Ever felt like you’ve entered a new world just by walking up two steps? That’s Okra Test Kitchen – a small off-shoot of Okra, one of Karachi’s most loved fine dining restaurants.
Okra’s well known for pushing the boundaries and creating fancy phoo-phoo food. But it’s also homey, organic and comforting. Many uncles and aunties would say, 1000 Rupees for an “anday ka omelette” isn’t worth it, but with the younger lot, knowing the main guy, Vincent, and getting a table for Sunday Brunch is equal to hanging out with Kareena Kapoor in London.
Okra Test Kitchen doesn’t have that kind of pressure. A very small place, with three, four tables, it’s walk-in only. And when you walk in, take a deep breath.
It smells like Paris, freshly baked bread, croissants, soft music, the soft clinking of cutlery, the bright light streaming in from the large window. Breathe it all in and take the corner table.
Some of the most enviable Instagram moments are images of small cafes, on bright sunny days, scintillating conversation, softly munching on bread. That’s what Okra Test Kitchen has managed to achieve. A place that sings Europe with such authenticity that you feel like you’re on vacation. It’s okay if you’ve come out in your lounge pants and you really don’t know Vincent. But the thing is, you don’t need to.
The menu hangs on the wall, the chefs greet you from the small, makeshift kitchen, cooking right there, baking right there. You order right where the menu hangs, you ask for a coffee from the coffee machine you can see.
If you make it to heaven, you’ll ask for an Okra Test Kitchen croissant. If you live outside Karachi, you’ll take boxes with you because you won’t find it anywhere else. You’ll never say this out loud but you know that Parisian croissants have nothing on the incredibly soft, flaky, crunch of the Karachi Croissant. You’ll ask for more, and if it’s not your day, they’ll be sold out.
The scrambled eggs are moist and fluffy, slow-cooked but without much comfort. The maritozzo, a sweet Utalian brioche bun, filled with cream, is light but doesn’t do much for the Pakistani palette, except making you start to count calories. However, the Portuguese custard tarts are sweet and delightful, joy filled in their crust.
Okra Test Kitchen is all about the bread, the pastry, the croissants, and there is nothing else like it in Pakistan. The food is above average, (pushed up by The Forbidden Croissant) and strongly elevated by the atmosphere it has so flawlessly created. You ignore that the place is so small, you’re bound to knock off one of the bottles, precariously resting on a shelf on the wall, causing a rather embarrassing stir, promising to pay for it but not having to in the end. You ignore that sometimes you’ll walk in and never get a place to sit but are willing to wait a good hour just so you can stay there and breathe. You will go back, week after week, just so you can step into a different universe, one that promises a mini vacation for an hour or two. It’s an hour or more, of first world peace, before you step back into the grime of Karachi, relishing the time when you could get away and be transported to the streets of Europe.