Can we take a minute to admit something; Karachi has too many restaurants. The city is literally drowning in all kinds of eateries. Which is particularly ironic, and admittedly tragic, given the food insecurity that also pervades the city. Yes, yes, this is a happy article about Test Kitchen by Okra. But, I don’t think that celebration should necessitate ignorance. And those of us that have the pleasure of sampling Karachi’s thriving café and restaurant scene, should be vary. We are the few, and not the many.
(Just a thought; possibly you could look into supporting Khana Ghar. It’s a local charity that provides heavily subsidised food to those in need. Okay, now back to the review).
So, Test Kitchen by Okra. I had the opportunity to visit this little gem some time ago. A friend asked if I had been there yet. I revealed that I hadn’t been back in Karachi for a year, so no. She said it was pretty interesting. I said, I’m sure it is. She said, but there is a wait time. And I said, shrugging my shoulders I might add, how long could the wait time be?
Patience Is A Virtue…
If you haven’t heard about this place; here is a primer. It’s an initiative by the team behind the popular Okra, eatery. (Test Kitchen by Okra… get it?) Seating is limited, and food prep takes place in live view of the customers.
No, in fact, let’s rephrase that; food prep takes place in front of, right next to, and around the customers.
Interesting, you say. Very, I respond.
If only for the fact that amongst Karachi’s cacophony of charming cafés with delicious menus, this place stands out. Like an asphodel in a rosebush. See, roses are nice, but asphodels are edgy. Test Kitchen by Okra is nice, and also a bit edgy.
Take the wait time. Yes, the staff were perfectly lovely when they told me that I’d have to come back in forty-five minutes. At which point, they said, still smiling, that I’d probably get a table, because my name was now on…the list.
But, niceties aside, their unabashed expectation, that customers would wait their turn was infectiously confident. It stood out, in this deluge of immediate gratification, where the customer is always right. Even when she wants sushi at four in the morning. This little eatery is instead, expecting you to wait, expecting you to brave the delay and possible disappointment. Because, their confidence assures you, the food really is that good.
It’s a calling card and a half.
For instance, the Espresso across from them, where I spent the wait time, was perfectly passable. But, without that exclusivity, it also lacked that mysterious appeal.
When you finally get a table, the buzz is still not over. You’ll see chefs prepping away, waiters sliding past each other, and a glorious spread of baked goods. That last part was particularly enticing; it was practically calling my name.
Even as we edged into the crowded seating area, I was (mentally) salivating. And so, I did of course order something off the spread. A quiche Loraine and their chicken patesse, to be exact. And yes, you read that correctly. I did in fact venture into one of the fanciest eateries, and then order a pattesse. Also no, they didn’t list it down as a pithivier; they’re fancy, not pretentious.
So, was it worth the hype? Pretty much. The quiche was a particular standout. It was buttery, still warm from the oven, and each flavor was distinct, and delicious. The patesse, was not really the best variety that I’ve ever had. But then again, I have lived in Hyderabad, and at the risk of generalising; nothing can compete. But, it was still what I need a puff-pastry pie to be. Flaky, delicately savoury, with a rich filling.
This little taste of paradise would have been a decadently fitting end to my day. And yet, my companion insisted that I try their sandwiches.
Let There Be Bread!
Okay, so here’s the thing about sandwiches; if you’re going to do them, can you please do them well?
The team at Test Kitchen by Okra definitely heeded that plea. Their umami beef sandwich is a thing of beauty. Pure, well conceptualised beauty.
Wafer thin slices of succulent beef, topped with cheese and spicy crème fraiche, served in crumbly brioche. Never have I felt as truly unworthy, to be in the presence of food.
Like everything in this space, the sandwich too is meant to be shared. Or at least, that’s what the rather generous proportions signified for us. A single order, served us both really well.
Test Kitchen by Okra…An Experience And A Half
In fact, the whole outing served me really well. It was rather unexpected, because I didn’t know what I’d be going in to. And in a way, the surprise simply heightened the pleasure.
This is not a cheap venue by any standard. At just over Rs. 3000 for a sandwich, a tiny quiche and patesse, and two glasses of rather refreshing lemonade. But, as I said, the minds that conjured this place up are expecting you to make allowances. Because, and I don’t mind repeating myself, this place really is that good.