When HK nights got too steamy and we needed a place to cool ourselves down, there was no better place to be than in Balalaika’s ice bar. However, the bar seemed to only be popular with hot people (I’m referring to their body temperature, not their level of physical attractiveness) and tourists, so obviously it couldn’t handle Hong Kong rents. Standing in its place now is AKA Japanese Cuisine & Lounge.
At Balalaika, I never really went any further in than the freezer-style ice bar in the entrance, so had no idea how large the space was; it’s huge. AKA uses it well, with warm eggshell colours and generously spaced seating. A closed off balcony overlooks Lan Kwai Fong, and a separate room at the back serves omakase (with a minimum spend of $800 per person – ouch).
AKA comes to life at night, changing from a restaurant to a ‘lounge bar’ with acts from international and local DJs starting at 11pm and stays open as late as 5am on weekends. I find the space visually rather bare and masculine, but perhaps this makes it easier to serve its two purposes.
The menu seems to go on forever and left me confused and intimidated, unsure where to start or what to order. We decided to follow our waiter’s recommendation of sharing one set menu between us and ordering a few extra dishes to bulk it out. The $680 eight-course set would have been far too much food for one, and would have probably sufficed for the two of us, although some dishes were certainly more difficult to share than others.
The set started with a Wa Fu Salada and some salmon fish balls. Both were very simple yet delicious dishes. The fish balls were tender and crumbly, garnished with pickles that brought out the delicate flavour of the fish. What made the salad special was the light, citrusy yuzu ponzu dressing.
To follow came a beautiful little bowl of assorted sashimi served on ice. AKA receives two daily deliveries from Japan, so the choice of fish may vary on the day depending on what’s available. Our selection included sweet shrimp, salmon and yellowtail, all of which were delicious and we could instantly appreciate the freshness.
Although a little harder to share, the assorted tempura was just right: a light delicate batter encasing beautifully tender prawn, mushroom and pepper. You can’t go wrong with good tempura.
A traditional Bonito Soup (also a little tricky to share) was like a lighter, less salty version of a miso soup and included lovely little colourful dumplings.
Definitely the highlight of the set menu was the assorted selection of nigiri, which again varies on a daily basis. I loved the swordfish and was surprisingly wowed by the mackerel.
Next up was another of my favourite dishes of the night, homemade udon noodles in soup. The slightly al dente texture of the noodles was perfect and I found the whole thing wonderfully soothing and wholesome.
From the a la carte menu, we chose yakitori chicken, asparagus and bacon rolls, and Urume Iwashi (grilled sardines). While the chicken and asparagus were delicious and definitely worth ordering, the sardines were completely charred and tasted horribly burnt.
Also from the a la carte menu, we tried the Bar Bar Chirashi, a huge bowl of sticky sushi rice topped with seven kinds of raw fish, avocado and egg: beautiful.
Finally, to complete our set menu, we were each given a scoop of black sesame ice cream, which was the perfect end to a delicious meal.
As dishes are often small, Japanese food has the tendency to sneakily become very expensive. Our bill came to $1,180 for the two of us, not including drinks. We did have the fortune of trying a couple of cocktails however; if you’re staying for a tipple and want to make a night out of it, I’d recommend the lychee and cucumber cocktail, although beware, as it’s stronger than it initially seems!
Food-wise, AKA are doing everything (apart from the sardines) right to be a great restaurant, yet I was surprised at how empty it was. It’s still very new and perhaps it fills up later in the evenings, but I do hope people will give it a try and help it to be the success that it deserves to be. Who knows, after Solas goes, AKA could even be the next hangout…
AKA Japanese Cuisine & Lounge
M/F, LKF Tower
55 D’Aguilar Street
Lan Kwai Fong
Tel: +852 2840 0007