In case you hadn’t heard, Akiba opened its doors on the weekend, offering the first 100 diners free food on Saturday night. Sadly I wasn’t in Canberra that weekend, otherwise I would’ve joined the queue of diners eager to try out the new eatery (for free!). Located on Bunda Street in Civic, Akiba is a welcome addition to the Canberra food scene. Created by the owners of Sage Dining in Braddon, there are high standards already set for the new eatery. The restaurant has been named after a Japanese fire deity and offers modern Asian fusion food. A HerCanberra article writes about the $140,000 Josper oven (Spanish charcoal grill), a rotovap for making cocktails and the co-head chefs with an impressive CV.
The fit out is funky, vibrant and urban with various textures from wooden boards against the wall, metal panels on the ceiling, tiles and ‘dragon scales’ along the counter carefully combined to set the scene. The windows open up to let the cool breeze in and I understand there will be some outdoor seating soon. By around 6.30pm, the music was turned up and it felt a little like I was in a nightclub with the neon signage, clubby downlights and waitstaff dancing to the music.
A mixture of seating is available from booths, high tables and seats along the long bar. Only stools are available (besides the booths) with a small back which are comfortable but implies diners aren’t to stay in the restaurant for very long. I get the feeling it’s a quick service and quick turnover kinda eatery. The drinks menu includes a selection of sake, beer and wine. Cocktails include the Fukushima Zombie, Red Envelope, Snaquiri and the Gaijin Fizz all between $9-20. I noticed a big coffee machine too.
There’s plenty of lighting inside from the neon sign ‘Eclectic Electric’ (fitting seeing as it’s in the ActewAGL building), Akiba’s signage paying homage to the streets of Tokyo, to the eclectic mix of lights hanging from the ceiling.
I ordered an Akipop of strawberry and mint ($7) to start. For an extra $5, you can ‘make it boom’ (add bourbon or other spirit). This is a fizzy drink (the only mocktail-like drink they make on the menu). My Akipop wasn’t as sweet as I expected. The two other flavours of Akipop include grapefruit and orange, and pineapple and coconut. My partner ordered the Lychee Gold lychee cider ($10) which is made locally in Murrumbateman.
Between the three of us, we ordered quite a few dishes to share. Our super bubbly Akiba waitress informed us that the menu has been designed to share dishes so this worked out well. First up were the steamed prawn and chicken dumplings ($10) that came in a serve of four. The golden parcels looked delectable. Served with chilli oil and black vinegar dressing, I thought these were too salty and the dressing overpowered the taste of the dumplings. I couldn’t really taste any chilli either.
The beef short rib dumplings ($10) with preserved lemon, shitake mushroom and star anise broth also came in a serve of four. These dumplings were stuffed full of soft pulled short rib. I preferred these to the prawn and chicken dumplings as they weren’t as salty. The star anise was subtle and suitably paired with the short rib.
The yellowfin tuna ($14) with soy and wasabi pannacotta came with four thick slices of tuna sashimi. It was presented in a small dish filled with soy sauce which I found overpowered the dollops of wasabi pannacotta on top. I could hardly taste the wasabi but I loved the fresh tuna.
The tea smoked duck ham with gruyere, umeboshi and rosemary ($7) came with four slices of duck ham with a hint of smokey flavour. Not as good as real duck meat but it wasn’t bad. The other two complained that nowhere on the menu did it state there would be cucumber in the dish (both hate it and avoid it). So I was happy to munch on it for them. It is a good point and we noticed the same thing with other dishes too. The descriptions aren’t descriptive enough. I’m lucky that I’m not really allergic to anything but this could be a problem for others. I couldn’t see any umeboshi, so maybe the pickled cucumbers were its substitution.
The beef tartare ($5) was served sandwiched between two thin sweet potato crisps with pink peppercorns, pickled cucumber and fried egg puree. Again, the cucumber crisis arose (though it was stated on the menu) and all the other two could taste was cucumber. Really? I wonder if that happens to other people. I enjoyed the raw beef with the right amount of fried egg puree and the crisp that added sweetness and crunch. I would’ve liked more of it.
There are three types of bao on the menu (as predicted in my interview as one of Australia’s top food bloggers in 2014 by the Hotel Club). Rather than go the usual pork belly, we opted for the crab bao ($9) and chicken bao ($8). I loved the bao itself which was fluffy, soft, slightly elastic when pulled and a good consistency. The crispy soft shell crab bao with pickled baby gem was generously smothered in creamy ponzu. There was a bit too much sauce for my liking and the crab is awkwardly shaped so it doesn’t fill up the entire bun, just the middle part. But I still really enjoyed it and would order it again.
The Caribbean chicken bao with charred pineapple and kewpie mayo is a new variation on the bao. The thinly sliced chicken was pure white (maybe poached) and came with freshly diced Spanish onion, pineapple and coriander. The pineapple was sweet and added a tasty sweet and sour surprise to the palate. Fresh and exciting.
The fish ceviche with horseradish cream, wakame and preserved lemon ($8) was a beautiful refreshing dish. I loved the addition of pickled daikon slivers to lift the dish and give some extra sourness and crunch.
We found it odd that the smokey roast potato with pecorino custard and smoked eel teriyaki ($5) was listed under the ‘Veg’ heading on the menu. This was one tiny potato topped with the pecorino and eel. An interesting combination with the eel giving some saltiness to the savoury side dish.
The kimchi and angasi pancake ($4) with kewpie mayo, sriracha sauce and itogaki is a small pikelet-sized pancake. To be honest, I couldn’t really taste the kimchi or angasi oysters. The pancake was itself was smooth so both key ingredients must have been finely blended together. I’m kicking myself for not ordering the other two pancakes. At only $4 each, I should have just tried them. Oh well, next time.
V picked out the JFC (Japanese Fried Chicken) with lemon braised onions and parmesan ($14). The nugget sized pieces are covered in crispy batter. I found it a little odd with cheese on top as the strong parmesan almost overpowers the chicken.
There were two desserts on the menu but the others didn’t want either, so it was up to me to try something sweet. I decided on the chocolate tart with pickled strawberries ($14). This was more of a deconstructed chocolatey blob rather than a tart. Some bits consisted of hard dark chocolate, other bits were crushed chocolate biscuit crumbs, and then there was this smooth lush velvety coffee caramel. Mix it together and this makes a rich chocolate dessert. The strawberry jam-like sauce and strawberries on top helped cut through the richness of the dessert. Not a bad dessert but I’d probably go across the road to Koko Black for my chocolate fix next time. The second dessert – a tofu cheesecake with pandan jelly sounded different so I’ll have to try that out too.
Our waitress emphasised that Akiba still has its training wheels on and are looking for constructive feedback on dishes. We shared our feedback with her and she was happy to take it on board. The atmosphere inside is confusing. Is it a restaurant? It doesn’t feel like just a restaurant. Is it a bar? There’s no standing space for it to be a bar. Is it a club? Not enough space for dancing. The same question was asked in a Canberra Times article where the answer is that it’s more of a social club.
The menu will be seasonal and change regularly. On top of this, yum cha-style trolleys are expected in the near future with constantly changing specials that you can point to, grab and eat. This is a great way to show off the creative freedom of Akiba’s chefs while allowing diners to actually see the dish beforehand (to tempt and tease). I’m told that the trolleys will be introduced once word gets out and it starts to get busier. The portions are small but affordable. If you dine with a couple of friends, you could easily order one of every item on the menu and just try everything 🙂 I know I wanted to!
The restaurant is open for dinner seven days a week from about 5.30pm until midnight but plans to stay open late til 2am on weekends (kitchen to close around midnight at this stage). It’s quite rare for a restaurant to stay open so late and I’m sure it will be appreciated by shift workers, students studying until late and weekend party goers. Akiba will be opening for its first lunch time service this Friday as well.
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