A former pro snowboarder, chef Akira Back discovered his culinary calling while working as a commis chef in the kitchens of local Colorado restaurants to supplement his living as an extreme sports athlete. Since those humble beginnings in the early 1990s he has earned a global reputation for innovative dishes that pay tribute to his Asian roots and American upbringing.
Following seven years on the pro snowboarding circuit, the budding chef realised his future lay in food and after earning professional qualifications at the International Culinary School at The Art Institute in Colorado, he embarked on a culinary odyssey that included stints in kitchens in Austin, Texas and Kona, Hawaii and training in Japan and Europe under renowned chefs such as Masaharu Morimoto and Brian Nagao. The culmination of this grand tour was his 2003 appointment as executive chef of Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant back in Aspen, Colorado.
His time there gave the chef the platform to develop his own style of contemporary Asian cuisine with international twists and in 2008 he opened the celebrated Yellowtail by Akira Back in Las Vegas. Today his portfolio includes some 14 restaurants and bars across nine countries. At his plush outlet atop the Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, which opened in December 2017, an atmosphere of relaxed sophistication pervades, reflected in a contemporary décor that includes prints of paintings by the chef’s mother—which also decorate the tableware.
Chef Back’s ability to blend Japanese and Korean elements with other international influences is perfectly illustrated with a palate-cleansing welcome drink—a refreshing yuzu sour comprising Akira Back’s own branded sake produced by the famous 100-year-old Nanbu Bijin brewery in southern Japan, vodka infused with wild tea, yuzu juice and egg meringue. It is a refreshing prelude to another east-meets-west dish that has become a best seller across all his outlets: the tuna pizza. It comprises a thin crispy crust, umami aioli made from ponzu sauce, tuna sashimi (that looks more like smoked salmon), micro shiso and white truffle oil for added flavour.
Mexico is to the fore in another popular dish, AB Tacos, which are crispy taco shells filled with wagyu bulgogi and topped with roasted tomato ponzu. The beef filling has a nourishing richness that is nicely offset by the tartness of the tomato dressing. The South American influence continues with a serving of succulent grilled Australian lamb chops that have been glazed with chipotle anticucho sauce for a wonderful spicy-smoky flavour. A recommended side dish is corn on the cob. Prosaic it may sound but at Akira Back it comprises whole baby corncobs flavoured with black garlic butter and liberally dusted with parmesan cheese.
There is plenty of choice at the restaurant, certainly enough to warrant many return trips. Guests can select from the à la carte menu or combo sets comprising sushi and sashimi. However, possibly the finest of this fare, a dish of 48-hour wagyu short rib, is served next. Using a marinade based on his mother’s galbi jjim (a traditional Korean beef or pork stew), chef Back braises Australian wagyu short rib for two days at a low temperature to produce pieces of beef so tender that they can be separated with chopsticks. The sumptuousness of the accompanying sauce is heightened with the re-addition of the braising juices created during the cooking process. The result is deeply meaty and deeply satisfying. But then the meal has been building to a crescendo and it ends on a high with a spectacular Valrhona lava soufflé. Crunchy on the outside with Valrhona’s molten manjari chocolate on the inside, it is paired with vanilla bean ice cream for a truly decadent finish.
37/F Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, Sukhumvit Soi 22
Open daily 6-11pm and lunch on Sundays noon-2:30pm
(More Tatler Reviews: We Got High On Tartufo At Urbani Truffle Bar & Restaurant)