Review: what to expect from chef Akira Back's fine-dining menu for Vox Cinemas

The Korean-American chef brings his award-winning dishes to a cinema hall near you

The thought of brandishing chopsticks in the dark admittedly had me nervous – primarily for the safety of those around me. However, I was relieved to find the canapes crafted by Michelin-lauded Korean-American chef Akira Back for Vox Cinemas are served with extra-large toothpicks, while the mains and desserts come on oversized trays with forks and spoons.

These will be served at Vox Cinemas in City Centre Mirdif, Mall of the Emirates and Nakheel Mall in Dubai from September 26, and in Al Jimi Mall, Nation Towers, The Galleria Al Maryah Island and Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi from October 10.

Given that we eat with our eyes first, it’s still an unusual experience to dine on a gourmet meal in a darkened cinema. For one, it doesn’t feel familiar in the least. Despite the many options now available at the movies – from flavoured popcorn and loaded nachos to butter chicken pizza and red velvet milkshakes – you still have a general idea of what you’re about to taste before you put it in your mouth.

This is not the case with one-off dishes cooked up by a master chef, who is known for innovative flavour combinations and top-notch ingredients. Think nori paste, salmon belly aburi and quail's egg – so not exactly typical movie fare.

The a la carte menu is divided into appetisers, mains and desserts, orders for each of which have to be placed beforehand so they can be brought directly to your seats once the show begins.

Ranging from Dh55 to Dh90, the small bites are a good mix of vegetarian and non-veg options. These include: grilled romaine salad with herbed yoghurt dressing, aged balsamic and Parmesan; salmon tataki with mustard su-miso sauce and picked wasabi; creamy compressed spinach with roasted sesame dressing and rayu; vegan spider roll with enoki tempura, avocado, sweet soy and chipotle aioli; rock shrimp tempura with kochujang mayo and chives; and – Back’s personal favourite – crispy tofu with Korean chilli glaze.

Flavourful, if not exactly filling, the starters are representative of Back’s Korean-Japanese-American fusion cooking style – and the bite-sized portions that gourmet menus are known for. Seafood lovers will not regret sampling the Akira Back pizza with umami aioli, micro shiso, white truffle oil and tuna.

Mains are heartier. I try the angry chicken that, despite its name, comes with a mild sanpei sauce. Crunchy outside and tender within, the dish is a steal at Dh80.

At Dh90, the truffle rice clay pot with mushrooms, too, is a treat for truffle fiends and is a bestseller at the chef’s eponymous restaurant at W Dubai – The Palm, where it goes for Dh135.

The gourmet theme continues in the Dh45-a-pop dessert course; both the AB Cigar (chocolate cigar with lucuma mousse) and AB Kiss (yuzu, sable crumble, strawberry gelato) were finger-licking good.

The menu will be available in the “Theatre”, Vox’s luxury cinema concept – the one with the recliners, tray holders and plenty of stowage space on either side of the seats. I did find it useful to place my mocktail, served in a fancy martini glass, on a tissue rather than directly on the holder where the rapid condensation that glues glass and rubber together meant I dreaded dropping its sticky contents on my lap each time I picked it up.

And that’s the one niggle I have – the constant fear of dribbling an unseen sauce or a sneaky grain of cheesy rice right on or, worse, in my shirt (although I suppose it’s just as easy to ruin your clothes with a stuffed samosa or cream-filled doughnut).

This is not one for purist film buffs, either – the type who don’t like their viewing pleasure interrupted for anything, even a fine-dining meal. Efficient as they are, staff naturally need to converse with diners, to inform them what they’re about to eat, ask if they’re done eating or need anything else, and repeating the hushed words if they are inaudible the first time.

For the rest of us happy movie munchers, the Akira Back menu certainly elevates the cinema-going experience. Just don’t forget to paper-napkin every inch of exposed clothing.

Updated: September 24th 2021, 4:27 AM