Modern Asian tapas is all the rage at the moment. Every new Melbourne place seems to be a variation on this type and the market is soon saturated (probably Sydney too but I don't know it as well). From Chin Chin (which I haven't eaten at due to the reputation of wait time & price:satisfaction ratio not being so high), to the excellent TA #1 Rock Papr Scrs and my growing list of Uncle and Northern Light and the rest, the question is really a matter of which Asian each restaurant is trying to reinvent.
Canberra recently acquired two Japanese versions - Lilotang and Akiba. After walking past the electric glow of Akiba a few weeks back, this was the first of them to try.
The drinks menu has a nice offering of cocktails. Akiba Pop are housemade soft drinks which can be "boomed" with a shot of alcohol. Both the pineapple, coconut & chilli (with Appleton VX dark rum) and sour cherry & vanilla (with Martell VS Cognac) had a nice complement of alcohol and sweetness, with my preferred being the sour
- Soba Noodle Salad (with bamboo shoots, yellow bean, sweet & sour) $12 - a delicious refreshing dish to open with. Herbs, chilli, citrus combining extremely well;
- Soft Shell Crab Bun (with pickled baby gem, creamy ponzu) $9 each - the bun itself is terrible. You can see in the picture how dry it is such that the corners are torn and not malleable. The crab is tasty but could be more generous. Not good value for money;
- Korean Sticky Lamb Ribs (with sumac) $14 - when in doubt, go for ribs. Tender fatty meat, a slightly sweet and chilli charred coating. Not as good as the Bone Daddies' pork ribs, but it'll do me for now;
- Snapper (with jalapeno, yuzu, honey) $14 - very very strange combination. Snapper sashimi is one of my favourites and a more expensive cut usually due to a good biting texture, but the yuzu, jalapeno (tasted too similar to green capsicum) and single leaf of coriander didn't work;
- Japanese Fried Chicken (with lemon braised onions, parmesan) "supercharged" with mayonnaise & Sriracha $20 - thicker heavier coating than your typical kara-age and the pieces of meat much smaller and thinner also. This results in less juicy but more flavoursome from the fry and pick up of cheese and sauces;
- Black Angus Sirloin (with chipotle butter, zuni pickled onion) $28 - very tender and rare beef with very mild chipotle smatterings and onions. It was a nice dish, but felt a little disjointed with flavours and too expensive for what you get;
- Beef Short Rib (with tamarind caramel, Thai basil) $22 - the last dish was the one that excited me the most. Rib, caramel, Thai basil - the combination speaks for itself. A beautifully tender piece of meat that tore so easily and would mop up a sweet mildly tangy sauce. I needed rice for this to allow it to linger longer.
Even though there was only 3 of us, there was still space for the interesting sounding desserts.
- Mango & Coconut Sticky Rice (with macadamia, palm sugar ice cream) $9 - a gorgeous dessert of ice cream that was surprisingly balances and not overly sweet from palm sugar, crunchy nuts for texture and flavour, mango pieces and quality glutinous rice underneath. Very very good - perhaps a jackfruit version will enamour me even more;
- Lemon Tofu Cheesecake (with ANZAC crumb, pandan jelly) $8 - the deconstructed cheesecake with tofu was fantastic. I couldn't tell it was tofu rather than/in combination with cream cheese. The crumb added a reasonable crunch which could be a good base for an actual cake, but the fluorescent aeroplane jelly looking stuff had barely any pandan flavour which was disappointing.
Overall the meal was very good and the flavour and texture combinations varied. It seemed quite expensive ($170 for 3) but could be lessened with a few educated choices.
Next time I would order the same Soba Noodle Salad, Beef Short Rib and Korean Lamb Ribs. I'd consider trying the Sweet Corn Pancake or Prawn & Chicken Dumplings. 4 oysters for $10 is very cheap even for natural oysters so that is tempting. Something raw would be nice for variety so it would have to be the Kingfish or more likely shared Salmon Belly. I'd finish with the Sticky Rice dessert also.
I'm waiting for the modern Korean tapas to come to Canberra. If you're thinking this idea is for you, look to the USA or BistroK in Melbourne.