration too, that comes served with sticky glazed eel. Add to that sushi platters, rice bowls, udon soup noodles, dumplings and tempura, and the place is shaping up to taste as good as it looks.

Chris plans to redraw the whole place every six months. And he also hopes that he’ll be able to indulge his new hobby in the future, though currently he’s struggling to see where he will find the time, now that his canvas has rather come to life.

waku waku

“I’ll have to see if I have the chance,” he says, “because I love painting now. I mean, this is my first restaurant, so I might need time to work on that.”

Waku Waku is at 54 Portland St, Manchester M1 4QU, and is open from midday to 10pm every day.