Every so often you meet someone whose enthusiasm is the driving force of an establishment. So strong, in fact, that it’s like a magnetic field, drawing you into its energy.
At Mockingbird Café, Kingscliff, that force is Jo Jackson.
We’d first met Jo at her very successful restaurant, Signature Dish in Varsity, where she not only ran the kitchen and catering, but also held cooking classes and specialty events.
Five years ago, a derelict shop opposite the beach in Kingscliff caught her attention. With a prospective tenant eager to take on the Varsity property, the decision to invest in her hometown was easy, she tells us.
After a total refit – walls, wiring and all that took six months to complete, Mockingbird opened, following the same principles as Signature Dish: a large open kitchen, making everything as possible from scratch (including pasta and bread), with daily specials to entice locals to keep visiting.
(It also marked the beginning of her relationship with Blackboard Coffee, her Varsity tenant, their coffee still served in Mockingbird to this day.)
“There’s a lot happening in Kingscliff,” Jo tells us. “They’re spending $25 million on the foreshore to create 500 metres of public open space.
I’ve lived in Kingscliff for 24 years now,” she says. “I love good food and our people – it’s a happy place. People come in and talk to each other. It’s very validating.”
Coming from a nursing background, nutrition is also important, as well as social connection; not confronting, but real.
Jo’s expressed what we can already feel about Mockingbird’s vibe: there’s a homely warmth to Mockingbird that invites us in. Diners settle in to read the paper over coffee, have a chat about their family and discuss local events.
It’s also a local place serving real food in clever combinations with the great flavours you only get by using hyper-local seasonal food. The kitchen garden behind the café not only grows herbs for the menu, there’s also a native bee hive.
Dining at lunch, our slow-cooked brisket is made from New England beef on a house-baked milk bun served with Sebago chips. The ‘Fish of the Day’ (or no fish if there’s only farmed or frozen fish available) is local Ray’s bream served with pickled fennel salad, its sourness balanced by apple slaw, sweet peppery walnuts and a palm sugar tamarind glaze.
“It’s a produce-driven menu. The produce comes first. The menu follows to showcase local food. We’re trying to get away from standards, so we might make a cauli and barley risotto, like a savoury porridge, or a tofu fritter instead of gluten-free toast, or gluten-free pancakes.
It’s all about fine tuning dishes to use as much local produce as we can, tweeking each dish to reach perfection. We’re working as a team in the kitchen,” Jo says, “the chefs and apprentices making dishes their own. They take a lot of pride in their creations.”
It’s clear that there’s a huge investment in staff here, sharing passion about food philosophy and years of experience, enabling them to learn and grow.
That even extends to community work with On Cue and the Busy at Work program, gaining the café ‘The Inclusion Award’ for the region.
“We have about twenty staff here. Enabling them to know the menu and the philosophy behind it, to be able to go out and talk to any customer about the dishes because they’ve tasted each one and know what’s in the sauces, that’s very powerful. It leads to a lot of trust,” Jo tells us. “We have a lot of dietary customers and a strong following for our cakes and gluten-free dishes,” she adds.
A finalist in the Savour NSW awards, Jo is a firm advocate of the Tweed Coast and local producers: “We live in a most amazing food bowl. People want to know where food comes from, that it is responsibly sourced. I love the fact that we can use food grown in our local area and do something for our community.”
She tells us about a new farmer’s market being held at Kingscliff TAFE, about the café’s relationship with local fishermen and farmers, citing her food sources: avocados from Anderson’s at Duranbah, Berkshire bacon from Murwillumbah as well as the particularly strong bond existing with Farm & Co, where she’ll soon be opening another café by the end of 2018.
Enthusiastic about the sustainable farming methods used at Farm & Co, which is also certified organic, Jo’s café there will not only increase the dining options at the farm, but also boost its educational role.
So impressed already, for us, it’s amazing how much good one person can do, how much goodwill can be achieved in the community through networking and positive contribution. To use Jo’s own words about Mockingbird, “It just works!” And there’s so much more to come…
86 Marine Parade, Kingscliff NSW 2487 Ph: 02 6674 8380
Open: Mon – Sun 6am – 3pm