This is going to be a big year for Akiba Dori, the modern Japanese street food joint in Dubai famous for its Tokyo-Neapolitan pizzas.
The restaurant, which has been serving its freshly baked pies since its launch almost three years ago, has some major expansion plans in the pipeline.
This includes a new branch in the capital, which is scheduled to open mid-2021. Although the exact date is yet to be announced, founder Samer Hamadeh says it will be before September.
“Conversations for an Abu Dhabi branch started well before the pandemic and got delayed because of everything that was happening.
"But we’ve always wanted to expand to Abu Dhabi. We have a lot of regulars who drive all the way down, so we definitely have a client base there. We were just looking for the right location, something central, with other like-minded concepts.”
This central location turned out to be Yas Bay, a new development by Miral, also scheduled to open this year. Akiba Dori will be “right on the pier”, says Hamadeh, ensuring diners get some gorgeous sunset and water views with their meal.
The menu will also feature the signature Tokyo-Neapolitan pizzas, as well as some dishes that are exclusive to the Abu Dhabi branch.
“We are going to maintain 75 per cent of the regular menu, but 25 per cent will be something completely new that we haven’t done anywhere else,” Hamadeh confirms.
Meanwhile, one can expect the interiors to stay true to its retro-modern vibe inspired by Tokyo’s neon-filled electronics district.
There might also be a few new elements, including a potential ice cream parlour or a sushi bar instead of the bakery, but plans are still up in the air.
“I have so many ideas. I want to pick the elements that will be best received by customers in the branch.”
Also in the pipeline is a branch set to open in Saudi Arabia in May, before Abu Dhabi. This will be the second Akiba Dori outlet, and will launch in The House Hotel Jeddah.
“We’re going to be focusing more on coffee there, with a proper coffee bar,” says Hamadeh. “Saudi Arabia has a huge coffee culture, so we hope it will be big there.”
Not one to quit while he’s ahead, Hamadeh also has another Dubai branch scheduled to open by the end of 2021. No more details have been revealed about this yet, except that it will be in a beach-side venue.
What is Tokyo-Neopolitan pizza, anyway?
While a lot of restaurants love to boast about having the most authentic or traditional cuisine, Hamadeh says he always planned to go another way.
“In my experience, I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to have a traditional restaurant outside of the country where it’s from. What I wanted to create right from the beginning was a Japanese restaurant for people who have never been to Japan. I wanted it to appeal to people who wanted comfort food and affordable luxury.”
So, when he heard about the concept of Japanese pizza, he was hooked. “The dough is lighter, it’s been fermented for more than 24 hours. It’s basically an Italian pizza, made using Japanese techniques. Most of our ingredients come from Italy, although we do get some special ones from Japan.”
The special dough also cooks in under one minute in the large Japanese wood-fire oven.
“It’s an unusual concept. Even the design of the restaurant doesn’t look like a typical Japanese establishment,” says Hamadeh.
“In some ways, it’s built for the social media generation. That’s not to say that it’s for people to take pictures, but it’s for people who are so used to scrolling and seeing new things. I wanted to create a restaurant that won’t let people get bored.”