Max Levy’s temple to modern Japanese cuisine is a sexy nerd – much
like the owner-chef himself – that puts
the big, flashy types to shame. Every
inch of the concept is super refined, but
small touches like the brass soybean
pod chopstick rests and cocktails like the Pickled Jew – Levy’s take on a bloody Mary featuring smoked
tomato-infused sochu and pickled okra
– remind you that buried beneath the
technical savvy and attention to detail,
Okra has a sense of humour.
The menu is a constantly shifting landscape, in equal part masterfully rearranged
classics and original Levy creations.
Taste and texture reign supreme at
Okra, from the cuts of sushi to the
Josper oven-roasted chicken thighs
and house-cured monkfish liver ‘foie
After an experiment with the preposterously named Traitor Zhou’s Kaifeng Nonkosher Delicatessen, Time Out
Food Award-winning chef Max Levy has returned to what he knows best at his new joint,Okra – and our taste buds couldn’t be happier.
Levy gained his stripes as the only non-Japanese sushi chef at acclaimed New York restaurant Sushi Yasuda and wowed Beijing’s diners with his heavily Japanese-influenced dishes at the now-closed Bei. With the small, fish-focused menu at Okra, he once again demonstrates his skill with the seemingly simple, yet fiendishly difficult to master, cuisine.
Tucked away on the second floor of a building in Sanlitun’s 1949 The Hidden City complex, Okra hasa décor that could easily have been lifted out of Tokyo: black leather,white walls and a naked concrete ceiling set a sleek, modern tone,without being too clinical. Levy’s quirky influence is present in Okra’s eclectic soundtrack, which flits between Cuban and hip-hop, and his imaginative and quirky cuisine, delivered by smiling waiters. Red tofu soup (40RMB) pours from a silver jug into a small bowl, into which micro slices of okra and smoked clams have been sprinkled. The thick, ochre-coloured soup represents the satisfyingly savoury taste of umami at its best – it’s just the right amount of savoury, as clams and okra soak up the juices while retaining bite, giving interesting bursts of texture.
Kanpachi and yuba (120RMB) is carpaccio slivers of ultra-thin, butter-soft mature yellowtail, served alongside fresh tofu skin in an enormous clay-and-porcelain dish which, although eye-catching, tends to emphasise the small portion. Soaked in ponzu, a tart, citrus-based sauce, the succulent yellowtail makes us consider ordering another, but the accompanying tofu skin is missable and only detracts from the fish.
By contrast, the yaki toro (150RMB) – a sizeable chunk of fatty belly meat from line-caught blackfin tuna, grilled and served on a dark grey slate slab with garlic and spring onion – had us abandoning our pride as we picked up our food to gnaw every last bit off the bone. For us, this was the standout dish, though the sushi, which can be ordered in combos or a la carte, came a close second. We plumped for the sushi ume (125RMB), which consists of maki and four pieces of nigiri, chosen by the chef to complement what we had already ordered.
Among our favourites from the range on offer were the sea bream and the scallop with a smidgen of lemon rind sprinkled on top. All the nigiri have a delicate layer of wasabi pre-spread between the fish and rice; a splash of soy is left under the pieces. No extra pot of soy or wasabi is served for the diner to dip as he pleases – that would run the risk of overpowering the fish. This is all from a chef who knows how pick out the finest cuts, and wants his diners to respect – and enjoy them – as he does.