Sunday, 13 March 2011

Akari Essex Road Japanese restaurant review - more than just a izakaya


Akari+review+Essex+Road+Japanese+restaurant

Address: 196 Essex Rd
London N1 8LZ
Tel: 020 7226 9943
Nearest station: Essex Road Rail Station

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: Below £20pp
Service charge: 10%
Taste: ***
Service: ***
Ambience: ***
This is another place that we have always wanted to but never been before. Akari, which is at the intersection of Essex Road and New North Road, is some distance from Angel where the main action is. For a brief moment, we were quite contented with Tenshi and Necco and to a lesser extent Sasa Sushi, and thus find no reason to venture up Essex Road.

It was one of those Saturdays when we had to try something new and Akari came ot mind. It helped that, unlike some restaurants, Akari is open from 12pm till 11pm for the weekends with no resting period in between – it’s ideal to drop in for a light bite in the late afternoon.

My impression of Akari is that it’s a izakaya (or Japanese pub). I wouldn’t expect a pub to serve any gourmet food so we went in fully expecting light bites, determined not to get my expectations way up high like the time at Crane and Tortoise.

But it so happened that it was a long day and when we finally stumbled into Akari, we were duly famished and were looking for more than just light bites. We were, however, delighted to find out that Akari has a full size menu with a whole section on sushi and another on mains.

Akari+review+Essex+Road+Japanese+restaurant+kitsune+udon

Wife got herself the kitsune udon (£6.50). The dish, which literally means 'fox noodles', came with a large aburaage (sweetened deep-fried pockets). Udon was chewy, stock was tasty and the accompanying greens refreshing to the palate. The aburrage was obviously the main thing here. Wife made the mistake of dispatching that way early and regretted soon after.

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She asked for an additional portion of prawn tempura (£2.20) to go with her kitsune udon. The two prawn tempuras could be a bit larger though.

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My pork katsu (£8.90) came in a generous portion. Served with a bowl of rice, the side salad and cucumber slices added some crunch. Interestingly, Akari served a bowl of miso soup before the actual pork katsu itself. Unlike some of those half heartedly prepared soup, Akari's came with large cubes of tofu and bits of aburaage. A fitful appetizer for the mains.

Akari+review+Essex+Road+Japanese+restaurant+snowcrab+avocado+sushi+roll

The snow crab and avocado roll (£5.50), while competently done, didn't really make a big impression on me. I figured that the avocado's milkiness and sesame seeds' nuttiness overwhelmed the bit of snow crab in the roll.

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We liked Akari's cheesecake (£4.20) quite a bit though. Compact, not overly sweet or creamy, Akari's cheesecake was the subtle Japanese adaptation to the New York version. That said, the cheesecake was bordering on being bland but the caramalised brown sauce that was sparingly dripped on it provided that bit of sweetness to the dessert.

Akari+review+Essex+Road+Japanese+restaurant+matcha+icecream

Matcha ice-cream (£4.80) was a bit overpriced in my opinion. The single scoop, like the cheesecake, lacked in the sugar department but was given a hand by caramalised brown sauce. That matcha taste came across as natural and was rather intense. That would sit well with lovers of the finely milled green tea leaves.

Akari+review+Essex+Road+Japanese+restaurant

I found out after my visit that Akari was advertised as a izakaya. However, it felt more like a full service Japanese restaurant than not. While there is a small bar towards the end of the restaurant, which is probably suitable for lone diners, there was a wide range of customers who walked in during our meal including couples and young families with buggies and all. Service was prompt and friendly throughout.

Would I return again? Probably. But I would probably give the sushi a miss to make way for a cheesecake. Oh, Akari's menu proudly proclaims that there is no MSG in its dishes. Expect loads of umami.

Akari on Urbanspoon

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