enLIGHTenment – The Lighting Industry Trade Publication

Back Goes Forward

Joining creative forces once again, Studio Munge and Michelin-starred Chef Akira Back have set the stage for culinary excellence to shine.

An illuminated sushi bar, charred wooden walls, and a spiral sculptural staircase infuse unique soulfulness into Akira Back — Toronto’s newest, most-talked-about restaurant.

Situated in the city’s entertainment district on the second floor of the Bisha Hotel & Residences, Akira Back is a modern and glamorous expression of the Japanese dining experience. Designed by Toronto-based interior design firm Studio Munge, the 11th namesake restaurant under the Chef Akira Back brand is as trendy as it is luxurious, featuring bold design elements and innovative dishes

Strategically placed lighting accentuates the surfaces surrounding dining patrons without providing glare.

For more than two decades, Chef Akira Back has enticed the culinary world with his interpretations of Asian-American fare. His portfolio includes the famed Kumi Japanese Restaurant + Bar at Mandalay Bay and Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant & Lounge at Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, as well as concepts in Singapore, New Delhi, Dubai, and Bangkok, and more. Throughout his career, Chef Akira Back has participated in some of the culinary world’s most prestigious events and has been named “Best Chef in Las Vegas” by Las Vegas Weekly. Constantly striving to create the most unique dining experiences around the world, Back says he crafts, “world-class service in a welcoming environment.”

Here, Alessandro Munge – the Italian designer of Studio Munge who brought Akira Back’s latest restaurant to life – sheds light on the project’s most intimate details.

enLIGHTenment Magazine: How long did this project take to complete?

Alessandro Munge: Located on the second-floor restaurant of the newly built Bisha Hotel, Akira Back’s story began long before construction. The hotel – a dream venture of our long-term partner and client, Charles Khabouth – required a meticulous and creative approach that evolved over time. During the design process, our studio lived and breathed Bisha Hotel. We knew the type of worldly presence our client wanted to bring to Toronto and of the boundaries we were able to push to create something truly unique.

Ultimately, from ideation to opening day, it took more than seven years to bring Akira to fruition. The restaurant’s concept emerged through modernizing the expected while honoring Chef’s culinary expertise. By reimagining Japanese heritage, we were able to bring those design elements to new heights.


oining creative forces once again, Studio Munge and Michelin-starred Chef Akira Back have set the stage for culinary excellence to shine.


EM: How did Studio Munge and Chef Akira Back connect

AM: We first collaborated on Chef’s Las Vegas restaurant, KUMI Japanese Restaurant + Bar at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Kumi quickly became a hot spot for celebrities and socialites and showed what we were capable of.

After witnessing the growth of Chef’s own brand and Michelin-starred success, I was thrilled at the chance to again work with him. I knew he would be interested in creating something extraordinary.

EM: How would you best describe the atmosphere?

AM: We designed Akira Back as an emotive journey. The combination of modernized traditional details with our dynamic space planning feels as progressive and exciting as Chef’s cuisine.

EM: How important was it to incorporate Chef’s culinary background?

AM: Understanding a chef’s vision is absolutely necessary when designing a restaurant; the culinary artistry lays its foundation. The space and menu must complement each other in one holistic statement. Guests should feel as though the design and food were created in tandem.

Akira Back’s contemporary style fuses Korean flavors into Japanese cuisine. This inspired our modern interpretation of traditional Japanese elements such as the charred Shou Sugi Ban-inspired walls and the destination sushi bar which we encased in a glowing gold finish that’s illuminated by hidden backlighting.

EM: What other lighting was utilized?

AM: Akira Back’s lighting program features Eurolite pendants to illuminate our round banquettes and sushi bar; Tom Dixon pendants, which hang over the washroom vanities; and wall sconces that were fabricated by Toronto-based Anony Studio and designed by our in-house industrial design team. Strip lighting was also applied throughout.

Lighting played a critical role in accentuating the restaurant’s artistic details and dramatizing its bold contrasts. We purposefully controlled the lighting to lead guests through Akira Back in a way that would highlight our custom finishes.

The integrated cove lighting in the staircase reflects textured gold leaf; the pendants shine a spotlight onto leathered marble tabletops to reveal dimension; the wall sconces illuminate vividly expressive stone columns; and the backlighting wrapped around the golden sushi bar causes the metallic finish to permeate into the main dining space. Without these key lighting elements, Akira Back would not have the same impact that it does today.

EM: What is the restaurant’s best feature?

AM: The cove ceiling. It has a profound impact on the restaurant’s overall character. The ceiling is canvassed with abstract petals in various shades of indigo that frame a twisted, suspended mobile. Adding to the design, the hanging sculpture features a hand-painted watercolor print from Chef’s mother — one of her many appearances throughout the restaurant.

EM: What’s next for Studio Munge?

AM: I get excited thinking about our future! Studio Munge has evolved with such a talented team and the opportunities are endless. In the coming years, you’ll see several landmark projects come to life. We’ll be opening the first fully integrated Nobu Hotel & Residences and Restaurant in the heart of Toronto; a Park Hyatt Hotel in Los Angeles; as well as a Shangri-La Hotel and MGM Resort in China. 

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