- Dedicated allergy menu
- Tasty, modern Asian share plates
- Friendly, knowledgeable staff
- Trendy, lively environment
This year was my first Mother’s Day, so my husband Michael booked a table at Akiba for the three of us. It seemed like a good choice, it’s a nice venue, we both like Asian food, and I’d been there for lunch a few weeks ago with a friend and enjoyed it.
The décor at Akiba is very trendy. There’s a long bar with an open kitchen behind it. On Sunday, wooden steamers for the yum cha service were piled high while the kitchen staff buzzed around. Next to the bar is a small raw bar where a sushi chef was preparing sashimi. There is a long, tall, wooden, communal table in the middle of the room, a few booths and some smaller tall wooden tables along the edges of the room. It was a little dark inside and the music was slightly too loud for conversation.
When I arrived, I was 20 minutes late for the booking. I had jumped out of the car with the baby, while my husband continued to look for a car park. The place was heaving so I wasn’t sure what sort of reception I’d get but the staff were lovely and understanding, chatting with me about the terrible weather, and awful Sunday drivers! They showed me to the end of the long communal table which was already set up with a high chair for baby Milly. The only concern with this was that the table was too tall for the high chair, so Milly was sitting about 6 inches below the top of the table. The wait staff confirmed that I was coeliac and said they’d bring their allergy menu over, and offered me a complimentary Mother’s Day Mimosa without the alcohol as I’m breastfeeding.
My mimosa arrived and was delicious with passionfruit and vanilla. My husband arrived a few minutes later and we made ourselves comfortable. We sat for a while, waiting for the allergy menu and we were offered a green papaya salad as part of the yum cha. After the usual checks about gluten, we took the salad and I asked again for the allergy menu. After a total wait of about 15 minutes, I was bought an allergy menu, and the wait staff identified four items which were unavailable due to the yum cha service, and stated that some dishes, like the papaya salad and edamame, were available as part of the yum cha service. He also stated that I should ask the yum cha servers as about the specific items they were offering as they came around.
Before my coeliac diagnosis, I loved yum cha. I have always liked Asian food, hand pulled noodles, delicious dumplings and soft pork buns! After the diagnosis though, finding good, safe Asian food became difficult, especially yum cha. The risk of cross contamination is high because bamboo steamers are impossible to clean completely and the large surface area which if not cleaned properly could still hide gluten.
The yum cha service seemed to go past without offering us any of the food, which was a bit frustrating – all up, only about 5 trolleys came our way. Eventually a staff member took our menu order from my husband while I was in the bathroom, and as soon as they were informed I was coeliac they understood what was required.
The food at Akiba comes out when it’s ready rather than everything at once. We ordered three dishes to start – tuna tartare, miso dengaku eggplant, and the beef short ribs, and the papaya salad. The salad was pretty average and had quite a lot of chilli. By far the nicest dish was the tuna tartare. The tuna was fresh, scooped up onto peppery prawn crackers with a spicy jalapeno mayonnaise, the eggplant was another winner, salty and umami. It was covered in crunchy pepitas and puffed rice balancing the texture of the eggplant. The beef short ribs were beautifully cooked and the meat easily fell apart. Each mouthful needed the thai basil and coriander to cut through the fat and salt of the shredded beef.
We decided to try some of the yum cha that was going around the room next. Michael grabbed some shrimp and scallop dumplings which were not gluten free, describing them as ‘ok’ and we shared the Nova Scotia scallop sashimi. The scallop sashimi was nice and fresh, thinly sliced and beautifully served up. They had a strong taste of sesame that worked well with the seaweed. Once more, the yum cha seemed to be passing us and we were still hungry so we decided to order a few more dishes from the menu.
We ordered the smoky potatoes and kingfish from the raw bar. The potatoes came covered in dill and coriander, and a thin mayonnaise-like dressing but they weren’t particularly smoky. They were also a little overdone for my liking. The kingfish was described on the menu as with coconut, namjim (a thai dipping sauce) and coriander, however these flavours were somewhat lost. The first bite was delicious however the fish was overpowered by a tomato and onion salsa. It was yummy, but the more we ate the less flavours we could taste beside the tomato and onion. We polished off the kingfish and left a couple of the potatoes.
All up we had eight dishes and left full. The food was really good, clearly made from fresh, quality ingredients and the bill was reasonable. The staff were all great and had an understanding of the dietary requirements of a coeliac. Neither the staff or the food made me uncomfortable and the allergy menu is a particular confidence booster. We will definitely be returning to Akiba although we’ll probably skip the yum cha service and hit it up on a weekday.