When my mum came down to visit for Mother’s Day I knew I wanted to take her somewhere special and I always think that nothing fits the bill better than afternoon tea. I’ll be honest – I don’t tend to celebrate those ‘commercial rubbish’ days (expensive cards, pointless novelty trinkets and overpriced meals – no thanks!) but sometimes it’s just a good excuse to spoil someone who deserves it. She might be my mum but our tastes in food couldn’t be more different; she’s not into cakes and sweet stuff though – she finds them too sweet and too heavy, and she doesn’t even really like bread! I know what you’re thinking, but I promise we are actually related.. though I have no idea where my appetite or my sweet tooth come from!
Cue Tombo matcha and poke bar – afternoon tea with a Japanese twist that I thought would be perfect for my mum, and something beautifully different for me to try since I’ve been to more “traditional” afternoon teas than I can even begin to count!
Tombo is London’s first authentic Japanese Café and matcha bar. They are award winning specialists in green tea and matcha with a focus on a healthy, balanced diet. The Tombo cafe serving afternoon tea is in South Kensington, not to be confused with their other branch in Soho. I managed to take us to the wrong one; of course I did. Despite the South Kensington branch being the larger of the two, and the first to open, I hadn’t seen it before – I hadn’t even realised there was another one so when I turned up at the Soho branch saying I had an afternoon tea reservation and they looked at me completely baffled I wondered what planet they were from. It took us all a disproportionate amount of time to figure out that I’d made a mistake and should be at the other branch over 30 minutes away in South Kensington. They were kind enough to call and mention I’d be late and luckily we still had enough time to get there before they stopped serving afternoon tea and so I rushed off with my poor mum trailing behind (I forget how used to the stupidly fast pace of London life I am!). I love South Kensington – it’s so pretty and packed full of amazing food places, and Tombo is literally a stone’s throw from the tube – you can even see it from the station. If you’ve never been to the area you’re missing out – it’s beautiful, and so much more relaxed than Soho. Not that I don’t love Soho and all it’s incredible eateries but it’s not the most spacious or relaxing of places!
Thankfully they’d held our table – a cute table for two tucked away in the corner – and we were greeted with a huge smile by the restaurant manager, Marks. The place is small and simply decorated, with a few tables in the window and a long bench with bar stools at the front. Behind it is a glass cabinet displaying some of their cakes and a small area with waiters and baristas rushing to make drinks and plate up food. In the back is more seating, but despite its relatively decent (by London standards!) size, the queue for a table was ridiculous!
Besides afternoon tea they serve a lot of other dishes and despite generally not being a big fan of noodles, ramen and other Asian dishes, Japanese is definitely my favourite and all of their food coming out looked delicious. The majority of people seemed to be there for sweet stuff – particularly their matcha soft serve cones and sundaes, but I saw a few people with savoury food too – they have handmade sushi, bento boxes (meat/fish/veggies with Japanese salads and rice) which looked lovely and their katsu looked deliciously crisp and golden brown.
I’d already had lunch and we had dinner plans though so we decided to go straight for the sweet stuff and ordered afternoon tea for two. Of course I had to be greedy and order an additional slice of cake though! I was close to ordering their signature matcha soft serve too – it looks incredible (and their sundaes are seriously Instagrammable!) – but I didn’t want to have to rush to eat it before it melted (first world problems and a daily struggle as I decide whether to put ice cream in my dessert bowl or eat it on the side!). Thanks to me getting us lost the sun was already setting too and it was a pretty chilly evening so I ended up choosing the strawberry shortcake instead. I did see a lot of the sundaes coming out though, and if I went again I’d definitely get one – they’re topped with Oreos, chocolate sticks, date syrup, matcha brownies and granola amongst other equally amazing toppings. Although perhaps not quite as exciting as the sundaes, the strawberry shortcake was delicious.
Predictably, it was very different to a traditional cake – light, fluffy and full of fresh cream rather than buttercream frosting the way that Asian cakes usually are. Personally if I was given the choice I’d choose a heavier typical British cake, but even so I have to admit that it was a bloody good cake – ridiculously light and melt in the mouth soft. For those who like that style of light chiffon cake I imagine it’s the dream; I’ve tried a fair few Asian cakes for various friends’/family members’ birthdays and it was certainly the best of all the ones I can remember. The sponge was a beautiful green from the matcha but I think of all the cakes we tried this was the only one where I couldn’t actually taste it.
I ordered a matcha latte and it was stunning – I’ve never seen such a pretty (or large!) matcha latte. It was a little on the sweet side, though that was probably exacerbated by the sweetness of all the cakes and desserts. I’m used to having plain tea or coffee with afternoon tea so having a sweetened drink (in such a large quantity!) was new to me, but it did slow me down slightly when it came to demolishing the desserts so that was a good thing! It was beautifully smooth too.. and no horrible matcha lumps which happens all too frequently at other coffee shops!
Onto the rest of the afternoon tea and that too was almost faultless. Everything was presented beautifully – each item was delicate and enticing just the way an afternoon tea should be. The sushi was lovely – mainly focused around salmon and avocado (two of my favourites!) served with pickled ginger and soy sauce. (And wasabi but that’s a no-go for me!).
My mum was more than happy to eat her share of the sushi but when we moved onto the desserts I was in my element. Personally I’ve never had any inclination to eat Asian desserts. I think the ones I’ve had in the past have been more Chinese than Japanese but for as long as I can remember I’ve been baffled by my parents’ favourite desserts. I mean red bean ice cream? Beans and weirdly coloured ice shavings!? Beans and chewy green worms in a sweet soup!!? These were completely different to all of the desserts I typically associate with Asian cuisine though – they were beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to try them all!
The macaroons were delightful – a chewy soft centre with a crispy outer shell, filled with an incredible sweet, chocolatey matcha filling. The matcha gateau was another absolute triumph – soft, with the perfect cakey texture (more of a traditional close textured British cake rather than the light and fluffy sponge of the strawberry shortcake) and a subtle hint of matcha.
The rocky road was possibly my favourite of the lot though. Marshmallows, cranberries and crunchy biscuit encased in smooth white chocolate, with the slight bitterness of the matcha taking away the intense sweetness of the white chocolate – a perfect match.
Oh and the pancake.. the little stuffed pancake. (Dorayaki pancake for a more technical term!). But one bite and you won’t care what it’s called – it’s amazing! I mean who doesn’t love pancakes? Especially soft, fluffy pancakes. Sandwich a couple together with a sweet matcha filling and you’re onto a real winner. Okay it’s not winning any awards for looks but what it lacks in aesthetics it most definitely made up for in taste.
The brownie was perhaps the only dessert of the lot that didn’t get the perfect balance. Although it had a lovely dense texture like all good brownies should, the sweetness overpowered the matcha and there was a slight powdery aftertaste. One non-perfect dessert from a huge array is hardly bad going though – especially when someone as fussy as myself is the judge!
I have to admit that the service was pretty disorganised – waiters and waitresses were rushing around not knowing whether they were coming or going! They didn’t know whether they needed to take our order or bring us our order and I wasn’t sure whether I’d ordered my cake twice, but the chaos can almost be forgiven as their tiny little cafe is rammed with people with the queue for tables spilling out of the front door and onto the street. And when you do get served it’s by friendly, cheery waiters with huge smiles, who are as apologetic as they can be about the admittedly slow service. When you have a smiley Asian guy running over with a grin plastered on his face as if it’s the job of his dreams, it’s pretty hard to be annoyed that you had to wait fifteen minutes for him to make the drink.
My only gripe would be that there was only one of a few of the items. I never quite understand that because the afternoon tea is per person so I always think there should be two of everything. I asked for another macaroon and they were more than happy to bring me another (though I assume I’d have been charged if I was a paying customer..). As it turned out my mum was full so I got both macaroons anyway!! But in principle I think it should be designed so that each person should get to try each item especially as they’re small. Plus you wouldn’t want to miss out on trying the macaroons – they were so good! A crisp crunchy shell, a soft middle and a beautifully sweet ganache with a hint of matcha which turned it a pretty green colour similar to many of their other cakes and desserts.
They have another café in Soho (obviously I know that!!) serving poke bowls alongside all of their signature matcha drinks and desserts. I even spotted the amazing matcha Crosstown donut in there! You can also buy their high quality green teas and matcha in their stores or online 🙂
For all you matcha lovers out there this café is a must-visit. Even for those of you who haven’t been caught up in the matcha craze, if there’s any place that can convert you then this is most definitely it!
Link to their website: http://tombocafe.com/#matcha