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Tombo Cafe review: A Sanrio riot of colour and character


I'm not really sure how to go about telling you about my recent lunch at Tombo. I could tell you about the food, or tell you about the service -- or I could tell you about the wild decor, the kawaii food styling, or the fact that Hello Kitty is the cafe's bouncer. 

Tombo is part of a small chain of Japanese cafes (there are three in London), but they're definitely not like anywhere else I've been. The moment you walk in, there's a giant kimono-wearing Hello Kitty ready to greet you, and she's very happy to pose for selfies. Once you've had your picture with the feline icon, you can go and fight for a seat -- we turned up at 2pm on a Saturday and snagged the only two empty seats in the house. 

As I mentioned, the decor is eye-popping fun. The cafe has a tie-up with Japanase kawaii magnate Sanrio, and there are lots of posters of Pom Pom Purin, Gudetama, and the rest. There's also one table with a whole tree sprouting from the top -- another picture-taking hotspot for Tombo's diners.

Just your average tabletop tree
The set up is somewhere between fast food and cafe: you're seated by a server, you go to the counter to order, and food comes to your table. 

A lot of the food and drink at Tombo shares the same kawaii look: matcha tea is served with a Hello Kitty graphic on top and Pom Pom Purin's curry comes with the rice shaped into a resemblance of the canine character. 

Tombo isn't vegan, but there are a good number of vegan options from among its poke, donburi and noodle focused menu. I was powerless to resist the lure of the Hello Kitty Garden Poke, while Mr Flicking the Vs went for less of a cutefest with the Pumpkin Katsu Curry.

Here's the Hello Kitty dish in action:


It's pretty as a picture of a summer landscape, and just as light and fresh. Given how beautiful the plate was, carping about the flavour seems a bit mean. The veggies had been cut into dinky hearts, stars, and Hello Kitty silhouettes, but are otherwise untroubled: there wasn't any dressing I could spot. The tofu was the sort of tofu people think of when they tell you they don't really like tofu: cold, damp, unseasoned. Those little red fellas were flavour bombs though: somewhere between a pepper, a tomato and a chilli. If I knew what they were, I'd go and hunt them down and buy a truckload.

Mr Flicking the Vs' katsu was less of a feast for the eyes than my poke, but what it lost in visuals it more than made up for in taste:


A couple of slabs of perfectly crisp breadcrumbed pumpkin, a mound of rice, and some slaw for freshness. It was simplicity itself compared to the intricate designs of the Sanrio inspired food, but this is the dish I'll be going back to order. Some things just don't need any decoration, they're just all kinds of pretty on the inside.

But after all those paragraphs about the lunch at Tombo, you'll probably have guessed that the food wasn't really the main event. I wasn't blown away by my food, but the atmosphere and the decor meant that I still left with a smile on my face - it's impossible to feel sad in a riot of Sanrio. Everyone here looks like they're enjoying themselves: young kids meeting their Hello Kitty hero, harajuku girls enjoying a bit of Japan in London -- even the people dragged along by their other halves or children looked like they were still happy to be there.

My poke may not have set my tastebuds alight, but I left with a smile on my face. 

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3 comments

  1. It's so sad that the promise of such cute food doesn't quite deliver! I would still totally want to go, though, so I guess they know what they're doing and who their target audience is...

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  2. Love Hello Kitty ever since I was little. A shame so much effort to make such a cute looking dish, there was none left for the flavor. As much as I love Hello Kitty and all cute food things, I'll go flavor over cuteness any day. :-)

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  3. sounds like a fun place to eat. I am a sucker for katsu curry and also a sucker for pretty meals but I think I would have to go for taste here

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