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Akira Back brings innovation to the fusion food scene in Jakarta

 

These pictures have been sitting in my hard drive for months, but it’s only now that I’ve found the time to review them all. Brace yourself for some food porn ahead.

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I’m sure most of you have been to the hippest restaurant in town right now, but I’m reviewing this for the purpose of bringing in the skeptics that are missing out on the good stuff at Akira Back.

Before I go on, let me show you just how on-demand this restaurant is right now.

It was a Saturday. In the late morning, we called in to reserve our seats. There were already 12 names before us, and we might have to wait till half past 8 to 9 at night. Even so, the only available seating would be at the bar. We made our 8:30pm reservation anyway, and just prayed throughout the day seats would open up.

They did (Praying always works).

We arrived early at 8-ish and didn’t have to wait a single minute for an open table. A couple just left when we came in. It wasn’t luck – it’s prayer ;)

Anyways, a little background on the chef himself: You may already know that Akira Back is the proud owner of 2 high-profile restaurants in Vegas: Yellowtail in the Bellagio hotel and KUMI in Mandalay Bay. But before he rose to success, he was actually an athlete.

The 40-year-old chef is a Korean-born Japanese. Previously a pro-snowboarder, Back’s interest in the culinary arts began after a series of injuries that eventually led to his retirement in the extreme sport. At that time, he had never cooked a meal in his life. But after he met Ironchef Chen Kenichi at his restaurant in Aspen, Colorado, and reportedly begged Kenichi to be part of his team. That instant love for culinary arts snowballed into receiving a degree from The Art Institute in Colorado.

It’s amazing how passion can drive you to success if you just listen to your guts. It brought him to open an eponymous restaurant in New Delhi last year, and now it’s quickly (and tremendously) well-received in Jakarta after having just opened for a couple of months.

 

 
 

Stepping out to the 12th floor of MD Place Building, you’ll be greeted with a warm welcome by the whole staff. You don’t see a lot of high-brow places in the city that serves with that kind of enthusiasm, so you’ll immediately feel comfortable because of it. The dim lights and dark wood furnishings made the overall ambience slightly more casual than your usual fine-dining experience. In fact, I think Back created a whole new category for his restaurant: It’s quasi-fine-dining (with much better service than most fine-dining restaurants!). It’s a big space for 122 people and 6 glamorous VIP rooms, plus a long marble bar on your far right as you enter the seating area.

So let’s dive right in to the food: We had the much-acclaimed Tuna Pizza (IDR 145,000) for starters. It’s notably the star item on Yellowtail’s menu.

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You know what? I FRIGGIN’ LOVE IT! I’m usually a big fan of carpaccio dishes to begin with (and sashimi), so it makes perfect sense that I savored every bite of this. Inspired by the Italians, Back recreated the thin-crusted pizza with a Japanese twist: It’s drowned in ponzu mayo, topped with little shiso leaves, then lightly drizzled in truffle oil. Because it’s raw, they came out within less than 5 minutes after we made our order.

It’s basically everything I love about the Japanese embodied in a dish – simple, yet sensitizing. You don’t get too much saltiness or sourness or acidic or astringent; it’s all balanced in a mild, distinctive taste.

Then we moved on to the AB Tacos (IDR 155,000). An innovation from the classic Mexican tapas, Back’s filling replaced the usual mushy mashed beans and crunchy veggies with something more meaty and Asian: Lean cuts of wagyu kalbi, drizzled with spicy tomato ponzu. My boyfriend loved it so much he ate 3 out of the 5 serving. Also worth nothing is how little the actual size is. I finished one in just two bites.

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I think all beefy meat lovers would really enjoy this one. The wagyu kalbi was quite tender and pungent with umami, and the sweetness and spice from the sauce just made it a lot more juicier. The sauce was pretty thick too, so you can lick it off your mouth as you chew the chewy meats. Tacos are pretty crisp, so you get a whole lot of texture from just one bite. It was just a-okay for me though … I just wish it was served hot (it’s already warm) because the AC was pretty cold and our food cooled off really quickly.

We also had the Miso Black Cod (IDR 160,000).

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It was nicely paired with a few stalks of mild, sweet shishito, and if you’re wondering what’s that grapefruit-colored foam, it’s a refresher made out of beet roots. I thought the sweet combo of the shishito, the beet foam, and the miso glaze was unthinkable. It was a genius to complement these distinct flavors, yet flavors that share the same taste, and combine it all together under the plump base of a quality cod. It wasn’t the best cod I’ve tasted in my life, but it was top-notch in the ranks of gindara dishes from high-end restaurants in town.

I consider this as a comfort food, because the meat was like a pillow. It’s so squishy.

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Then we had the Holy Cow signature roll (IDR 195,000) that features shrimp tempura, asparagus, and wagyu filet tataki, drizzled in ponzu sauce.

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I love the mild raw, tart, and umami flavors of these super-thin tataki, and you can taste the major spiciness and mild sweetness from the ponzu sauce. I just think the sauce completely overpowers the herby-bittersweet quality of the shrimp tempura and asparagus. In fact, my tongue could not find the taste of asparagus a single bit. Nonetheless, the roll was good if you eat it with plenty of wasabi. It’ll help offset the spice and sweetness, plus there’s the briny-bitter taste of the fried shallots on top as well.

 

 
 

Now don’t be fooled by my close-ups: Everything we’ve had so far came in the serving size of a child. So we just had to order a dessert …

Our waiter, a kind one that’s been generous with suggestions and never failed to pour refills to our ocha, recommended the AB Chocolate Bar (IDR 75,000).

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It tasted like Snickers, only much less sweet. The chocolate itself is the Gianduja line from Valrhona, so there’s plenty of nutty flavors (YAYY!) and crunchy textures that are much, much chewier than a Snickers bar. If it weren’t for the super sweet crème anglaise sauce, I would have loved this dessert, although I love the strong espresso undertones of the sauce. The glaze slivers on top provided a hint of citrus freshness, and you know that acidic quality of oranges always taste good with the bittersweet taste of coffee/hazelnuts/cocoa. I also like that the micro chocolate pearls are made more out of dark chocolate – they help reduce all that saccharine bit.

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Judging from everything I’ve tasted, of course I will come back when I have the opportunity (and the budget) to spend as much as IDR 500,000 per person for food. As far as I’ve covered, I think that there could’ve been just a little bit more attention to detail with the roll and the chocolate bar, considering I’m paying a lot and elevating my expectations.

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But I forgive these minors in the meantime because the night was really a full house. To be fair, all our dishes arrive at our tables considerably fast. Nonetheless, I’d happily gorge 2 portions of Tuna Pizza as a meal by itself, and the next time round, I’m looking to try Akira Back’s mains (see full menu on Zomato).

If you’ve tried any one of them before, do let me how it went for you. Then I’ll know what to (or what not to) order next time ;)

 
 
 

Akira Back


Setiabudi
MD Place Building
Jl. Setiabudi Selatan No. 7
Penthouse Level
Jakarta Selatan 12190
+62 (0)21 2904 0777
Visit Facebook page at Akira Back Jakarta
Follow @AkiraBackJkt on Twitter
or @AkiraBack on Instagram
www.akiraback.com
www.akirabackindonesia.com

Operating hours:

M – S 06:00pm – 12:00am
 
 
 
 
 


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