The world-renowned chef is bringing his MICHELIN magic to the capital.
Saudi Arabia is brimming with celebrity chefs. One name hoping to make their mark on the capital is internationally acclaimed chef Akira Back. He has opened a new restaurant in Riyadh – Namu – which looks set to be a popular dining destination.
Namu Korean BBQ is located in The Esplanade and allows diners to take on the role of a chef, grilling their own meals (should they choose). The two-storey space offers a charming downstairs dining room where gleaming copper exhausts tower over sizzling tabletop barbecues, and the seating segues between comfortable leather booths and chairs upholstered in gold, with swanky shoji-inspired dividers offering privacy. Upstairs, a towering terrace littered with picture frames provides views over the buzzing Prince Turki Bin Abdulaziz Al Awal Road.
Drawing inspiration from Korea, the menu at Namu boasts freshly prepared meats, seafood, vegetables and traditional Korean dishes. However, the focus remains firmly on the meat, which guests are encouraged to grill to their preference.
Namu is great for groups, as the concept revolves around sharing and interactive cooking. It's a novel idea for the Kingdom, resulting in a packed restaurant when FACT visits for a weekend lunch. We begin with the Mandu (SAR 49), a bulbous dumpling that is part fried and generously stuffed with shrimp and chicken, offering a moreish mouthful. More interesting is the Egg Soufflé (SAR 35) served in a hot stone bowl. The soft texture of the fluffy egg appears to float like a cloud, and when combined with oozing cheese, it becomes an elevated all-day treat.
The menu also covers Korean Fried Chicken (SAR 49) coated in an alluring honey garlic sauce; Sundubu Jjigae (SAR 45), a seafood soup with tofu and egg that is unafraid to ramp up the spice levels; and Dolsot Bibimbap (SAR 55), a hot stone rice bowl with mixed vegetables, beef bulgogi, egg and bibimbap sauce – an authentic Korean delicacy.
Most diners at Namu come to grill, and the restaurant offers several packages that range from the Chicken Sampler (SAR 119) to the Beef Sampler (SAR 139) and Premium Seafood Sampler (SAR 159). Whatever your protein or preference, Namu has you covered.
Under the tutelage of Executive Chef William Rusli, we worked our way through the Premium Galbi Sampler, which features rolled brisket, premium ribeye, and marinated galbi (ribs) served with ssam (wraps) and banchan (condiments). It's a fun and sociable way of eating, with each cut of beef topping the next in terms of flavour and quality. When firing up the grill at Namu, there is little need for seasoning and sauces as the meat requires little embellishment – a testament to the quality of the product.
Do not leave Namu without trying their unique take on the milk-based Korean shaved ice dessert, Bingsu. Created by Executive Pastry Chef Sharon Augustine, the offering ranges from a strawberry cheesecake and toasted meringue iteration to a tasty tiramisu topped with cardamom-infused Saudi coffee rather than the expected Italian espresso.
Akira Back has restaurants across the globe, including Bangkok, Las Vegas, Paris and Singapore. In 2018, he was awarded a MICHELIN Star for his restaurant Dosa in Seoul. Plus, he has restaurants opening in Bali, London and Rome.
Namu marks Akira's second opening in the Kingdom, following the launch of the upmarket Chinese restaurant Dasha earlier this year. In 2024, he will open the elevated concept AB Steak House and a branch of Akira Back in Riyadh's Diplomatic Quater.
For now, it's time to fire up the capital and try your hand at Namu's tabletop barbecues. If you're looking for an interactive and social dining experience, there's nothing else quite like it in the capital.
Namu is open Sunday to Wednesday from 5pm to 1am, and Thursday to Saturday from 1pm to 2am.