Okra

My day job as an advertising wonk provides me with a seat at the corporate end of the Hong Kong zeitgeist. It’s my job to keep an eye what’s hot in the lives’ of our city’s populous and use that information to sell them stuff they don’t really need. It’s from this vantage I’ve observed a slow but steady change in the things that represent the lives of young people.

Fashion, music and film are no longer the cultural accessories that youngsters cling to in order to promote their tastes and lifestyle. As such, it’s no longer particularly easy to judge a millennial book by its streetwear cover. If you encounter someone sporting a Thrasher t-shirt and neck tattoos they are as likely to be on their way to a Pentecostal bible reading as they are a sweaty punk rock concert.

To a large degree, I believe the existential pop-culture void has been filled by food. The restaurants we choose to frequent say far more about us than the way we dress or the music we listen to. This is no more evident than at Okra.

On the surface, a restaurant like Okra has an awful lot in common with, say, a restaurant like Little Bao. Both are narrow – verging on claustrophobic – informal spaces in the Western district that pride themselves on progressive culinary mixing and meddling. But, if you really want to understand the difference between the two establishments you shouldn’t look at the fixtures and fittings, or even the menu, you must look at the patrons.

Where Little Bao attracts faux-trendy Insta-foodies, the customers at Okra are genuinely cool. Albert Camus cool. Albert Camus drinking bourbon with Jack Kerouac cool. Albert Camus drinking bourbon with Jack Kerouac while Simone de Beauvoir sucks seductively on a thin cigarette cool. Albert C… anyway, you get the picture; the patrons are cool. Which is significant as it’s this as much as what’s on the plate that leaves a lasting impression.

In the case of Okra, cool begets cool and a virtuous circle of loyalty is created. A virtuous circle that has seen Okra fully booked since opening in 2016.  

But a review consisting exclusively of descriptions of the customers won’t go down well on OpenRice. So, here are a few sentences about the food. 

We started with a plate of dense tuna sashimi accompanied by bacon-flavored kale – which happens to be at the top of my favorite kinds of kale list (n.b. there’s only one entry on that list). It was a nicely put together dish; the rolled kale had the unusual texture of a magic flannel and the concealed salty bacon flavor contrasted with well with sploges of super sour yuzu.  

The next was a bowl of Brussels sprouts. Now I’ve eaten a lot of sprouts in the last year. They seem to have replaced fish balls as our city’s spherical food of choice. But these sprouts didn’t taste of sprouts – and as I think we can all agree, that’s no bad thing. These were sweet with a hint of sour. A sticky XO sauce tingled the back of your throat (and, owing to the small distance between patron and chef, left the room and your clothes with an airless pungency) and the occasional plump raisin burst with a syrupy tang.

We were then served slices of spicy sausage which were served with the restaurant’s eponymous vegetable. The caramelized sausages packed a real punch which contrasted wonderfully with the tangy, pickled fingers of okra.

The unassuming dish of day arrived next. A clay pot of nutty brown rice, black bean and black garlic was the bed of a resting piece of miso glazed fish. It was lovely.

As with many restaurants with proprietor chefs around my age, the music at Okra is bloody brilliant. The playlist thrashed its way through a transatlantic treasure trove of garage punk all evening (from an era in which music did dictate lifestyle), from Anthrax, through The Dead Kennedys, to The Rakes.

But despite the rolling, boisterous soundtrack, the momentum of our meal ground to a frustrating halt. We waited and waited and waited for a final dish of roasted beef love handle (chuck steak). When it arrived it was very nice but by that time we were past eating and we divided the meat with none of the passive aggressive selfishness that usual comes with sharing a great plate of food.

With sophisticated flavor, banging music and cool patrons, Little Bao for grown-ups is the most adept summary I can muster. But not just any grown-ups, Cool grown-ups. Cool grown-ups like… sod it, you get the picture, it’s cool.

How much? $828.00 for two

Where? 110 Queen’s Road West G/F, Sai Ying Pun

Who goes? I think we’ve established that

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