Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2007

Photo by Karryn Cartelle

Photo by Karryn Cartelle

Tucked away in a quiet backstreet, Tribes is not the kind of place you would stumble upon if you weren’t looking for it. But if you did wander off the well-beaten path of Kagurazaka slope, you may, like us, be curious as to what lies behind the African mural outside. And once you venture in, you’d discover that the African theme flows throughout the restaurant’s interior and on to the menu. Tribal masks gaze down from behind the bar, while traditional shutters carved by West Africa’s Dogon tribe line the walls. A banana tree adds a bit of greenery to the earthy toned setting, and the subtle giraffe prints covering the windows add wildlife to this intimate dining space.

At Tribes, patrons can enjoy an extensive music selection ranging from jazzy tribal beats to uplifting drumming to more mellow jazz. For any lulls in conversation, Africa-related videos are projected on the wall, and the chatty owner, Ishikawa-san, is all too happy to explain the images unfolding before your eyes.

Tribes’ menu selection is unique. Positioning itself as an Afro-French restaurant, the eatery offers a wide selection of dishes—although not in any traditional style.

On our visit, we started with palmito salad with prawn and avocado (¥950). Creatively presented in a candy jar-style container, the salad offered us our first experience of this vegetable, harvested from the palm of a coconut tree. We then ordered some koftas (¥650 for two), spicy minced mutton kebabs served with yogurt, cabbage and a selection of salts for dipping. We also tried the clam and squid couscous with a sauce made from squid ink (¥1,450). Served on the side, the sauce allows customers to choose the richness of their dish. Portions were reasonable, but we had hoped the kebabs were larger, as the plate quickly disappeared. Most diners choose a wide selection of kebabs, and can easily do so with prices ranging from ¥650-¥950.

Photo by Karryn Cartelle

Photo by Karryn Cartelle

The menu is heavy on meat options and also includes some unusual fare like fried crocodile with ham, cheese, and eggplant (¥2,050), BBQ South African ostrich with ginger sauce (¥900), and grilled Guinea fowl with a pistachio topping (¥950). Hungry patrons can opt for the two-person, ¥6,500 course meal, which mixes starters like ostrich sausages and prawn coconut feuillete with an assortment of kebabs. There are also soups and hearty salads.

The relaxed pace of service was welcoming in a city where meals are often rushed—although my hungry friend seemed to disagree, as he wondered how long it would take for the food to arrive. The wait, however, gives you the chance to savor a bottle of South African wine, which range from ¥4,000-¥7,000. Thirstier customers can work their way through Africa by sampling beers from many of the continent’s countries.