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Get thrilled at Akira Back

Update: July, 22/2018 - 09:00
Fresco: The ceiling is adorned with a painting by the chef’s mother. — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
Viet Nam News

By Thúy Hằng

Just one day after the Japanese restaurant Akira Back opened its door at the JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi, I was invited to taste the food creations of Michelin-star chef Akira Back.

For me, the JW Marriott brand itself is a guarantee for quality food. My taste buds are always satisfied by unique dishes made with amazing ingenuity and sophistication at the hotel’s French Grill and Crystal Jade restaurants.

Chef Akira Back was born in South Korea but grew up in Colorado, and his food creations are modern Japanese with hints of Korean influences, reflecting the chef’s training in Japanese cuisine, and his heritage. Obviously, with 14 restaurants all over the world, Akira Back has more than just sashimi and sushi to thrill connoisseurs.

A snowboarder-turned-chef, the 44-year-old has successfully defined the art of food through his boundless creativity.

Our meal started with a plate of two kinds of pizza to share – one tuna and one eringi (king trumpet mushroom) (VNĐ385,000 and VNĐ315,000, respectively). It’s definitely not the normal pizza that you may think of. In fact, it’s a crisp tortilla topped with pink slices of tuna, enhanced with umani aioli sauce, truffle oil and sliced onion.

The first bite exploded in flavours and the scent of the ingredients, prompting a “Wow”. This dish is totally amazing and a real surprise. However, I preferred the fish version to the vegan option because it has a more intense flavour. No doubt the tuna pizza is a signature dish at all Akira Back restaurants all over the world.        

While my friends were not happy with the name ‘pizza’ because it sounds like a “common dish”, I disagreed. For me, I think it may be the chef’s intention. I think he wants to make people wonder why a fine-dining restaurant is serving such a common dish, but right after the first bite, they find out why. The amazing truth is completely different to what they’ve imagined.

Another thing that impressed me at Akira Back is its art décor. All the paintings adorning the walls and ceiling of the restaurant were done by his mother. Porcelain tableware also features prints of paintings by his mother, which are slowly revealed as you eat.  

The next dish was salmon tiradito (a Peruvian dish of raw fish, cut in the shape of sashimi – VNĐ395,000). Each fresh salmon slice covers a small piece of charred peach and enhanced with Japanese yuzu lemon and cilantro oil.

For me, it tastes like sashimi, but of course, much better. Instead of dipping the slice in soya sauce, the strong sour taste of Japanese citrus combines perfectly with the cilantro oil, and definitely makes the dish high-end. 

Chef Akira Back continued to amaze us with his signature Jeju Domi (VNĐ410,000), which later I understood why this one is a must-try.

When Akira Back was young, he didn’t like eating raw fish until his father introduced him to domi with chojang sauce – a spicy-sweet red chili pepper sauce. Thanks to this memory, the chef has created his signature dish which “reminds me that raw fish is not that bad”.

Like its name, the dish is Korean influenced with chojang sauce. The orange masago roe topped on the fish creates a modern twist, but I was not blown away by it.

The menu continued with AB Wagyu Tacos (VNĐ380,000) – a special version of tacos with bulgogi [Korean-style grilled beef] Wagyu and roasted tomato ponzu sauce. The well-marinated minced beef combined with the surprising citrus-based sauce results in a totally delicious dish. Like the starter tuna pizza, I was blown away by this dish.

Contrast: Tuna (left) and eringi (king trumpet mushroom) pizza — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
Taste sensation: Una-Q – unagi katbayaki, seared foie gras, balsamic sauce, and white truffle. — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng

And then we were served Una-Q (VNĐ400,000) – unagi katbayaki (filleted unagi, grilled with sweet kabayaki sauce), seared foie gras and balsamic sauce. Presented in the form of little tacos, the dish offers an amazing flavour. The perfectly cooked eel melted in my mouth, the buttery taste of foie gras combined with a pinch of white truffle, a small piece of crunchy pickled red onion, all wrapped in a thin slice of cucumber.

We moved on to Hot Mess (VNĐ390,000) – a kind of maki with tempura crab, poke mix [Hawaiian fish salad] and togarashi ponzu aioli sauce. For me, the only thing that made this dish stand out from other kinds of maki was its sauce – a perfect combination of lightly buttery, spicy and sour flavours. As a fan of spicy food, my tastebuds were satisfied.

Then another kind of maki – Perfect Storm (VNĐ330,000) – was laid before us. Looking similar to California maki, this five-star version consists of shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, partially grilled salmon and Mexican chipotle mayo sauce. Although the dish is well executed with fresh ingredients and good flavours, it failed to surprise me.  

The two main courses were charcoal-grilled salmon (VNĐ375,000) and Wagyu stir-fried rice (VNĐ200,000), which were both good but not particularly impressive, and similar to ones I’ve tried at other Japanese restaurants.

Desserts, including Japanese Lemon Yuzu Cheesecake with tropical fruit and mango sorbet (VNĐ275,000), and Apple Harumaki– caramelized apple, cinnamon cream and vanilla gelato, were very nice. Although I’ve not got a sweet tooth, I think I’d try them again next time I visit Akira Back. — VNS

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