Throughout the ACT, new restaurants have been popping up and garnering high praise over the past month. One of the most esteemed new eateries in Civic has been AKIBA, who proudly push out Japanese-fusion cuisine. As soon as the place opened, AKIBA’s walls were bursting with patrons eager to indulge in the new fare.
The restaurant, located on Bunda Street across from Tongue & Groove, is a long, narrow building filled with bar tables and a massive window bar. The lighting is mostly artificial and features a few pieces made from shaped neon bulbs, such as their signature “Eclectic Electric” sign. Certain walls also feature lit photos of their inspiration – cityscapes and street views of the Shibuya district in Tokyo, Japan. Outside the restaurant is additional seating, which includes a spacious covered area complete with picnic-style tables and potted plants. In all, AKIBA’s décor is modern and sleek without being overly pretentious.
The managers at AKIBA know how to properly schedule their staff. I was greeted by two hosts upon entering the restaurant, and I was passed by at least a dozen different servers and bussers while waiting for our table. And, boy, did those servers fly! I didn’t see one employee standing around or chatting during our ninety minute meal. I was impressed. In addition, our servers were prompt, kind, and knew their stuff. I’d even say that the service at AKIBA is the best I’ve had in Canberra to date.
While the service may be brilliant, whoever designed AKIBA’s accessibility needs a swift kick. The restaurant is entirely inaccessible for wheelchair users and I’d reckon arduous for walking stick users or elderly patrons. At the entrance to the restaurant there is a large step, which meant we were unable to eat inside the restaurant. We were escorted to the outside dining area, which was also challenging as the picnic benches are bolted to the ground and attached to the tables. In my opinion, inaccessibility is unacceptable in a modern, newly renovated restaurant.
Nevertheless, my dining partner and I were able (with some determination and assistance) to sit at one of the picnic tables outside. As we made ourselves comfortable, our server informed us that AKIBA’s menu hinges on tapas or sharing plates, which meant we would have to order a few dishes to satisfy our hungry bellies. (Sharing plates are notoriously small in Canberra.) To begin we ordered two cocktails: a Japanese Slipper ($17) and a Mothra vs Godzilla ($16).
Not five minutes after we had ordered our cocktails, they were suddenly sitting on our table. I repeat – ace service.
The first thing I noted about the drinks was that they were a bit smaller than the average Canberran cocktail. In appearance, both drinks seemed fun. The Slipper was a ghastly lime green and the Mothra reminded me of Godzilla’s earthy hide. My Japanese Slipper was simply gorgeous. I love anything sour and this drink checked all the right boxes. It was tart enough that someone with a weaker constitution would probably pull the lemon face, but it didn’t overpower the other flavours. The soaked fresh cherry at the centre was superb. I only had a small sip of the Mothra, but I found it to be satisfactory for a spicy cocktail.
Once we placed our full order, the food was dished unbelievably fast. We had barely started one plate when another would arrive at our table. I appreciate the speed in which the kitchen worked and the obvious desire to turn tables quickly, but I can also see it being a bit agitating when you want a nice, unrushed meal out.
The first dish we received was the Steamed Prawn and Chicken Dumplings ($10). I couldn’t believe how delicious these were! The ginger and black vinegar dressing was the right combination of salty and tangy with emphasis on the ginger. Additionally, the dumplings were cooked perfectly, even better than some dumpling dishes I’ve had at Asian-style restaurants. The chicken was moist and the dough was cooked through. Sublime.
About a dumpling into our first dish, the speedy staff deposited the Japanese Fried Chicken ($16; $18 for the supercharged version) onto our table. The dish was beautifully presented with oodles of grated parmesan and drizzles of white and red sauce. Hoping that this chicken would suffice the lengthy cravings I’ve had for 86’s fried chicken, I dove right in. My cravings have been fully satisfied. Judging by our plate, it seems as if AKIBA use only dark meat in their fried chicken. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of dark meat (I’m the one stealing an entire Turkey breast on Thanksgiving) but in this dish it worked wonderfully. The chicken was juicy and tender and the bread crumb was light and not excessively greasy. The extra two dollars for the supercharged version is worth it. The hot sauce added another level of flavour that made it incomparable. 86 has some stiff competition here.
We were then saddled with the task of demolishing the Kimchi & Angasi Pancakes ($8). Honestly, these were a little bit of letdown after the fried chicken and the dumplings. While the kewpie mayonnaise was delicious, the pancakes were quite doughy, lacked flavour, and I couldn’t taste the kimchi at all.
Halfway through our meal, a server with a cart rolled up to our table and asked if we would like to try a sample of their daily special. Warning! These are not samples. The word “sample” insinuates “free,” which these were not. After we had taken them from her, we saw her jot something down on a notepad and we knew we were being charged for them. Oh, well. You live and you learn! The special we were pawned was something that can only be described as a deconstructed salmon roll. Diced salmon atop a small layer of crisped nori, sprinkled with sesame seeds, mayonnaise, and a wasabi sauce. It was nice, but they used too much mayo and it definitely wasn’t worth the eight dollars they charged us.
The final main we ordered was the Beef Short Rib ($22). Now, I hope I never have to use this phrase again in a review, but this dish warrants it: I can’t even! This was seriously one of the best short ribs I have ever had the pleasure of stuffing in my face. It was beautifully braised, wonderfully seasoned, and cooked to utter perfection. When I cut it, it fell apart – that to me signifies a good meat. I barely even had to chew the rib; it simply melted between my teeth! The flavours were fantastic. Sultry beef, tangy tamarind, nutty caramel, and herby basil all sang a harmonious ballad in my mouth. Can you tell I enjoyed the short rib?
For dessert we ordered the Mango and Coconut Sticky Rice ($9) and the Chocolate Coffee Tart ($9). I’m going to let you in on a secret I wish someone had told me before I ate at AKIBA: Do yourself a favour and go somewhere else for dessert. In comparison to the out-of-this-world savory dishes we consumed, the desserts were subpar. While the coconut shone through in the sticky rice, the mango was not sweet and the rice was much too sugary for my partner’s palate. Even more disappointing was the tart. The filling had a pre-packaged, gummy texture and the chocolate crust tasted more like flavourless plaster than a chocolate pastry. However, the pickled strawberries were fabulous, and I would gladly have ordered a bowl of them.
Although AKIBA has a few inexcusable bad points, such as the accessibility problem and the two disappointing desserts, their positive points compensate for them. Their mains rival many I have had at 86, and their service is the best I’ve received in Canberra. Although it can get rather expensive if you aren’t careful, I highly recommend a visit to AKIBA. Their exceptional food and service is worth the wait and any price you can put on it.