Just two minutes away from Sheung Wan Cooked Food Centre in Sai Ying Pun is Okra Hong Kong, a little slice of Japanese paradise created by award-winning New Orleanian chef Max Levy. Despite following that tradition, the dishes are anything but traditional, so you can forget about uni sushi and soft shell crab hand rolls! We tried out the a-la-carte signatures at this unconventional Japanese eatery and never looked back. Here’s the low down.
The restaurant has two stories, the downstairs serving up a-la-carte sharing dishes, and the upstairs serving only an omakase-style tasting menu, sans menu – the true Japanese way.
Though Okra’s first branch was established in Beijing, the Hong Kong concept carries the same eccentric yet traditional Japanese atmosphere, with minimal concrete and wooden furnishing that really lets the food take the spotlight. The chef’s playfulness shows through the décor, with a giant surreal (and slightly erotic) painting by Toshio Saeki along the main wall downstairs, while the more formal upstairs echoes the interior from Beijing – with their iconic Okra patterned panels.
An open kitchen lined by a long bar table downstairs means you get to have front row seats to the kitchen all night long, and the mix of feet-pounding punk rock music in the background gets you ready to amp up the evening.
Okra is all about sharing plates, but the menu does come with two sides. The A-sides are small plates while the B-sides are heartier and bigger dishes – or mains in a way.
We started with the Nigari Sai Tofu ($88HKD) – a plain dish bursting in flavours from the handmade tofu, Okra chilli sauce, and some zingy marinated cherry tomatoes.
Next came the Smoked & Salted Anchovies and Bafuni ($160HKD). At first glance it may look like a simple uni dish, but the true stars of the dish are the anchovies and salted ‘Buddhas hand’ citrus, while the rich and creamy uni acts as the soft end note in this savory bowl of goodness.
Dishes like the Crispy Brussels Sprouts with O.K. Sauce ($58HKD) and Hentai Quail Tatsuta ($108HKD) – or crispy fried quail, really show off Levy’s creativity and skills, using relatively ordinary ingredients to create unexpected tastes and visuals. A favourite at our table was the Unakyu Foie Gras ($238HKD), which pairs fresh water eel together with honey miso duck liver for an unlikely but daring pair.
The desserts are no exception to the playfulness. There are only two choices on the menu, and we recommend trying both. First is the cookie in a pot, or the Uji Matcha Cookie Boy ($68HKD), a belly warming rendition of Cookie Boy’s green tea and red bean cookie covered in smoked cream and lemon salt. The second, the Roasted Custard Banana ($48HKD) was looked uninspiring but was a very satisfying sweet treat, with soy salt providing an unforgettable umami flavour.
As Okra is such a small restaurant, the service was easily personable and warm. It is always hard to grasp the balance between not being invasive and just plain cold, but this was a perfect performance. Someone worth noting is their sake sommelier George, who understands sake like the back of his hand, and can guide anyone, from newbies to junkies, to the right bottle (or glass) for the dish or the evening.
We can’t say much about the sushi bar upstairs, but even if we didn’t come back for the a-la-carte menu downstairs, we’d be back for the amazing sake collection (bubbly sake anyone?). Okra is a solid choice if you’re looking for an out-of-the-box Japanese experience that delivers amazing flavours in small bites.
G/F, 110 Queen's Rd West, Sai Ying Pun
+852 2806 1038
Written by Karen Chiang