Tombo is a gem of a cafe that has opened in Mullumbimby’s eclectic and thriving industrial estate. Japanese for dragonfly, the theme is modern Japanese and the style of the place is a perfect balance of elements, warm natural materials sit harmoniously with polished industrial aesthetics, warm and airy, relaxed and stylish, a pleasure to be in. Inside there is ground floor and loft seating as well as outdoor tables that have a sunny raised outlook with views of Mt Chincogan. It may seem a strange thing to say, but the cafe has what must be the most stylish and capacious restroom of any business in Mullumbimby. Sitting out from the main street and from the mainstream in an area that is alive and happening, it has its own food hub, two kombucha breweries, steelworks, two luxe cosmetics manufacturers, a local brewery, as well as more traditional industrial and craft businesses; says a bit about how unique this place is.
Front of house, the not-eponymous Timbo ‘I’m all about the vibe’ Parsonage has spent decades perfecting the kind of professional but friendly atmosphere that makes it fun and satisfying to visit the cafe – but whilst making vibe he also makes a great double espresso using Allpress coffee, for example. You can see the care lavished on each coffee, and I also enjoyed the Japanese twig tea, served in an elegant, earthy ceramic pot.
Japanese chef Daisuke Shibata’s food is incredibly good. I didn’t think I really liked Japanese food but obviously I’ve been eating at the wrong places, because at Tombo I haven’t tried anything I don’t like yet, and I’ve been back five times since my first visit. If your first thought for brunch is about grabbing something easy, you’ll be won over by the pulled pork rolls (Dai makes his own bread for these) – but be early as they sell out quickly. However, you’d be crazy not to try the house made udon noodles which have a mouth-smackingly tasty broth. There was also a lunch special of spiced chicken, namul, choy sum, poached egg, beautifully pickled vegetables and rice, which was art in a bowl and delightful to taste. Tombo also offers a breakfast congee – this is the sort of food that Japanese people might enjoy in Japan.
Both partners seem to relish having their own business, after a combined 60 years of working for other people, they are relieved to be able to focus on their own contribution to the cafe, each trusting the other partner’s experience. For Dai, the opportunity to create his own food is particularly satisfying, almost on a spiritual level.
‘I regard the udon noodle as the real Japanese soul food,’ says Dai. ‘It’s important to me to make it properly, so I cut all the noodles by hand. You know, from a business point of view it’s easier to just buy noodles, or the buns, but I feel very satisfied when I make them by hand – I feel it comes from my soul,’ says Dai.
‘The same with Japanese curry. If you buy it off the shelf in the supermarket, it has a lot of ingredients that I wouldn’t use in my curries. Although some customers wouldn’t notice, I think it’s important. I also have been enjoying making congee. It might not be something that everyone has for breakfast here in Mullum, but it’s been really popular. We especially make it in the morning.’
Noodles and curry are available from 11am, and I recommend getting in early or phoning ahead as they have been known to sell out by say 1pm.
‘Not everyone is happy,’ laughs Dai, ‘some people just want a bacon and egg roll, which I could make, but really you can get that anywhere. I think it’s important to offer people something different, that’s unique. To me, it’s part of a process of maturing, to own your own business, and that’s part of the symbolism of the Tombo, of the dragonfly. In Japan it has a very positive symbolism, as it is always flying forward.’
Tombo Cafe – Ph 02 6684 6167
Byron Food Hub 3
16-18 Towers Dr Mullumbimby