Okra, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong

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Food: Opened in early 2016, Okra is a hip little izakaya that will surprise you with its artisan drinks and innovative small and large plates. At the ground level dining space – Okra Kitchen, full-bodied sake – mostly made from grains that are milled less for more robust flavours, is the ruling spirit. Hailing from Fukuoka, Okayama, Hyogo, Yamaguchi and Nagao, these unpastuerised sakes carry bouquets as diverse as buttery toasted coconut, lychee, hazelnut and chocolate or banana and yuzu. If you prefer lighter, more acidic sakes, Okra also offers an interesting selection of brews with hints of peach, green apple and tropical fruit.

Because the palette of the sakes here are pretty powerful, the menu consists of intensely flavoured modern Japanese dishes, with strong personalities that can stand up to and complement the rich notes of the alcohol. The food here is quite extra ordinary, and not anything you’d find in other izakayas or Asian-fusion restaurants in Hong Kong.

Chef Max Levy, who earned his stripes with  Okra 1949 and Traitor Zhou’s in Beijing, presents dishes such as smoked yuzu jam baby back ribs and home and aged quail marinated in a secret tatsuta sauce, crispy fried and topped with preserved ginger and spring onion. Aside from the perennial menu, Okra Kitchen also offers daily specials such as crispy pork belly in panko crust, oysters and bamboo over crispy sake rice, as well as ridiculously fresh and beautifully presently sashimi – cured New Zealand salmon with salted lime, black rockfish with sour plum, Japanese horse mackerel with yuzu kosho, cured saba, and samma with ginger and chive was what was on offer during my visit.

On the second level, is the smaller Okra Bar – a more private, reservation-only dining area that serves completely different fare – classical Japanese omakase.

Service: The small team here are friendly but unobtrusive. Knowledgeable about the food and drinks, they are happy to help guests decide on what to order. You can watch head chef Daniel Garner (who was Executive Chef at Nobu in Beijing) behind the bar counter, artfully slicing fresh fish sourced from Tsukiji and Fukuoka markets, and chat with him about what’s available for the evening.

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Must try: If you’re just dropping by for a drink, Okra Kitchen’s pickles and peanuts boiled in shao xing wine and dashi are satisfying and healthy snacks. Not to be missed is the deliciously refreshing Nigari Sai Tofu with Okra chili sauce and marinated cherry tomatoes. Handmade from salt and beans on site, the tofu’s texture is slightly grainy with an almost goat-cheese like creaminess.

Ambience: Inconspicuously located in a 1852 building that was the headquarters of the Sam Shui Native Association, the dimly lit Okra Kitchen has an stylish, yet unpretentious lounge-bar vibe. Designed by Sean Dix, the left wall of the long and narrow space is dominated by a surreal and funky mural by Japanese Indie artist Toshio Saeki. Music is part of the experience, so expect an eclectic playlist that includes bands like Beijing indie rockers Queen Sea Big Shark and American punk rock band Dead Kennedys.

You can sit either at a small, high-chaired table for two along this wall, or at one of the 12 bar stools in front of the open kitchen and watch Levy and Garner prepare the dishes. For special occasions, try Okra Bar on the second level – a futuristic and somewhat trippy space where guests sit at a white subway-tiled bar counter and watch their food being prepared. 

Average price per person: Okra Kitchen: HK$500-HK$800 with sake. Okra Bar: HK$880 per person for a set menu. Service charge is not included, so it’s up to you to tip your server.

Address: Okra. 1/F & 2/F, 110 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong. Tel: (852) 2806 1038

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