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Restaurant Review: Akina Adds Fun And Flair To Japanese Cuisine

From truffles to taquitos, Mumbai’s newest eatery adds drama to Japanese cuisine.

Sayoni Bhaduri

It is my personal philosophy to enter any situation in life with zero expectations, so why should a restaurant be any different? Plonked between the Nicobar showroom and Dessange salon, in the posh lanes of Bandra, is Akina Contemporary Japanese Restaurant and Bar—a modern Japanese restaurant. The first glance at the luxe white façade takes you back a little—in a frenzy of cutesy, Instagrammable restaurants this is downright minimalist.

Décor at Akina

Once you enter Akina, it is an altogether different story. The contemporary take on the oriental colours of red and gold. The arched passage that leads to the bar gives you a feeling of entering a portal to another world. In contrast to the exterior, the interiors are maximalist. The ceiling is decked with multi-shaped mirrors that is a stage for a mesmerising dance of light and reflections.

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Spread across 5000 sq ft, Akina’s modern décor and style draw inspiration from the eponymous spring Japanese flower. The black marble-top tables are rimmed with gold. Every table has a LED lamp with three brightness levels to ensure you can read your menu in the otherwise comparatively dim mood lighting—genius move, we say.

As you sink comfortably into the plush velvet seats and banquettes, on one of the 85 seats of the restaurant, and soak in the drama of the ambience, the menu is presented to you.

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Cocktails

The cocktail order for the evening was an Izu-roni, which is Akina’s take on a negroni made using gin, Campari, and Cinzano and Eden Paradiso, a sour-style cocktail made using gin, Campari, and grapefruit cordial. Later, when we wanted another whisky-based cocktail, the head bartender offered his spin on the classic old-fashioned. The drinks have a solid foundation, and the taste profile is thoughtfully curated, as it should be with cocktails that use the classics as their foundation.

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Playful flavours and food

Akina’s menu is a powerplay of flavours and each dish fights to stand out—the best resort was to depend on recommendations from the Akina team. The menu is dominated by tapas-style, small, and sharing dishes that give you the opportunity to try a lot more than usual—we realised this first-hand when we count back the number of dishes from the menu we devoured.

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We started with the tried-and-tested salt and pepper squid with green chilli and lime. The lightness and perfect crispiness of the tempura batter on the squid was nothing short of a marvel. Our server recommended we try the tuna pizza—now if that baffles you as to why is there a pizza in a Japanese restaurant, fear not. The tuna is sashimi style on a crispy buckwheat base with tomato salsa and, wait for it, truffles! The thin slices of the fatty fish were balanced with the tang of the tomatoes—whose umami flavour was amplified manifold by the truffles. There was also a portion of unagi nigiri, ordered purely to indulge the Friends fan in us, another hit for our palate.

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The next thing on the menu was the nori taquitos—think deconstructed onigiri in a crispy taco made with nori weed that has been deep-fried in a very light tempura batter. The filling was as curious as the taco shell; salmon belly with wasabi mayo and mango salsa, and ceviche with jalapeno relish and coriander. This was when we really started scratching our heads about this oddball interpretation of Japanese cuisine…

Akina’s philosophy

To the rescue came Ryan SNR, a Dubai-based F&B entrepreneur who has tied up with Mumbai’s Silver Beach Entertainment and Hospitality to set up Akina in Mumbai. We questioned him upfront, what is this menu about? Ryan was clearly waiting to answer this question and responded with great ease: “The food at Akina is Japanese in its philosophy and techniques but it is also inspired by international influences, whether it is European or Latin American.” The dishes have a distinct Nikkei cuisine format, but Ryan assures us they don’t.

With successful brands such as the Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE, The Act by The Box NYC, Ryan and Hitesh Keswani—founder and director of Silver Beach—want to satiate the cravings of the well-heeled Indian travellers who have great many gastronomic adventures around the world but are left wanting here. The menu has been spearheaded by chef Jesse Blake, renowned for his successful kitchens in Perth, Australia such as Double Rainbow Bar & Eating House and Servo. Most recently, he was the executive chef at LOWE in Dubai, which was awarded the Sustainable Restaurant Award 2022 by ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ in the Middle East and North Africa region.

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Before Ryan moved on to greet the next table, he recommended we try the duck and the acclaimed warayaki dishes. And so, we did. Warayaki grilled baby chicken with miso corn sauce and smoked duck clay pot rice with confit leg, shiitake, puffed rice, and plum soy is what we chose. While the former was a tender and delicate poultry dish, the latter was a contrast with bold and umami-rich flavours. Warayaki, for those uninitiated in Japanese cooking techniques, is the use of burning straw and coal in the range of 800 to 900 degree Celsius that sears the protein while maintaining the succulence and adding a gentle smokey flavour.

The miso cappuccino with miso crème brulee with salted caramel and coffee was the perfect end to a mighty meal. Gentle creaminess and sweetness just envelopes the palate clearing away all the richness of the meal, and leaving you with a mellow vibe.

The not so good

We also ordered the octopus kushiyaki—purely because the tentacled creature is rarely available on the city’s restaurant menus. While the octopus was cooked well, the Peruvian pepper glaze was a little off-balance, making the dish more on the sweeter side. The deviled tuna maki roll that had tuna mayo, tuna belly, togarashi, and fermented chilli presented a similar case. It all looked perfect on the menu but didn’t deliver on the palate.

Last word

Will we go back to Akina? Yes! We’ve already found a couple of favourites we’ll be going back for and will explore more of the delicious menu. It may not be a traditional Japanese menu but it is executed well. Odds are, however, that Akina will gain fame (or notoriety) as the happening party place of the city with the very efficient DJ console and the ambience.

Address: Golden Palace, Turner Rd, opposite Mala Sinha Bungalow, Bandra West, Mumbai

Timing: Daily sinner service is from 7 PM till 1.30 AM. Lunch service on weekends from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm.

Cost for two: Rs 3500++

Photo: Akina/Sakina Zojwala; Kuber Shah
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