Akira
Japanese chef Akira Back Image Credit: Supplied

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Japanese chef Akira Back tells GN Focus what to expect from his latest opening in Dubai

Akira Back is on a roll. The former pro snowboarder has been expanding into several new markets from his Vegas flagship in recent years, and Dubai is his latest stop. Situated atop the brand new W Dubai The Palm, his eponymous UAE restaurant offers panoramic views of the manmade island and of the emirate’s skyline, with interiors inspired by the Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese art of finding beauty in transience and imperfection.

“Being in a W Hotel, this is one of our most exciting venues,” he trills. “The ambiance and the look of the interior truly represent who I am as a character, but at the same time there are subtle hints of Japanese elements that also represent my cuisine – my intrepretation of a modern Japanese cuisine with my Korean-American roots,” he tells GN Focus.

But it’s his signature Korean-inflected Japanese food punters will be coming for because Back, who has worked with both Nobu Matsuhisa and Masaharu Morimoto, pushes the envelope, breaking barriers in this famously regimented cuisine to put his own stamp on every dish. “No boundaries or limits – that is the ideology of my cooking,” the 45-year-old tells GN Focus. “Our dishes revolve around the culture of Japanese cuisine, not necessarily [like] a normal Japanese restaurant.” So his raved-about tuna pizza is the first thing you see on the menu.

“Yes, it sounds like something very Italian. It’s packaged in an ‘Italian form’ that people are familiar with; but ingredient wise, it has a punch of umami from the umami aioli, fresh slices of tuna sashimi with a touch of shiso leaves, as sashimi would normally have. That is just one of our many approaches,” Korean-born Back says in an email interview. In addition, he says all the protein is sustainable, he’s using as much local produce as he can, and of course there are vegan options.

Other delights? Wagyu bulgogi tacos, eel paired with foie gras and finished with balsamic soy, jalapeno peppers stuffed with chicken tsukune (meatballs), and kimchi-glazed Brussels sprouts. Or you could order his chicken teriyaki, which combines juicy sous vide-cooked chicken breast with crisp teppan-grilled skin atop a velvety potato puree and teriyaki sauce.

If, like mine, your mouth is watering at those descriptions (and I’ve just had lunch), you’d understand why his food is so popular with Instagrammers. A Gen-Xer who came of age with the dawn of the internet, Back doesn’t bemoan the intrusion of social media into his restaurants. “People taking photos is good, this is why we do what we do. I believe people taking pictures of my dish is one of the first signs of respect you can get as a chef, second is when they enjoy it, of course! So we have taken this into consideration – we heat up our plates a bit more to hold the temperature of the product longer.”

With that shrewd business approach, it makes sense that his restaurant empire continues to expand. It was Dosa in Seoul that won him a Michelin star but he already has restaurants in Delhi, Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Hanoi and Toronto in addition to two venues in Vegas. “There are seven more in the pipeline coming up,” he says, reeling off Seoul, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, San Diego, Ubud in Bali and Dallas, where he has two establishments. “Our team has been waiting for this since the opening of our first restaurant in Vegas. Now it’s actually a dream come true for my team to go where they always wanted to go.”

Oh well – we know where we want to go this week.