First Look: Akira Back brings some Michelin star power to Toronto


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IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI

Toronto has seen an influx of internationally acclaimed chefs set-up shop here, such as David Chang’s Momofuku, Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud. Now Michelin-star chef, Akira Back has partnered with ICONINK for his eponymous modern Korean eatery inside Bisha Hotel. On opening in Toronto, Back says “Toronto is a melting pot of cultures, like Vegas in a way, like Aspen in a way. Everyone is so chill.”

Back’s restaurant, Dosa (in Seoul, Korea) was awarded a Michelin Star in November, a day before his birthday and a month prior to opening in Toronto. Having made his name in Vegas, there are now seven Akira Back restaurants worldwide with the outposts in Southeast Asia, Dubai, and New Delhi. Back says that by March his empire will expand to include a roster of 14 restaurants worldwide.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Back didn’t become a chef in the conventional way. He was supposed to play baseball for Japan, then moved to Aspen, Colorado at the age of 14. In his early twenties, Back recalls how much he hated cooking. “But I didn’t want to blow money on food,” he says, and so he started to cook for sustenance. His foray into professional cooking was in traditional Japanese cuisine, having worked his way up the ranks at Nobu. 

"Now I want to create my own style, one that reflects how I think, and how I like to eat. I twist it, break a bit from tradition and make it my own,” he says. His food is often described as Japanese-Korean-American; “There are a lot of flavours with a touch of Korean taste – you can tell the Korean guy made the food,” he adds.

ICONINK’s CEO Hanif Harji and Chairman Charles Khabouth were looking at the Toronto culinary landscape to see what was lacking, analyzing food trends and how consumers ate when brainstorming concepts for Bisha, which in addition to Akira Back also has Kōst (the rooftop bar) - a Baja grill with plenty of healthy eating options.

“We wanted what we did on the second floor to be equally a draw,” says Harji. The duo tasted Back’s food on a trip to Las Vegas and saw the opportunity to bring a “hip Japanese restaurant to dominate downtown Toronto,” says Harji. On Back’s food, Harji says “His approach and eclectic mix of different ingredients gives him an edge over existing Japanese eateries.”


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The restaurant is located on the second floor and is accessed through its own entrance adjacent to the hotel’s main entrance. The space itself is cavernous, and features black with marble accents and a touch of blue pastel and gold tone accents overhead. Drop pendant lighting warms up the space with plush velvet chairs. “We wanted to do something minimal, clean with dark finishes and focused lighting,” says Harji, “since the food really pops.” Back’s mother designed the plates which see colourful strokes of colour in addition to another work of art above the entrance.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

While much of the menu is standardized across all the Akira Back restaurants around the world, every city has one menu item specific to that city and specials built around local ingredients. For Toronto, there’s a dish that is his play on ketchup chips. His proprietary ketchup powder is tossed with crispy onion rings (not fried) with a sauce of spicy mayo, and touch of lemon with seared tuna. “I like the unique flavour of potatoes in Canada,” he says of the dish.

You’ll also find dishes such as Rock Shrimp with Sriracha Ranch and Jeju Domi, a Korean sashimi with snapper and spicy and sweet chujang red chili paste. There’s also a 48 Hour Wagyu Short Rib with daikon, carrots and quail egg or Eggplant Miso served kushiyaki style (read, skewered).


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The cocktail list sees Japanese and Korean takes on classic drinks such as the Akira Back Saketini, a take on a martini with ginger-infused sake, gin, yuzu, lime and lychee or the Perfect Harmony, made with Japanese whiskey, syrup and angostura bitters (a take on Old Fashioned).


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

For dessert, there’s a Black and White Sesame Matcha Cake with salted agave ice cream, or the Yuzu Citrus, with sable crumble and gelato.

“We look like super stars now that Akira has a Michelin star,” says Harji, who adds that Back is “committed to growing [the Akira Back] brand locally,” which hopefully means delicious days ahead for Toronto diners.

Akira Back, 80 Blue Jays Way, 437-800-5967


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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