Located in a side street off bustling Zamzama, Okra has quietly made a name for itself in the years since its inception.
Okra was set up by in the '90s by Ayaz Khan and it swiftly redefined what fine dining was all about. Having experienced what the restaurant is now it comes as a surprise that Okra faced a lot of uncertainty around its opening, as Khan reveals: “In the beginning I was frightened to run my own restaurant. Working at hotels wasn’t satisfying enough.”
Khan didn't know how to express his frustration until he came to recognize his love for food. It was then that he realized opening a restaurant where he set his own standards was the only way forward.
With Okra's constantly changing menu and experimentation with ingredients and recipes, it never fails to impress its spectators. Over the years, it has perfected the art of cooking and plating. To maintain this perfection, Khan has made no compromise in his struggle to provide Karachites with cooking that truly deserves a Michelin star.
Behind the scenes in Okra's kitchen
When I entered Okra on the day I was to explore its kitchen, bright walls guided me to a food paradise that I was really excited about. What stood out most as soon as I entered the kitchen was how clean the place was. “People wearing slippers are not allowed in the kitchen, there is undeniably no compromise on hygiene,” says Khan.
An average day in Okra kitchen starts bright and early at 8 in the morning. This is the time when staff is starting preparatory services, fetching fresh vegetables and poultry goods. If one enters kitchen at this time, they can get a whiff of some mouth-watering bread in the making.
All dishes prepared in Okra’s kitchen are simple, as Mediterranean cuisine is meant to be. And that is why Mediterranean herbs and good olive oil is the base to Okra’s food and the eatery strives on making sure their food isn't unnecessarily processed.
The restaurateur shares, “We don’t want to use the freezer that much because it dehydrates food; we want our patrons to enjoy fresh, wholesome food. Nothing is pre-prepared, only rice and soup.”
The key to success: a reliable team to lean on?
One often overlooks the amount of hard work that goes into training chefs; the staff has to be trained from scratch, a process which could take up to two or three years.
Khan mentions, “It gets difficult when a trained chef leaves because it is equal to wasting years of one’s precious time and knowledge.”
Upon speaking to the head baker, Abdul Hassan, Okra's efficiency became apparent right off the bat. 'Mis en place' was the first word that came out of Hassan’s mouth; a French word which means putting in place.
Being the head baker he makes sure all breads are produced impeccably.
Knowing that breads are often outsourced in other restaurants, Okra has carved out a place for itself on the basis that they bake their flawless collection of breads in-house; from scones to Ciabatta, French Baguette, Olives Tapenade, Focaccia, Multi Seed Bran Bread, you name it. All these freshly baked breads are available anytime at ones doorstep by ordering online on www.okra.com.pk.
Clearly, Okra is not cutting corners or compromising on service, leading them to price their food on the expensive end.
Ghulam Rasool, sous-chef (the second in command in a kitchen) at Okra holds a lot of responsibility in the kitchen. From staff schedules to getting menus ready, Rasool does it all. On the other hand, Mukesh (head chef) is one of the oldest chefs at Okra. Comparing the kitchen team to a cricket team, Mukesh tends to gauge staff members by weighing out their strengths and weaknesses.
A journey for the senses
Okra succeeds in stimulating sense of taste and smell through their flawless food; it reiterates how important other senses are in contributing to a satisfactory food experience.
Food has to taste good; otherwise we won’t consume it no matter how interesting it may look or sound. And this is what Okra accomplishes, by delivering an absolute treat to our palates. I can attest to that. having tried their New Zealand mussels in Red Wine vinegar, Garlic and Parsley.
Considering food from an artist’s perspective, it deals with the idea of a relationship between the dish, the creator and the diner and the framework in which those three interact.
Okra's presentation of it's food is modest yet elegant. Not only are the dishes pleasing to one’s eyes but also the taste buds. We must embrace the sense of taste but also keep an eye out for the emerging hybrid art form of food at Okra, which enables foodies to experience taste and smell aesthetically.
Upon trying their Fillet Steak with Tipsy Mushroom and Roasted Blue Cheese Potatoes, I was just focused on the moment, the sudden explosions of flavour in my mouth, savouring every bite of the perfectly tender meat, which paired with roasted blue cheese potatoes was absolutely divine.
When offered some scones with clotted cream and jam by Mr. Khan, one couldn’t help but jump at the chance to try them out, going on to discover just how delicious and moist those scones were. With a divine combination of clotted cream and freshly made strawberry jam, it was a marriage made in heaven.
Aromatic food and fancy dessert courses to match, this food heaven could persuade a few of you to reach deep into your pockets to splurge on a fine-dining experience that will stay with you long after you've left the restaurant.