Flanked by a Thai restaurant and a Tibetan/Indian restaurant, plus many other places up and down the street, Akemi’s spot is hardly lacking in the Asian food options department. So, how does Akemi distinguish itself? Well, its sign for a start. Walking into Akemi feels like walking into an expensive hotel. And, once inside, Akemi is immaculately decorated.
It’s also well situated. Perched on the corner of Rykestraße and Sredzkistraße, its tables spill out onto both sidewalks, claiming dominance over both streets. It’s modern. It looks good and it suggests a higher quality of food and service.
With a large ‘Asian tapas’ menu, plus starters, mains and desserts from all over East and Southeast Asia, Akemi is a pan-Asian restaurant.
Pan-Asian restaurants… a dirty term. Those little hole-in-the-walls that litter the streets of Berlin. They’re called Asia Snack, Happy Asia, Asia Imbiss, Sad Panda (okay, I invented that one).
They hark back to a time when the Currywurst was the height of international food in Berlin. “Noodles, they’re kind of like Spätzle but instead of putting cheese on them, they put something called ‘Soy Sauce’.”
But I do have a confession. I spend about €50 a month on those shitty takeaways. I get the same thing every time, and each time from a different pan-Asian place. And each time I’m delighted that it tastes exactly the same regardless. Ente Kross mit Erdnusssoße. It’s a guilty pleasure.
Akemi’s food, however, is a much higher level to that of its outmoded predecessors. It’s part of a new wave of Berlin pan-Asian restaurants that invest in their decor, take care with their food and presentation, and don’t believe that pan-Asian cuisine needs to be the reserve of the hungover.
These spring rolls were in a different league to the six-for-€2.50 ones I usually get. Real crispy, freshly fried. They tasted of prawn. Real prawn. Real ingredients! Dipping sauce was still bottle-fresh, mind you. But if it ain’t broke and all that…
And those ribs were worth getting your fingers (and shirt and mobile phone) sticky for. You could taste the marinade rub deep into the flesh. It was barbecuey and not as sickly-sweet as you’ll have come to expect.
This is where Akemi works really well. This ‘Asian tapas’ thing. Little, tasty dishes around the €4-€5 mark. Some Peking Duck here, some tempura prawns there, some grilled squid in between the two. Delicious appetisers from all around East and Southeast Asia, showcasing the many different flavours and textures of the regions. Buy a few and share them with friends.
I also ordered a main course. Ginger-Soy Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Bell Peppers and Rice. Here’s for me when the pan-Asian thing fell down because… you aren’t really sure how this main will be? What style will it be? Japanese-Vietnamese fusion, or what?
When it arrived it was a Chinese dish. Perfectly pleasant, albeit nondescript and gloopy-brown in the way many Chinese mains are. I wished for a minute Akemi had gone the full-tourist route of putting little country flags next to the options on the menu so I could’ve picked a fiery Korean dish or warmingly homely Thai dish instead. But really, I wished I had just ordered two or three things from their ‘Asian tapas’ menu, equalling the same cost price and doubling my enjoyment.
The dessert I tried was great though. These little sesame balls filled with red bean paste. It took me a while to figure out what these red-hot, fresh out the fryer balls tasted like… but then I realised they tasted exactly like… popcorn. Not only that, the sesame outside tastes of one element of the flavour of popcorn and the red stuff inside tastes exactly like the other element of popcorn. Together, they’re more popcorn than popcorn itself. In the best way possible. I know that doesn’t read like a glowing endorsement of them but trust me, these little crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside balls are damn tasty.
So all in all, Akemi’s definitely worth stopping by for some ‘Asian tapas’. I’m still not convinced by the pan-Asian “Soul kitchen” concept because… if I (an Englishman) set up a restaurant selling gazpacho alongside pierogi under the banner ‘European soul food’, I’d get more than a few odd looks. Surely that’s the opposite of ‘soul food’? I think this is especially unconvincing with the large Japanese section of Akemi’s menu, considering that Japanese rolls and sushi have crossed over from cooking and into a knife-wielding art form. If it could be so easily emulated, Japan wouldn’t hold most of the world’s Michelin stars. Call me old fashioned, but pick one and get really good at it.
Still, these guys have definitely taken pan-Asian food in the right direction.