Not-So-Typical Korean BBQ at ABSteak by Chef Akira Back

by Runi Cholid
16th January 2024
Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur Akira Back makes an exciting return to the city with ABSteak at Senayan City, a Korean BBQ steakhouse that doesn't stick to the norm.

If there’s one thing to say about ABSteak by Chef Akira Back at Senayan City, it is that established expectations don’t quite apply to the Korean BBQ steakhouse.

“I love Jakarta. It is an amazing city that is a melting pot of culture, just like what I try to reflect in my cooking,” remarked the Korean American Michelin-starred chef and jet-setting restaurateur on giving the city another shot following the closing of his namesake restaurant at MD Place in Kuningan.

It’s quite a comeback; tucked right next to Senayan City’s main lobby, it’s hard to miss ABSteak’s massive and swanky façade of marble and gold. The same liveliness continues inside, where marble table-tops meet with marble flooring, while dark wood partitions pair up with golden accents. Some might liken the atmosphere to Las Vegas with the way every corner of the place seems to try to wrest your attention away from you.

Yet they all manage to fade into the background when Chef Akira’s recipes arrive at the table. Not quite the Korean BBQ experience one imagines from K-dramas, peppered in between dishes are Japanese influences that speak to his signature style, first sparked through working at a Japanese restaurant in Aspen, Colorado during his professional snowboarding days; while his choice of meat would customarily look more at home at a premium steakhouse instead of a K-BBQ joint.

In place of the usual potato salad to start, find Horenso Shira Ae: mini pillars of baby spinach with sesame dressing, zucchini, sesame seed and rayu (Japanese chilli oil) that your server would mix up into a salad for you. The dish serves to perk up the appetite for the 14-day dry-aged Picanha (wagyu rump), fresh cut Ribeye (more melt-in-the-mouth wagyu) and sweet-flavoured Marinated Galbi that would soon follow, grilled and cut with scissors at the table in true K-BBQ fashion.

Once grilled to your liking, dip the meat in one of the four condiment options (crispy rice salt, gochujang, ssamjang and sour ponzu), or enjoy it alongside side dishes like Bulgogi Sotbab (Chef Akira’s take on bibimbap)—some of which are served on plates bearing artworks made by the chef’s mother, Younghee Back, to further lend a personal touch.

The Senayan City outlet also shares its massive dining area with ABar, a bar concept Chef Akira first established in Bangkok. “For the cocktails, we lean towards refreshing flavours to better match the meat and not take the attention away from it,” shared Chief Beverage Officer Fahman ‘Voo’ Nadhirin. A case in point is the Yuzu Sawayaka (Japanese for fresh yuzu), a sweet and sour concoction of Japanese gin, yuzu sake, melon, vanilla and citrus. But even the stronger tequila-based Jalisco Berries, which comes topped with citric raspberry foam, goes down smooth and easy.

ABSteak may not exactly fit one’s K-drama fantasies of a K-BBQ joint, but that’s not to say it’s a complete divorce from that spirit. True, diners here don’t wrap their galbi in a taco of leafy greens, but the enjoyment of great meat and tipples, done in the care of an attentive dining staff, remains well and alive at the restaurant. Add Chef Akira’s award-winning take on Korean cuisine into the mix, and there’s definitely cause for celebration to be found in the lively atmosphere of ABSteak.