AB Steak is a unique Korean-American barbeque concept by renowned chef Akira Back. Although dry-aged steak is the star of the show, the supporting cast of starters and sides provide an indelible dining experience.
I feel I have an obligation to share this sentiment: I sincerely want to give AB Steak by Chef Akira Back four stars. This restaurant has all of the fundamentals in place for an outstanding experience with a masterfully designed menu. From the time I booked the reservation through to the end of the meal, I was pleasantly surprised by the staff, the menu, the pacing, the décor and the underlying passion for meat.
AB Steak by Chef Akira Back is not your standard American chop or steak house. This is a sexy, modern, Korean-American restaurant where the main attraction is charcoal grilling done front and centre on the dining table by a professional who is less inclined to overcook a hundred-dollar (that’s Australian currency) dry-aged prime or wagyu steak than you.
The showroom for their dry-aged beef is enclosed by a glass panel near the entrance of the restaurant so every diner walking into the dining room is able to see the ageing process and preparation. The stainless steel, mysterious sliding door, shiny glass partitions, spray bottles and sharp cutting instruments combine to provide an uncanny resemblance to a sterile-yet-stylish operating room reminiscent of a Dr. Strangelove set.
The main dining room is slightly more seductive with mostly dark shadows accentuated by warm ember glows and punctured by fiery red bursts of colour. Admittedly, there are far more beautiful dining rooms in Jakarta, but the mood created at AB Steak is flirtatiously sombre, providing just the right background for its main attraction: the food.
For whatever reason a person decides to dine at AB Steak, it should be to eat heartily. Like its sister restaurant Akira Back (located in the penthouse in the same building), the menu is something of an Asian mashup of primarily Korean and Japanese flavours using modern Western techniques. And from all of the dishes I ordered that evening, most were outstanding.
The Shitake Croquette topped with sea urchin roe, black caviar, sweet prawns with a base of smoked potato foam was excellent. It had all the right textures: crunchy-creamy; and a perfectly palatable combination of umami-sweet-smoky. The Scallop Crudo was a beautifully orchestrated dish with bright salinity of the truffled yuja soy sauce juxtaposed against the creamy body of the raw scallop itself. What’s a steak without duck fat fries? It was the obvious and best choice paired with the 500 gram porterhouse we ordered. The Roasted Brussel Sprouts had a more-ish quality: basted in pureed kim chee and served with roasted garlic and puffed rice, one felt the need to order a bowl of steamed rice, move off into a corner of the dining room and shove all of the contents with chopsticks from bowl to mouth to do it justice. Eaten alongside the steak, though, it seemed to completely overpower the subtler flavours of the meat so I suggest keeping the two separate or cleansing the palate with a swig of bold red wine.
The service was unobtrusive, lightning fast and attentive; something you don’t see in Jakarta even on a fine day. The staff all seemed to know their goods and never hesitated to anticipate needs. Table tops were cleaned and plates switched at opportune breaks in dining. There was nary an idle body in the dining room.
So I come to the crux of the evening and that is the meat. AB Steak imports some of the best prime and wagyu from Japan, Australia and the United States. They carefully dry-age the cuts in their magnificent ageing room and give them the love and attention they deserve.
The experience of having a chef explain and help decide the size is interesting upon itself; never having had such intricate interaction regarding meat prior to cooking had set some extremely high expectations right up front.
There are no sauces to consider, no frills to amplify the flavours except for the large selection of flavoured salts on the table. For meat of this quality, it would be a disservice to do any more than a sprinkling of pink Himalayan salt. Wood briquettes are then added at the last minute to enhance the charcoal with a headier smoky flavour, which is then imparted on the steak.
We requested a 300 gram, 60-day, ‘whiskey-aged,’ Australian wagyu, bone-in, ribeye steak; and a 500 gram, 45-day, Australian Angus, porterhouse steak. Each steak, in and of itself, was delicious. The ageing process truly gave the meat a gorgeous texture and the 60-day ribeye was decidedly my favourite with a particularly funky and mild blue cheese quality.
I wish I had been served the ribeye first to truly enjoy it, though. Due to the size of the steaks, I was full from the starters and the porterhouse by the time the ribeye was served. And although masterfully grilled by the chef, this concept leaves little time to consume the steak before it actually gets unpleasantly cold. If the meat is cooked to liking, the ability to warm it back up on the grill also sets the steak up for risk of overcooking after being sliced. I hate overcooked meat as much as I hate munching on cold, unrendered fat on a steak so I was either stuck with one or the other. Perhaps I’m simply a slow eater, but I like to enjoy my food along with my company and participate in conversation. What is one to do in this case?
However, we ended the evening on a very high note. Jakarta’s best dessert is found in the Butter Mochi Cake. I don’t think any description I can give you would do it justice. The buttery-springy texture of the cake, the salted caramel crunch of popcorn and macadamia nuts and the gentle coconut sorbet is irresistible. I may have been full, but I had room for one last masterpiece.
AB Steak by Chef Akira Back
MD Place, Mezzanine Level, Jalan Setiabudi Selatan No. 7, Jakarta 12910
Telephone: 021 2966 9272 (Reservations highly recommended)
Dinner for Two
Food: Rp. 2,905,000
Drink: Rp. 359,000
Service: Rp. 326,400
Tax 10%: Rp. 359,040
Total: Rp. 3,949,440