Okra Hong Kong
Date of review: March 4, 2016 | Reviewed by: Wilson Fok
Okra is housed within a modest building near Sai Ying Pun, a quiet buffer between the busy restaurant strip of Hollywood Road and Kennedy Town. The fluorescent signage is hard to miss, as it’s the only establishment of its kind in the area, standing out with its tiled flooring, sleek grey tones and minimalist design. At the elongated dining area, guests can enjoy a full view sitting at the bar, which doubles as the show kitchen where chef Max Levy prepares dishes while interacting with guests. There is standing room on the other side of the restaurant, but they prove to be a challenge for diners when the restaurant is full – expect to literally rub elbows with your neighbours.
Despite the name, there is no okra on the a la carte menu, but plenty of ocean catches to choose from. Split into two sections, the part listed as “A-side” brings lighter starters while B-side offerings come in larger portions and more vibrant flavour combinations. “Bafuni” (bafun uni) and smoked anchovies showcase creamy sea urchin atop tender fillets of white anchovies and shredded tofu pouches. The umami-rich starter is especially great with zingy shavings of salted buddha’s hand citron. Roasted ankimo is a winner. The ankimo, or monkfish liver, is a winter specialty which is as tender and soft as an excellent foie gras. Having been soaked in sake and arriving sizzling hot on a bed of sweet potato slices, the liver is expertly seared and oozes creaminess in every bite.
Chicken-fried buri has no chicken in it. The buri, or wild yellowtail, is coated with a thin batter similar to that of Japanese fried chicken then deep-fried until crunchy and golden brown. The crystal sauce served alongside is tangy with some heat to it, together with freshly grated daikon radish to cut through the richness.
Kanzuri pastrami takes beef chuck tail flap that is slow-cooked in an ume-infused broth until tender. The thick meat cut is tender, and we love the slight tartness from the broth. Aside from the main menu, the specials written on the wall are equally wonderful – the roasted eel with rice is outstanding. Rich slices of eel set atop rice that has caramelised into a thin crust on the outside while the juices from the eel seeps into the soft bed of rice underneath. Look for daily specials from the board panels near the entrance.
The refreshing flavours from the menu offerings may be good with a few crisp whites, but Okra offers a list of sakes that are diverse and impressive pairing to the dishes. The Sohomare Kimoto Tokubetsu Honjozo is dry on the palate, and a good start to the meal and an outstanding match with the appetisers and salads. The Kaze No Mori Nama Akitsuho Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai down the list is brewed with Akitsuho rice, with a rare yet refreshing aroma of dried yuzu peel and fresh bamboo. The body is strong enough to stand against more prominent flavours from roasted monkfish liver dish as well as roasted eel with rice. All sakes come in bottles as well as by the glass portion at about 100ml per serving.
The Okra experience begins with email reservations, which are only available for the 6pm slot when guests must order the restaurant’s tasting menu. The restaurant opens for walk-ins at 8:30pm until late, where only a la carte dishes are served. The rules may be clear but they are not easily carried out as we needed to wait an extra 30 minutes outside for the later session even though tables were freed up. The staff bears excellent knowledge in everything on food and drink menu, including background information for wines and sakes and ingredients’ origins and methods of preparation. Despite limited seating Okra seems short-staffed at times but once you catch their attention service is helpful and friendly.
A casual dinner for two with one glass of sake amounts to HK$1,200. The restaurant earns praise for its fine execution and pairing in seasonal ingredients and execution of dishes, but there is room to improve on service and its reservation system.