Bistro Khamsa

Bistro Khamsa

Soak up Mediterranean flavors on the Nakameguro riverside


Originally published on on October 2009

Photos by Justin Vunn

Photos by Justin Vunn

A bistro should be about generous portions of uncomplicated food, efficient service, cheap quaffable wine, and pleasant surroundings. Bistro Khamsa has nailed it.

The owner has a crush on Morocco and a love for France, and with his decor—the zinc bar, tile floor, dark oak tables, shelves filled with colorful tea glasses and tagine-shaped baskets, and the elaborate Moroccan candle-lantern chandelier—he’s conjured an exotic yet very comfortable spot you might find on a side street in Marseille.

The man in the kitchen knows what he’s doing, too. His dinner menu features popular bistro fare like brandade de porc (¥600), onion soup (¥850), terrine de campagne (¥1,000), and roast lamb chops (¥2300). But it also includes Moroccan favorites such as lamb couscous (¥2,100), tagine of chicken and olives (¥1,900) and tagine of pork, eggplant and eggs (¥2,100).

A “tagine,” by the way, is both the cooking pot and the stew itself—slowly simmered until the meat is meltingly tender and infused with spices such as cinnamon and coriander. An order of smoule (¥500), couscous mixed with chickpeas, is the perfect side dish to soak up the rich savory broth.

Bistro Khamsa’s weekend prix fixe lunch for ¥1,500 is one of the city’s best bargains: a choice of hors oeuvre, main dish and dessert, plus bread and coffee. On a recent Saturday, the dining room was filled with couples and girlfriends out for an afternoon along the lazy (and tiny) Meguro River, lined on both banks with cafés, restaurants and boutiques.

The bistro is on the fifth floor and doesn’t have a view of the river, but terrace seating is available if you like dining al fresco. Unfortunately, the panorama is of towering apartment buildings and whirring air conditioner units.

My lunch started with tortilla chorizo—a large wedge of quiche filled with potato, onions, tomatoes and slices of spicy chorizo—nudged up against a well-composed salad with three types of lettuce, shaved red onion, arugula and carrot threads.

The main dish was lamb couscous with chunks of tender mutton luxuriating in a rich broth spiced with coriander seeds. Usually these seeds are bundled in a bit of cheesecloth then removed once they’ve done their magic. Leaving them in, though, gives this Moroccan classic an occasional pleasant crunch. The couscous was expertly prepared, fluffy yet still al dente. Ask for harissa chili sauce on the side to fire up the stew.

Dessert was a fruit compote of fresh pear poached in red wine with hints of cinnamon and clove, swaddled in a cushion of fromage blanc.

For an extra ¥500, you can have what the menu claims is “a well poured glass of wine.” It is, indeed.