On occasion, eating in Hong Kong can remind you that you really don’t know the first thing about cuisine. A bewildering array of ingredients and techniques, the weirder the better, seems to ensure that a clear line remains between the mere dining mortals and the gods in the kitchen.
But I guess it has to be this way to retain a certain sense of mystique, to enable dishes and dinners to be discoveries, even if the majority of a menu feels completely unfamiliar. Ruminations on this came following an invitation to Okra in Sai Ying Pun. To be precise, upstairs, at Okra Bar. Here the menu under chef Max Levy is omakase only, meaning he chooses the dishes. He also chooses the excellent soundtrack that they share via their Spotify playlist on their website. Others (with decent taste in music) should follow suit.
Dinner was sometimes brilliant, occasionally baffling, but always an education. Sadly a computer meltdown lost much of my hard drive and subsequently photos, but these are what I could salvage.
Koji are cooked soya beans inoculated with a fermentation culture called Aspergillus oryzae. It’s a naturally-occurring culture, which explains why so many Japanese foods have been developed over the centuries using it, including soya sauce, miso, mirin and sake.
Milky yuba (sheets of bean curd) with olive oil and wood sorrel was sublime, especially on the first of many beautiful plates. Wood sorrel has a distinctive lemon taste to it which complemented the slippery sheets.
Sea urchin à la mode, namely with sea water foam, jelly, powder, ice and lemon juice. I can’t say I rustle up much sea water foam at home, so this was another new one on me, but it was a triumph, albeit a slightly bonkers one.
Yari ika or cuttlefish was clean and simplicity in a bite:
Akamutsu or bluefish was suggested with salt and lemon, spot prawn sushi with ku gua (bitter melon) vinegar and brown kombu (seaweed) salt. Hokkigai, i.e. Arctic surf clams (now there’s a name for a punk band), preceded aged otoro which was, of course, sensational: the creamiest, oiliest and fattiest supreme cut of tuna belly. My favourite cut was the unagi kuro sushi, or eel with charcoal salt.
Towards the end, more lovely bowls for the maitake mushroom, lotus seed and burnt lime dashi, which was brilliant. Dashi is the stock of the gods, but this was from Mount Olympus.
Finally Pione grapes (the huge ones which cost a fortune in CitySuper) came with a smoked tofu cream to round off an intriguing and rewarding dinner.
The omakase menus run $800 or $1600 while sake and natural wine pairings run another $600 on top. There are two seatings at 6.30 and 8.30, booking & prepayment is essential and is only available via www.okra.bar – interestingly it’s the only Hong Kong restaurant invited to use the Tock booking system, founded by Nick Kokonas, partner of Grant Achatz’s legendary Alinea. I’m not sure if Hong Kong is ready yet for prepayment, given the propensity for people to book multiple tables in different restaurants on the same night. But if this method stops them doing that, then great, because it royally shafts the industry.