Joints like Los Barbados make living in Tokyo a privilege. Down an unattractive Shibuya side street and wedged into a nondescript building with six other tiny establishements, this African/Turkish/Moroccan/French eatery is run by one free-spirited Japanese dude in a T-shirt and jeans who back when reggae hit the Japanese shore decided to go to Jamaica, but instead ended up in the Congo.
He’s been back to the Congo multiple times for additional cooking lessons.
But he’s also hung out in Paris with the African crowd picking up a French approach to cooking. And when the mood strikes, he says he might whip up a prune and olive chicken tagine.
His haven is hung with French vinyl LP covers such as “Franco L’Afrique Danse No. 6″ or “Dynamite Verckys et l’Orchestre Veve” or “Docteur Nico” or “Johnny Bokelo et Son Orchestre L’Afrique Danse No. 1.”
The joint is basically just a cramped kitchen surrounded by a narrow counter, seating seven or eight, with the space above filled with bottles of rhum, African masks and colorful paintings of a zebra, giraffe, and hippo. Easing from the corner speakers is a constant Congolese groove of intricate guitar and infectious drum work.
The 15–20 item menu varies from the Assorted Vegetable Starter (500 yen) featuring tabouleh, hummus with rose pepper, pickled red cabbage, and French carrot salad; to African Grilled Chicken with fufu cassava (1000 yen) or Turkish “springrolls” deep-fried tidbits filled with lamb and dabbed with hot sauce (650 yen).
The chef also serves up a tasty Senegalese Whitefish Stew with peanuts, tomatoes and okra (950 yen) or a Chickpea and Vegetable Couscous dish (950 yen).
Hot sauce is served with each dish, but for the brave, or the addled, a few bottles of habanero-based sauces are available for incendiary heat.
The chef has also selected several well-priced French rosé, white, and red wines by the glass.
And if you want to explore French Caribbean rhum, you’re in luck.
He’s got nearly 20 types of rhum from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, and a superb specimen from the Isle de Marie-Galante—the 50% strong La Guildive honoring Jean-Baptiste Labat, the Dominican monk and inventor of the distillation of sugar cane in the 17th century (900 yen the glass).
You can’t go wrong at Los Barbados. You’ll be well fed, and your wallet won’t be much lighter than when you went in. Reservations are usually not necessary, but call ahead if you like.
Los Barbados: 41-46 Udagawacho, Papier Biru 104, Shibuya-ku. Open Monday to Saturday 12 noon to midnight. Tel: 03.3496.7157. If you get lost trying to find the place, call. The chef will explain how to get there.
For a map, check out this link: