An experience I aim to repeat. Multiple times.
I walk into the recently-opened AKI Restaurant, and my first thought is how the vibe and décor remind me more of a hip, London cocktail lounge than your typical Maltese Asian restaurant.
But then again, I am walking into a Strait Street location, unarguably Malta’s current hippest address when it comes to Maltese restaurants. And AKI Restaurant certainly lives up to both the hip and the hype. Décor is stunning – dark, minimalistic tones, oodles of space and a bar area to kill for.
The charming staff usher you to your preferred area: having now experienced the place, I have to say that I’d be happy visiting just for cocktails on a weekend night, if a full meal is not what I’m after. I’m willing to bet that the bar will be buzzing on Fridays and Saturdays, especially because the cocktail list is pretty snazzy and the music is very Buddha Bar without being invasive.
Aki Restaurant – the menu
But let’s move on to the real reason I’m here – the food. After all, good looks count for precious little, if the tastebuds remain unsatisfied. Happily, AKI Restaurant is not just a pretty face. Japanese food with a modern spin is what the menu promises, and that is exactly what the army of chefs working in the open kitchen (a concept I love, incidentally) deliver.
AKI Restaurant – Japanese cuisine with a delicious edge
A look at the wine-list reveals a beautiful selection of sake, but we opt for a favourite Greco del Tufo. The menu offers all the favourites from Japanese cuisine – Seared, Sushi & Maki and Sashimi and so forth, as well as a seriously sumptuous selection of more substantial dishes, like rib eye , salmon fillet and even a tomahawk. Clearly, AKI Restaurant has no problem dealing with your appetite, whether you’re after nibbles or an entire feast.
Having seen what is on offer, we are most definitely after the latter. And, being the lazy buggers that we are, we leave it up to Chef to decide for us. What we get is a never-ending offering of Aki Restaurant’s very best.
Starting with a Beef Tataki that rewards my clumsy chopstick prodding with a spicy kick that somehow also manages to be delicate. A gorgeous fusion of seared beef tenderloin, Japanese miso and crispy leeks.
Delicacy of flavour is a running theme at AKI Restaurant, which I know will please many of you who complain about certain sushi restaurants where the flavours are too overpowering.
Not here. Each ingredient is perfectly combined to the others for a flawlessly harmonious finish. Like the O-toro Tartare, the prettiest presentation I have ever seen of Tuna tartare, served on ice, with colourful flowers, tiny mango lollipops and mini saikyo miso buns.
AKI Restaurant – seriously, you put the cute into Japanese dining.
Gunkan Maki is next on the list – salmon tartare wrapped around sushi rice and topped with salmon fillet. Tasting like a dream, with just the right amount of spice and, also, deceptively filling. I look around me and notice that other diners are pretty much having my same reaction to their sushi rolls. There is a REAL lot of happy nodding and chopstick waving happening around us.
By now I’m pretty much full, but Chef is keen on having us try two more items, so who am I to quibble. I have to say I’m very glad I don’t.
First on my list of ‘have I died and gone to heaven’ moments is the Chicken Anticucho. That’s Peruvian chicken skewers, to me and you. Now, I’m not really a massive fan of chicken skewers, as they can be somewhat dry unless creatively prepared. These have been EXTREMELY creatively prepared, and I actually manage to finish the entire skewer. Mostly because I can’t bear to leave that goodness go to waste.
But the crown of the evening is yet to come – Glazed Pork Belly with a sweet sesame and soy glaze. A definitely stronger flavour, and so delectable.
Did I say that that’s crown of the evening? I lie. I was yet to taste dessert. Yuzu Cheesecake, with matcha crumble and lime jelly. Perfection in one, wobbly plate.
My experience at AKI Restaurant is one that I aim to repeat, multiple times. Clearly this is a place that is taking Japanese cuisine away from the obvious and infusing it with surprising and delightful flavours, with quite a hefty dose of style.
My seal of approval is well-deserved.
Want to know more about the foodie scene in Malta? Check out this restaurant that regularly comes up with innovative ideas such as blindfold dining. Or how about high tea, or a sumptuous lunch at the Corinthia Palace? A collaboration between a Sicilian Michelin star chef and a Maltese chef is always intriguing, as are the wine and food pairing evenings organised by this restaurant.