An authentic Japanese Izakaya in an old pub
Akari self-advertises as a Japanese Izakaya, or a Japanese drinking establishment that also serves food. While it feels much more like a restaurant than a bar, this essentially means Akari is a Japanese gastro-pub. Instead of ale, you’ll find a wide range of asian inspired drinks, and a vast menu of Asian fusion food items, with a heavy Japanese influence.
Akari is located on the corner of Essex and New North Road across from Essex Road Rail station. The facade is attractive with their name burned into a wooden tree slice hanging above the door. Inside, you really do feel like you’re in an old, spruced up pub, with copious amounts of mahogany, large in-set mirrors in arches and oversized wooden tables. There are some small Japanese touches done tastefully to remind you that you’re not about to chug down ale and chips. The waiters are all very friendly, and as we apparently got there somewhat early for their weeknight rush (7:30) they seemed overstaffed at first, though as the venue filled later, we understood the 8 waiters lingering around. The oversized wooden bar is elegant and serves as the sushi rolling station, with the kitchen hidden in the back. This is nice as you don’t get smoke or kitchen sounds, but still have the authenticity of chefs making your food in front of you.
I was overwhelmed by the cocktail menu but eager to try something new. I asked our waiter what he’d recommend and he advised I go for the Yuzu-Hi (£4.30), which was a great lemony-lime choice. Stu had an Asahi (£4.50), and they have a large variety of other asian beers. For food, I ordered a Miso Soup (£2.50), the Buta Kimuchi (£3.90), and the Yasai Tempura (£7.90). Stu ordered the Inari Zushi (£3.00), the Salmon Avocado Roll (£4.80), the Sea Bass Nigiri (£2.60) and the White Tuna Nigiri (£2.60). I found the Miso Soup a bit too fishy, and the Buta Kimuchi (sliced pork with bean sprouts and kimchee) was not to my taste either, and I wound up switching starters with Stu, who enjoyed both those dishes. I happily devoured his Inari Zushi (fried tofu pouch filled with rice and sauce), which was incredibly delicious. The tempura was expertly done, though the dipping sauce was bland and could have benefitted from more tang. Stu enjoyed all of the sushi dishes he ordered. For dessert, I sprang for the Chocolate Tofu Mousse (£4.80)with amaretto, pistachio and mint. It was good, though you couldn’t taste much of the interesting additions. Stu had the Cheesecake (£4.30), which was done well, though with no Asian twist.
Overall, we really enjoyed the experience. I was impressed with the selection, the authenticity of the food, and the atmosphere, which is a real selling point of the venue. However, I do think they’ve toned down the flavours a bit for a Western palette, which can be either a good or a bad thing, depending on what you’re looking for. While I found that my choices could have used more flavour (granted, I did not go for any fish options), Stu found his choices tasty and interesting. If you’re looking to try new foods and drinks that can’t be found at most London restaurants, Akari is a great place to explore this, especially with a knowledgable staff who can make decent recommendations. The menu also explains the options, which is a great help for anyone unfamiliar with Japanese fare. The food is priced so you can order a number of things to encourage trying a variety of dishes, like a Japanese tapas. Weeknights are busy but seem to pick up after 8, so you should be able to get a table without reserving if you show up a bit earlier.
|Salmon Avocado Roll||£4.80|
|White Tuna Nigiri||£2.60|
|Chocolate Tofu Mousse||£4.80|