Akiba, Canberra – Home of ‘The Best Pork Belly Bun’

When you search for top restaurants to eat in Canberra, the name ‘Akiba‘ keeps showing up – and for very good reason. It’s one of the best, most energetic and fun, Japanese restaurants I’ve been to. It also boasts what I’m calling “The Best Pork Belly Bun in Australia“. A big call, but I’ll explain that later…

The interior decorations are amazing. Photo Credit: @BJL_Photography (click on image to go to original)

Their website boasts that they are The #1 Top Restaurant in Australia as voted in the People’s Choice Award in 2016. Given our experience, we believe them!

Walking in on a busy Saturday night the place is buzzing with fun and excitement. Every patron is enjoying themselves. It’s hustling and bustling, the staff are laughing and having a great time, and the food is top-knotch. After a little while you realise that you could spend all evening here drinking with your friends and ordering tasty food – which is exactly what I think people do since it’s open until 3am.

Everyone is having a great time.

One thing that is really exceptional is the staff and the speed and efficiency of the kitchen. The waitstaff are very friendly, helpful, smiling and laughing the whole time. It appears less like they are all at work together, and more like they are a group of mates hanging out. The speed of the kitchen is something I wanted to highlight for a second because it was shocking how well they did. It was a packed Saturday night, and the food kept coming quickly (but not so much that you felt overwhelmed). Another little point I liked was that the waitstaff were totally eagle-eyed for when your dishes were done and deftly cleared empty dishes whilst they walked by. This may seem small to people, but I hate it when the table is cluttered with empty dishes.

A++ for service guys! (btw, both my wife and I have previously worked in hospitality, so this is legitimate and sincere praise).

Bar and Kitchen constantly churning out items for patrons. Given the number of people and orders, very very impressed at their work

Now… let us get to the food. One of the great things about Akiba is that there is literally so many good things on the menu you struggle to pick which items to order. It’s a great problem to have, as it means we’ll just have to come back to order all the stuff we didn’t get to try the first visit. Now, that being said, we did order a lot of food… but we had a great time. We love Japanese food, and we walked out of Akiba sad… sad that our dining experience was over and that we could not physically consume another delicious bite.

Mcash Tokubetsu Oysters w/ Ume Mignonette ($12.00, 4 pieces).

My wife is an oyster fanatic and upon seeing oysters as an entree option she quickly decided that was her pick. The oysters were fresh, delicious, and the ume mignonette was a perfect accompaniment. We were seated on the bar directly opposite the sushi/seafood prep station. This was great because we not only got to watch all of the sashimi being made to order… but also watch as the chef hand-shuck each oyster as the orders came through.

Sadly, this was the only dish I didn’t manage to take a photo of, so I had to go to instagram and source one.

Photo Credit: @Ryan_Kylin (click to visit original)

 

Pork belly bun, char sui, asian slaw ($8.00, per bun)

Whenever I see a Pork Bun option on a menu I’m instinctively drawn to order it. I love them so much. This is what I considered “my entree choice”, and I could not be happier I did so. I’m going to call it now; this is the best Pork Belly Bun I’ve had in Australia. I can’t really put into words how great this was, but the flavour, the melt in your mouth pork belly, the fact it had a bit of crispy crackling – oh man! First bite I immediately smiled and savoured the bite. I then had that knee-jerk reaction of “you gotta try this” as I pass it carefully over for her to try. “Damn” was the only thing she could muster. I will say this, if I came here and only ate these and drank beer all night – it would be an amazing night. I took two photos of the bun, neither of which do it justice. I’ll be back just to eat these!

This photo doesn’t do it justice…
No matter how hard I tried to take a photo (before eating), I couldn’t quite get the photo right. Trust me… it’s amazing.

 

Hapuka [sashimi], wasabi miso, sesame, shoyu dressing, tempura flake, shiso ($15.00, 6 pieces)

As I said earlier, we were sitting directly opposite the seafood/sushi/sashimi prep station. The moment I sat down after parking my wife said “we MUST order the Hapuka dish”. I never disagree with my wife when it comes to sashimi. This dish was incredible. I had to stop myself from making pleasure noises as I ate because I knew it would make the sushi chef uncomfortable. He was only 2 meters away after all. Each bite was joy – the wasabi miso et al. sauce brought a great spice, the sesame a creamy taste, and the tempura flake provided a good crunch.

Hapuka sashimi – don’t make happy eating noises.

 

Peking Duck Soup Dumplings ($14.00, 6 pieces)

We are big fans of soup dumplings (xiao long bao), and the idea of having DUCK soup dumplings was just too tempting to ignore. Unfortunately, there was a distinct mismatch between our expectations and what we ended up with. The flavour was good, the peking duck was there, but the one thing we were expecting – that gushing piping hot soup – was lacking. It had a small amount of soup, but not really what we were hoping for. Of all the things we ordered, this was the one that we would probably pass on.

Peking Duck ‘Soup’ dumplings

 

Kobe skirt [steak], teriyaki, black sesame ($33.00)

Teriyaki, kobe beef, what’s not to like? cooked perfectly and with a tasty teriyaki sauce/glaze underneath this was a great main item. The thing I liked about this was that the very edge of the beef was really well seared and BBQ’d, but the beef wasn’t overcooked or ruined. It came out medium-rare, but we didn’t specify or get given a choice… which is fine because it was good. If you don’t like pink in your beef then you might need to discuss this with the staff.

Teriyaki Kobe Beef / Steak

Agadashi fried tofu, nori, daikon, togarashi ($12.00)

Agadashi Tofu is one of our regular “must-order” dishes at any Japanese restaurant. This means that we’ve become quite critical and even come up with an “out-of-ten Agadashi rating system” (where ‘0’ is awful and ’10’ is a god-like-best-in-the-world-kill-me-now some sort of mythical dish). So far, nothing has been given a 10/10 (as that is the coveted holy grail). Akiba’s version of Agadashi Tofu ranks as 9.8/10 = which is one of the highest scores we’ve ever given. Perfect crisp, soft silken tofu, delicious sauce… all coming together into something truely exceptional.

Where did it lose 0.2 marks? 0.1 was deducted for some inperfections in bites/pieces. You can see in the photo one piece had escaped it’s coating, and not really pictured well is the huge pieces and the random “batter-only” pieces. See… we’re critical. The other 0.1 was the fact we both didn’t turn to each other and immediately state “this is it… this is the best agadashi we’ve ever eaten”.

Let’s get back to it… This is an amazing Agadashi Tofu. If you like this dish at other places, then order it. If you don’t like tofu or don’t order it, what I would recommend is that you suss out if the rest of your table will have some, and split it as a table. That way you can try a REALLY REALLY GOOD VERSION of it, and if you still don’t like it then maybe tofu isn’t for you.

Agadashi Tofu – so good, I go off rambling in my description

 

King prawn fried rice, snake beans, chilli fried egg ($21.00)

Steamed or fried rice? As if there is ever a choice… fried rice always. The waitstaff actually jokingly warned us that we might have over-ordered at this point. He said that we might find ourselves taking some home. The fried rice came out and was quite good, cutting up the fried egg with spoon and mixing ourselves reminded me of nasi goreng, or my own Kimchi Fried Rice recipe (coming soon under Recipes). Annoyingly, we did end up totally stuffed and had to take half the portion of fried rice home with us.

King Prawn Fried Rice

 

Drinks; Heiwa Shuzo Nigori Umeshu ($14.00) / Sparking Water = Free.

My wife loves Umeshu, so she ordered this for her drink. Umeshu is usually pretty sweet, and this one was sweet, but really good. For a moment I considered ordering one aswell. They have a well stocked bar and a great range of drinks, but I decided that tonight I was directing all my stomach space to food (and stuck with sparking water). I didn’t realise it, but the sparkling water was free – which was nice.


PRO:
– Best Pork Belly Bun (bao) I’ve had.
– A++ Service from staff.
– Quickest and most organised kitchen we’ve been to.
– Fun and entertaining atmosphere (better than Sydney!).

CON:
– Located in Canberra, which makes it difficult for Sydney-folk to visit.
– Cannot eat my body-weight in Pork Belly Buns and Beer without ruining my diet.
– Peking Duck Soup Dumplings didn’t have enough soup.

OVERALL:
One of the best Japanese restaurants we’ve ever been to (incredible food, atmosphere, and staff). We will 100% be coming back. My wife would also love to have her birthday party here. She doesn’t think people will travel to Canberra just to have dinner with her here, but I countered with we can promise them “incredible Japanese food” in a fun place that’s open until 3am, and see what they reckon. In the end, after eating a tonne of food, the bill came to $129.00 – which isn’t too horrendous considering it would be double that if we had the same amount of food in Potts Point. TIP: Make sure you book in advance as this place is super popular and people were being turned away at the door when we arrived at 9pm.

DETAILS:
Address: 40 Bunda St, Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: (02) 6162 0602
Website: http://www.akiba.com.au/

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