The words “eclectic electric” are printed on the back of the chopsticks at Canberra’s latest culinary sensation, Akiba, and it’s an apt description for the restaurant itself.
Owned by Peter and Michael Harrington and partner Dino Jugovac, this is a quirky and innovative restaurant that pulls out all the stops.
Situated at the former Dieci e Mezzo site in the ActewAGL building, Akiba’s fit out is warm and inviting. With recycled wood highlights from the Yarralumla woodworks, it feels almost cabin-like. The neon lights add a modern, New York brasserie touch.
The restaurant features an open kitchen and a raw bar where customers can watch the highly trained – and talented – chefs show off their skills.
In a great marketing initiative, the owners offered a free tasting of the potential final menu to the first 100 people to arrive on Saturday night. Not one for waiting in lines, I organised a table in advance. Most tables are set for four, and four people fit comfortably at each table. Akiba also has a private room for group bookings.
Our waitress (who I recognised from Hotel Hotel’s Monster) offered us a range of menu options, and we settled on six dishes, ready to be wooed.
The first dish to arrive was the kingfish sashimi with coconut, nam jim and coriander. It was delicious and a terrific starter. I often like the sensation of sashimi more than the taste, but this was really high end with only a hint of sea taste.
Next was the yellowfin tuna with organic Japanese soy and wasabi panna cotta. The panna cotta component was interesting but matched surprisingly well with the other ingredients, while I would have been happy to drink the soy by the glass.
We had ordered two dumpling dishes, and since plenty of dumpling houses have opened up around Canberra over the past few months, I was curious to see how Akiba’s compared.
We first sampled the steamed prawn and chicken dumplings with chilli oil and black vinegar dressing. The dumplings were soft and fresh, and the biting black vinegar dipping sauce added a subtle kick to this dish. We then tried the beef short rib dumplings with preserved lemon, shiitake mushroom and star anise broth, and while this was also good, next time we’d order the prawn and chicken dumplings over the beef.
We then had the soft shell crab bao with pickled baby gem and creamy ponzu, followed by the pork belly bao with char sui and Asian slaw. Both were delicious but the soft shell crab bao could have benefited from some more dressing.
At this point, one of the owners, Michael, insisted we try the kimchi and angasi oyster pancake with kewpie mayo, sriracha and ittogaki tuna. I This was the showstopper, the hands down top dish of the evening. Just amazing.
All in all, what a great start for a restaurant set to become a popular hangout for Canberrans.
Akiba’s grand opening is on Friday 19 December, but the restaurant is open for dinner (with training wheels) from tonight.