In this exclusive interview, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Yutaro Ono, the owner of Akari Japanese Kitchen & Bar, located in Islington. With a deep passion for Japanese cuisine and a love for the unique atmosphere of Akari, Yutaro took over the establishment in 2019.
As we delve into the conversation, Yutaro shares his inspirations, the concept behind his menu and the importance of quality ingredients. Join us as we uncover the story behind this beloved restaurant.
Firstly, could you please tell me a little about yourself and how you became the owner of Akari Japanese Kitchen & Bar?
I have been living in Islington since 2013, and Akari has always been my favourite local restaurant. I loved the atmosphere and the charming Victorian style of the pub. When I learned that the former owner wished to raise their twins in Japan, I spoke with them and took over the establishment in 2019.
What inspires you to run a Japanese izakaya in London, and what sets your restaurant apart from others in the city?
Running a Japanese izakaya in London provides a unique experience. Customers from all over the world visit us, and while they may have similar style restaurants in their hometowns, such as pubs or Spanish tapas bars, our restaurant stands out. We operate within a Victorian-style pub, but inside, we serve exclusively Japanese dishes, which sets us apart.
What do you enjoy most about running Akari Japanese Kitchen & Bar?
The aspect I enjoy the most about running Akari Japanese Kitchen & Bar is experimenting with new dishes. As a big foodie, conducting research for new menu items and receiving feedback is an enjoyable and privileged experience.
What is the concept behind your menu and what types of dishes can customers expect to find?
We embrace the izakaya concept, so our menu is well-suited for accompanying drinks. Customers can expect a variety of options from our menu. Additionally, our chefs create special seasonal dishes that are displayed on our blackboard.
What steps have you taken to ensure that your ingredients are fresh and of the highest quality?
We have established a trustworthy relationship with our suppliers and local shops. One particular supplier we rely on is James Eliot on Essex Road. Their extensive knowledge of meat has been invaluable to us.
How do you approach the balance between traditional Japanese cuisine and modern culinary trends in your menu?
Customers in the UK possess significant knowledge about Japanese food. While we initially had concerns about reducing traditional Japanese dishes from the menu, our customers have enjoyed our new offerings. I appreciate the progress made by Japanese restaurants in the UK over the past several decades.
Are there any particular ingredients or dishes that you feel are especially representative of Japanese cuisine, and how have you incorporated them into your menu?
We love incorporating matcha into our desserts and using raw-fish dishes as customer favourites. Additionally, we use yuzu in both drinks and dishes. Yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, has a flavour similar to lemon but is more authentic to Japanese cuisine. We want everyone to enjoy its unique taste.
How do you see your restaurant evolving and growing in the coming years?
This year, we welcomed head chef Masa, who has introduced a new atmosphere and culinary style at Akari. While we will continue to maintain our friendly ambience, we are focused on improving the quality of our food.
Can you speak to any challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in opening and operating a restaurant, particularly in the current economic climate?
Like everyone else, we have faced difficulties, but we strive to be the shining spotlight on Essex Road, as reflected in the meaning of Akari in Japanese.
What do you hope customers will take away from their dining experience at your restaurant?
I hope that customers will leave our restaurant with enjoyable memories of dining with friends and savouring our food. After being in business for more than 17 years, many customers return to our restaurant even after moving to a new area.