Kaseki poké Photo: Jennifer Wong
Kaseki poké Photo: Jennifer Wong

In a leafy neighborhood in London’s chic South Kensington lies Tombo restaurant and cafe, a Japanese casual dining venue that has a loyal clientele drawn from both the young and trendy and the more sophisticated, well-heeled diners.

Manami and her son Louis. Photo: Jennifer Wong

A small family-run outlet  founded by former fashion buyer Manami in 2010, and now run with her sons Leo and Louis, it serves healthy, innovative Japanese meals and desserts.

A feature dish is pokés: a light, Hawaiian-style salad using premium cuts of raw fish and other ingredients. I tried the Kyoto Kaisen poké and was not disappointed. The freshness and complementary mix of ingredients  — especially the salmon, prepared on order — was noticeable. The citrus ponzo enhanced the salad with a sweet, yet slightly bitter fruity zest.

There has been a surge in the number of restaurants serving pokés, but Tombo has succeeded in making the dish as authentic as possible.

The few sushi offerings are also delicious. You can see each order freshly prepared at the counter. The Temari sushi set is a great choice for those looking for a light meal or hoping to combine it with pokés or other dishes, and the sushi balls topped with fresh fish are a feast for the eyes.

Grilled eel sushi. Photo: Jennifer Wong

For those looking for more substantial food, the restaurant has a modest range of teriyaki don, Japanese katsu curry (breaded pork cutlets served with rice and curry sauce) and sashimi don. It is not so often that you can find grilled eel dishes in London, so I was more than happy to order the unagi sushi (grilled eel sushi), which is refreshing to taste with cucumber and sauce.

Hijiki seaweed salad. Photo: Jennifer Wong

To accompany the sushi and don (rice) selections, you will not be disappointed by the sake and wine list, which have Taruzake (sake aged in wooden barrels), Kizakura (Junmai Daijnjo) and Japan’s favorite beers such as Asahi and Kirin.

The cafe’s desserts are tantalising, with fusion creations such as purple potato rolls, hochicha rolls and yuzi lemon drizzle. And then of course there is Tombo’s signature dessert, matcha brownie: a light-bodied brownie with the distinctive matcha flavor.

The tempting range of ice-creams and cakes. Photo: Jennifer Wong

These cakes are all made on the day to guarantee their freshness. The matcha soft-serve ice cream is a house favorite, although you have to be a big matcha fan to order, given its strong taste.

The restaurant has links with a tea estate situated in the foothills of Mount Fuji in Japan and supplies matcha tea to several cafés and patisseries in London. It also sells its own branded tea in the restaurant and online.

Despite the modest space and many dishes being made-to-order, service is friendly and efficient. A meal here is not cheap, but it is South Kensington after all.

Tombo also has branches in Soho and Fitzrovia that cater to different local clienteles. However, it still has a no-booking policy, so make sure you turn up earlier than the peak times to get a table.

Tombo restaurant in South Kensington, London. Photo: Jennifer Wong

South Kensington branch: 29 Thurloe Place, SW7 2HQ
Mon-Sun 11.30am-9.30pm / 02075890018

Fitzrovia branch: 4 Windmill St, W1T 2HZ
Mon-Sat 11.30am-9.30pm / 02032050001

Soho branch: 28 D’arblay St, W1F 8EW
Mon-Sat 11.30am-9.30pm / 02077341333