Mumbai’s newest contemporary Japanese restaurant is polished yet playful. But, does it deliver on the food front? Find out…
In the last few years, Japanese has finally found favour with Indian diners. What was initially dismissed as insipid and uninspiring is now considered one of the most ‘it’ cuisines to be conversant with and even people who can’t tell nori from gari profess ‘true love’ for sushi.
In such an environment, it’s not surprising that the new restaurant by Hitesh Keswani, Founder & Director of Silver Beach Entertainment and Hospitality, the one behind stellar eateries such as Estella, Opa Kipos, and many others in Mumbai and Goa, would be one that focuses on contemporary Japanese. Dubai-based entrepreneur Ryan SNR (of Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE, The Act by The Box NYC, The Hatch Dubai, and Cipriani fame) has partnered with Keswani, to give Akina that trademark sheen.
Glitz is evident as soon as we are ushered into the 5,000 square foot restaurant in Bandra by a stern and statuesque brunette. Those eminently Instagrammable red arches we walk through are only the start. The walls are clad in deep-toned suede and velvet while gleaming granite and veined marble are everywhere. A shimmery ceiling, said to be inspired by Japanese cherry blossom, and interiors rich in accents of red, gold, and black swirls and curlicues make for a rather dramatic backdrop to the rather dramatic dishes that follow.
Although Akina’s menu has been curated by Hitesh and Ryan SNR, it’s Chef Jesse Blake, renowned for his successful kitchens in Perth, Australia, who has envisioned the use of open-fire cooking to heat things up a notch. Besides the robata grill, Akina also boasts of a warayaki one, which incorporates straw for a greater burning temperature, in the range of 800 to 900 degree Celsius.
The resultant food, I’m told, seared by intense heat, retains its delicious succulence while exuding a delicate smokey flavour. I can vouch for this smokey sweetness that enhances the taste of the silken Hamachi from their new-style Nigiri selection, without drying out the fish.
The grills are generally interesting at Akina and something I’d recommend in a trice. Other dishes that involve some tableside drama, are also quite great on the tastebuds. Case in point, their freshly made guacamole with fried corn and lime, served with very moreish nori and plantain crisps, which the besties were digging into straight from the bowl while catching up on a week’s worth of gossip.
We sip on well-made cocktails from Ryan SNR’s bar menu — our sparkling Sakura Bliss, which blends sakura flower liqueur with sparkling wine and orange zest, and the Double Diamond Fuji, made with Suntory’s Toki blended whiskey, the lipsmacking plum liqueur called umeshu, gari brine, and seltzer as we wait for our order.
Sadly, the Avocado Tempura Wasabi Roll, one that we have been looking forward to, is a bit dry and not big on flavour or mouthfeel. In fact, their maki rolls are not what would draw me back to Akina. Fortunately, there are many other things that will. Such as their sensational Spinach & Soba Noodle Salad, with Parmesan, dried miso, and a generous sprinkling of truffle goma. That burst of umami-laced freshness is tough to describe in words and better binged on in person.
The non-traditional dishes such as the nori taquitos with various fillings, or the tuna and truffle pizza with Japanese toppings are good for a rollicking evening with friends over copious amounts of beer or sake. But for a finer experience, I’d recommend their cold plates section, one that features lobster ceviche, with pomelo and jalapeño, or the salmon and green apple tartare, with a spicy yuzu dressing that makes your tongue dance with joy.
The claypot we order for mains, a mixed mushroom rice, with truffle butter, and mushroom dashi, is brought and mixed tableside so that we can feel the anticipation build and enjoy it piping hot too. I personally think a dash of furikake seasoning will give this one some much-needed oomph.
Oomph is something that the desserts at Akina have more than their fair share of, though. The Miso Cappuccino literally has us completely stop speaking mid-sentence at the first spoonful, it is that good. An umami miso crème brulée, set off to perfection by the crunchy sweetness of candied pecans and a miso butterscotch, and then a hit of salted caramel, and aerated coffee. This is not just a clever blend of traditional Japanese techniques with new tastes, but it is the type of dessert that you keep playing back in your head even two days later.
The Chocolate Textures, with Akina spelt out in gold, has soft chocolate, sponge, chai caramel, cherries, and cacao wafers. The mix of good quality chocolate with the freshness of cherries is decadent to the core. When the manager comes by to ask us which dessert we prefer, I’m hard put to choose and so glad that I don’t have to!
That’s the thing about a restaurant like Akina. With its maximalist décor (those tiles by The Glitorium sure do pop!) by the BNK Group and extensive menu, it entices you to indulge, to satiate your senses in every possible way. The gorgeous bar, abuzz with Bandra’s beautiful people, is a great place to start or end the evening even if you aren’t doing dinner.
Further entertainment comes from an unexpected quarter: The unisex washroom. There’s a maze of mirrors on the way in that remind you of Alice’s adventures through the looking glass, especially when two people of different genders spot each other in them. And there’s a very driven lady close at hand, giving you extremely meticulous ‘after’ assistance.
Back outside, the pretty deejay/singer Tina Mozart dancing in her nook as she sets the mood with the perfect music the night we are there adds to the ambience of Akina as a stylish place to stop by for a drink. Or three.
And there’s also the Akina Privé Lounge, a great spot to host a private do for about 35 guests. We’re keeping our eye out for an elegant rooftop space whose promised launch will probably coincide with Mumbai’s festive season later in the year.
Address: Golden Palace, Turner Road, Near Linking Road, Bandra West, Mumbai 400050.
Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (Max: 5 stars)
Food: 7.5/10 | Drinks: 8/10 | Service: 7.5/10 | Interiors/Décor: 7/10 | Vibe: 8.5/10
One dish we loved: The vegetarian Spinach & Soba Noodle Salad, with Parmesan, dried miso, and truffle goma is perfect.
One dish that didn’t work for us: The sushi wasn’t as plump and ‘dewy fresh’ as one would expect.