Okra Restaurant Review by J Sheikh
Well what can one say in opening when writing about Okra. Okra is a Karachi institution. An oasis for the well heeled foodie. It serves its purpose from a social climber’s curiosity to a genuine food lover’s nirvana. An anomaly in an otherwise bland and unimaginative landscape of restaurants that pride brawn over content. Lovingly tendered to by its magnanimous owner Ayaz Shah, it remains as a standard for destinations in the city. Starting out in 1999 as a modest luncheon serving eatery for the working man on the go it has evolved now into its final destination: Pakistan’s finest restaurant.
Nestled in Zamzama’s increasingly congested 10th lane one cannot be overtly impressed with the exterior. Modest and with an understated old world charm with the signature green trims on the wooden doors and windows against the whitewashed walls. As you walk in you realize right away that this is a small dining room. There may be a maximum of 20 to 25 covers downstairs with an additional 12 to 15 upstairs at one time. The atmosphere is cozy. There’s a certain very upscale ‘Cheers’ atmosphere to the place. A place where either everybody knows your name or if they don’t, they sure would like to. Heads turn as you walk in and are seated. Pleasantries are exchanged. Glasses are lifted in acknowledgment. The narrow room has an angular view of the open kitchen where several chefs in full garb busy with themselves with flourishes and flambees. The seating is polite enough yet you are close enough to your fellow diners to enjoy close conversation.
It would not be a disservice to say that the menu at Okra has a Mediterranean feel to it. As you read up and down the menu you realize that the entrees are meticulously described and to a trained eye and pallet you can easily know what to expect. The menu has a rolling feel to it and there is not a compulsion to adhere to a monotonous starter/main/ dessert formula. On this night my guests and I decided to eat in a tasting menu style where we ordered several starters and mains and asked the waiter to allow them to arrive one after the other. Initially we are served breads. Fresh baked flaky rolls and olive foccacias arrive with helpings of red chilies in oil, butter, and oil and balsamic. We refrain from overdoing the carbs knowing the veritable feast that awaits us. A signature bowl of Okra’s mixed veggies with a dip also arrives. Diced spring onions, beetroot, and cucumber. After we order and get to into our chinwag the first two starters arrive, Portobello and sunblushed d tomato salad & Ricotta and a sautéed scallops dish with what looks like pomelo. I don’t see it on the menu but one of my fellow diners knows it as an off the menu offering. The leafy salad is adorned with 2 or 3 different greens. The major flavor is that of a rocket. The tomatoes are truly sunblushed and not sundried, which I find to be overpowering and a fad that’s outlasted it’s welcome. The ricotta is fresh and gooey, not flaky. The salad is dressed with with and oil based dressing. On the whole it’s very pleasant and our pallets are truly ready for what follows. The scallops are small, fresh, and very tasty. Very simply sautéed. I’m a huge fan of pomelo and think that they work very well with the scallops. The combo of the two flavors is subtle and combines effortlessly. We are then delivered our next orders of Smoked Trout with Apple and Horseradish Cream and the lovingly named French Beach Crab Cakes. The trout is folded onto bite size helpings and lies on croutons with the horseradish and other flavors folded within. They are little pops of flavor. Again, I’m quite partial to smoked trout and the horseradish and hint of apple is spot on. Loving it. The French Beach crab cakes are cutlet sized fried ovals. They are crumbly and flaky and have a little bite to them. Red chilies burst out in flavor and the mayo diffuses it all into a lo