Pepa Café Forest: Thai up your summer in Inokashira Park
Kichijoji’s sprawling green space is great for a frolic at any time of year. But as summer makes most Tokyo interiors insufferable, the koen’s Pepa Café Forest is the place to quaff and scoff in a verdant, open-air setting.
An offshoot of the nearby Peppermint Café, this enormous Thai beachhouse-style venue often has a line outside at peak times. But as it runs under the shade of the trees in sight of the colorful park promenaders, standing in it feels more like relaxing than waiting.
As you enter, a tuk-tuk sits to the left, and a wide expanse filled with tables to the right. Original art hangs on the walls, and a little lounge area attracts kids. The whole front of the restaurant is open, with lush foliage, swinging branches, and views of the lake beyond. (In the winter a plastic sheet gives a foggy view of the green vista while holding in the warmth). It’s nonsmoking, and friendly to kids and dogs—the latter of which are usually the better dressed. Pepa’s sheer size means you escape inundation with wails and barks.
A fine selection of South-East Asian beers (from ¥650) includes the hoppy goodness of Beer Lao, remembered with fondness by anyone who’s traveled through its home nation, Thai Singha and Chang, 8% Sri Lankan Lion Imperial, and more, each presented with a chilled metal cup. Other drinks include wines, cocktails including an excellent mojito (¥700), and homemade concoctions like Thai whiskey and coke (¥750) that might bring back memories of full moons.
Lunch sets are a great deal, with one of four main dishes to choose from including rice, soup, Vietnam-style shrimp rolls, salad and a drink (¥1,100). À la carte is more risky. Of assorted dishes we tried, they weren’t all up to scratch. The Thai grilled chicken (¥900; pictured) however, was a winner—thick juicy strips of marinated chicken with sweet chili and cashew dip and plenty of fresh coriander. The pad Thai was less convincing, with the dodgy inclusion of star anise throwing us off somewhat. However the Tom Yum with egg noodles (¥900) was a staple done well, murky with flavor, a healthy dose of lemongrass and a powerful kick.
Hot bevvies include the Vietnamese coffee, complete with contraption (¥600), and a dessert to try is the avocado and chocolate sundae. All in all the simple dishes are the best, but nothing beats the peppy atmosphere and forest setting. The young, mostly female, staff are friendly, the healthy hubbub is welcoming, and the rustling leaves outside freshen up your lazy lunch or summer night with a sweet holiday feeling.