Karachi’s obscure, little, blue-doored restaurant tucked into one of the packed lanes of Zamzama, has established itself as arguably the best restaurant in Karachi if not Pakistan. We decided to visit Okra for a tasting of their winter menu, as it’s one of the few restaurants in town that has a menu which changes with every season.
Naturally, on a windy, winter day, we were eager to have a hearty lunch at Okra. Upon entering, our waiter greeted us with a smile, and took us to our table. Before receiving the menus, we were served a basket of assorted, warm breads, along with roasted garlic, chilli oil, and a mug filled with veggies. The assortment of bread included Focaccia, multi-seed bran bread, and a French baguette, among others. Okra’s bread basket is inarguably one of the best you’ll ever have in Pakistan.
We were then handed three menus – one was Okra’s staple menu, the other was their lunch menu, and the third was their specials – which is also considered their seasonal menu. We decided to stick to their specials in order to solely experience the winter treats.
For starters, we ordered the Potato and Fennel Soup, Drunken Mussels, and the Comté and Parmesan Cheese Soufflé (which needs to be ordered 20 minutes before serving time).
The Potato and Fennel Soup was a favourite out of the starters, and was perfect for the winter. The soup, which had a dollop of cream on it, was hearty with all the right flavours. I recommend having the soup without bread, as pairing it with bread subdues the great taste.
The Drunken Mussels on the other hand, didn’t give us the gastronomical high we were hoping for. Made with lemon zest, chilli flakes, and a ‘secret sauce,’ the mussels were chewy and lacked any real flavour apart from a not-so-tasty kick from the chili and ‘secret sauce.’
The Comté and Parmesan Cheese Soufflé was worth the wait. It was airy, and flavourful but a little bit goes a long way due to its rich taste.
The wait time between our starters and entrées was an excessive 40 minutes. I wish I could say it was worth the wait, but some of our entrées were below par, and did not meet our expectations of Okra. For our main course, we ordered Organic Chicken with Boursin Cheese and Kale, Squid Ink Risotto with Mussels and Calamari, Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce, and Penne with Prawns and Morel Cream Sauce.
The Penne and Bucatini were our favourites, as both were very fresh and had distinct flavours. The Penne pasta was served in a creamy morel sauce with a smooth velvety texture. The morels were rich in flavour but did not overpower the dish.
The Squid Ink Risotto with Mussels and Calamari on the other hand, was alarming in flavour. It seemed as if Okra got a little lazy here – all the meals were rich in a singular taste, that was not used to its advantage. For example, the risotto was drowning in squid ink, resulting in a taste that would be off-putting for even squid ink enthusiasts. The risotto was grainy, and was no match for the soft risotto served at Café Flo.
The Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce was served with rosemary and fresh tomatoes, and was a pleasant surprise after we had tasted several disappointing dishes. All the ingredients tasted fresh, and the flavours of rosemary, butter and tomato worked well together.
The Organic Chicken with Boursin Cheese and Kale was so unmemorable, that I nearly forgot to add it to this review. While the Boursin Cheese and Kale were a tasty pairing, the chicken itself was quite dry. We recommend sticking to Okra’s reputable steaks, instead.
The Passionfruit Soufflé was great in taste and consistency, but is a perfect example of Okra sticking to a uniform flavour in each dish, instead of pairing flavours together to create complexity in taste. Filled to the brim with passionfruit seeds, the soufflé was pleasantly tart and airy, but could have been improved with a dark chocolate pairing.
The chocolate lava cake did not disappoint. This is a dish that could succeed with one rich, uniform taste, as all lava cake lovers are looking for is a mouthful of chocolatey goodness.
Being our favourite restaurant in Karachi, we wonder what went wrong during our tasting at Okra. Is their usual menu better than their seasonal one? Does it have to do with the time of day? Sadly so many dishes – including fresh fig salads and duck – were not on the menu that day, which was additionally upsetting. We can only hope this experience was an exception, and not the rule because we’d love to visit again and come away with better memories!