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3 weeks agoupdated Jul 03, 2024

Akira Back Makes UK Debut at Mandarin Oriental Mayfair

Restaurant of the Week: Mandarin Oriental has tasked Akira Back with the running of its second London hotel's restaurants.

By Kim Ayling

The Mandarin Oriental Mayfair has big shoes to fill: its older sibling over on the fringes of Hyde Park is home to one of London’s most decorated restaurants and easily sits on every list of the city’s best hotels. As the face of all of the newer, more boutique outpost’s dining and drinking outlets – including a 148-cover restaurant, its neighboring bar, and soon, a highly exclusive chef’s table restaurant – chef Akira Back’s UK debut comes with some pressure.

The hotel’s delayed opening only added to the suspense. First announced in early 2022 and slated for a late 2022 launch, the second London hotel from the Hong Kong-based group didn’t manage to get its doors open until June 2024. 

[See also: The Best New Suites in London]

But, as they say, good things come to those who wait and anticipation had been duly building for the country’s first Akira Back restaurant. A Wednesday night a few days after opening saw the dining room not quite full (an intentional decision, I’m told) but still happily bustling. 

A brand-new restaurant is rarely without teething issues but Akira Back’s team, clad in their impeccably glam uniforms accessorized with Pride-themed Mandarin Oriental flags, is smiley, helpful and enthusiastic enough to smooth over a couple of hiccups and slow moments. We’re on to a winner.

Must order:

The Dynamite Lobster

What to drink:

The Sochili Mango at ABar

Best seat in the house:

A secluded booth

[See also: Kioku by Endo: Sky-high Sushi Arrives at The OWO]

chef akira back
Akira Back was born in Seoul / ©Mandarin Oriental

Chef

Akira Back was born in Seoul but spent much of his childhood in Aspen, Colorado (and has the reputation of being an ex-professional snowboarder to prove it). 

Extreme winter sports behind him, Back’s restaurant empire counts in at an impressive 28, with locations in Paris, Dubai, Vegas, Toronto and Singapore. There are more openings slated for the coming years too, including an Italy debut.

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Fourteen-seat Dosa (Korean for being very good at something) was the jewel in Back’s crown, having earnt a Michelin star back in 2018. While the Seoul original has now permanently shuttered, the concept will eventually find a new home within the walls of Mandarin Oriental Mayfair – although exact time frames are still under wraps. 

[See also: The Best Private Dining Rooms in London]

Menu

akira back tuna pizza
The signature tuna pizza / ©Mandarin Oriental

The love of fusion food is showing no signs of slowing and Akira Back is oh so happy to tap into the trend. The new Mandarin Oriental outpost combines Back’s memories of growing up in South Korea and the US with the chefs “global travels and integral love of global cuisine” to create a modern East-meets-West menu.

Back has brought over some of signatures for his UK debut – namely the tuna ‘pizza’ that you might have seen doing the rounds on Instagram, which involves a crispy base layered thickly with umami aioli and tuna sashimi, dotted with micro herbs and finished with a drizzle of truffle oil.

Sushi is another long-standing hallmark for the chef and the restaurant has a designated sushi station. The signature sushi rolls (there’s spider crab, spicy tuna and even vegan varieties) are a must but do try the Jeju Domi, which sees tightly rolled sweet sea bream sashimi teamed up with tangy Korean chojang sauce.

[See also: Mauro Colagreco Makes His UK Debut at Raffles London]

akira back sashimi
Jeju Domi / ©Elite Traveler

There are some London exclusives, too, most impressive of which is the Dynamite Lobster. Served by the half on a hefty wedge of slate, juicy garlic-butter infused meat, shipped down from Scotland (and pre-prepared for easy chopstick plucking – thank you Mr Back) is dotted with pickled shimeji mushrooms. 

On a menu of lots of wins, though, some dishes fall a touch short. Jidori chicken (mashed potato with medallions of chicken and a teriyaki sauce), for example, doesn’t showcase the best of what an East-meets-West menu can offer – fortunately it’s in the minority.

Akira Back’s menu is a big one but save room for dessert – the Chocolate in a Pot is a proper highlight, with its layers of light sponge, molten chocolate, banana foam and vanilla ice cream.

[See also: Brooklands at The Peninsula is a Restaurant Reaching for Stars] 

Interiors

Arriving at Akira Back is a grand affair and one that will suit those who love to see and be seen. March directly through the Mandarin Oriental Mayfair’s front doors and across the lobby, and you’re faced with a view over a cavernous dining room, with glass triple-height ceilings pouring light in.

ABar mandarin oriental
ABar / ©Mandarin Oriental

Descend down the marble spiral staircase and head right at the bottom for a pre-dinner stop off at ABar Lounge. Like the rest of the restaurant, the swanky designed by Tokyo-based firm Curiosity who sought to emulate the four elements across the space. ABar acts as the ‘fire’ representative, with low-level lighting and warm orange tones.

By stark contrast, the main dining room is bright and light. Some tables are in the middle of the room; pick one of these for people-watching potential or go for a snug booth for a bit more intimacy. There are three private dining rooms, too, catering for groups of up to 16.

Chef Back might be on an international stage in a whopper of a hotel group, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some distinctly personal touches embedded into the restaurant’s look, too. The artwork lining the walls – including one especially dramatic piece that takes up much of the restaurant’s back wall – is designed by his mother, Young Hee Back, as are the menu covers.

Akira Back, Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, 22 Hanover Square, Mayfair, W1S 1JP, mandarinoriental.com

[See also: The Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings of 2024]

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