26 May Okra, Hawthorn
Somewhat of a quiet achiever, Okra has actually been running for 15 years and is very popular with the locals, yet doesn’t seem to be quite as well known as it should be. Things are set to change, with Okra recently being awarded a chef’s hat in the 2016 Gault Millau guide.
Menus encompassing more than one cuisine tend to have a harder time excelling at everything, but Okra has been successfully serving Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesian dishes side by side. Sunday nights are when Malaysian hawker dishes like popiah and roti canai come out to play, and it’s been an institution since they first opened. Head chef Michael Tiu has been in the kitchen for the entirety of Okra’s life, and given Okra’s accolades, he must be doing something right.
Cassava crackers kick off the night. Looking at first glance like prawn crackers, they have a denser, crunchier texture and are enjoyed with homemade sambal. The fiery spectacle of the tangy oysters comes next. Baked with a tangy salsa involving lemongrass and ginger, the juicy sea treasures are happily consumed.
We also sample the ever-popular spicy salt and pepper calamari and sate sapi dan ayam, char-grilled beef and chicken skewers with peanut sauce. We’re amazed by how large and delicious the filo-wrapped king prawns are. Strands of pastry shatter all over the table as we take each crunchy bite.The prawns are particularly delectable with the subtle wasabi mayonnaise.
One of the specials available at the moment are the Blue Swimmer crabs with Malaysian-style chilli crab sauce. The meat is tender and expertly cooked, but despite the name, the sauce is more sweet than spicy. We’re provided with roti to go along with the crab, and whilst it’s still a good vehicle for the sauce, it’s not quite as elastic or crispy as I’d like.
Ayam bakar, grilled chicken, is done Indonesian style at Okra. It’s perfectly cooked and possesses the lovely flavour and aroma of charred meat. There’s the incredibly tender twice-cooked black pepper duck with champignons, and the Pla Sam Rod makes quite an entrance too, the whole crispy snapper partnered with tamarind, chilli, onion and garlic.
One of my personal favourites is the Gulai Kambing. The creamy coconut lamb curry is fragrant, and the lamb is mouth-wateringly tender. We try their namesake vegetable fried with tumis balachan – chilli shrimp paste and fried shallots. There’s a slight sweetness in the dish, and the texture of the okra is just the way I like it. People fall in love with Okra’s fragrant coconut rice, and we’re no exception. It’s moreish and matches well with many of the dishes.
We end with the dessert platter, which features sticky black rice with custard and drizzled in a palm sugar syrup, sago pudding topped with gula melaka and coconut cream, seasonal fruits, and a variety of ice cream, on this occasion, durian, coconut and green tea. The custard has a caramel flavour that jazzes up the chewy black rice, and the little pearls of the sago pudding easily separate in the mouth as the tongue crushes them against the palate.
Okra has its loyal customers and has earned its Gault Millau hat for good reason. Management is always looking for ways to improve and satisfy, and with bubbly front of house service from Freddie you can be sure of a lively meal out.
Okra is featured in this year’s edition of the Entertainment Book, where you can receive 25% off your total bill. 20% of every membership sold through this link will contribute to fighting child poverty with Compassion Australia!
Disclaimer: I was invited to Okra as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own and not influenced by them in any way
159 Camberwell Rd
Hawthorn East, VIC, 3123
(03) 9813 1623