Max Levy is one of Beijing’s most renowned chefs. After having run the Opposite House’s Bei for several years, he recently opened Okra in the 1949 Hidden City in Beijing.
After working at various restaurants, in hotels, and having set-up a delicatessen, Levy opened Okra 1949 in summer 2013. This his first independent restaurant, and gives him the opportunity to not only focus on cooking the way he likes, but also to influence the entire concept.
Whilst attention to detail was one of the defining features of Bei, which Levy ran until 2012, Okra 1949 takes a similar approach to the experience. The service, room, crockery, and drinks all help creating a sophisticated, yet relaxed atmosphere. Most of the decorative elements, and tableware have been designed for the restaurant, which only shows that this is a place that cares about creating a complete experience for its guests.
The food at Okra is centred on seafood and fish. Levy does serve David Blackmore’s beef (which is aged for up to three months), but most of the menu is dedicated to the sea. His sushi taken apart, Levy’s cooking is unusual. He will combine products in ways that push the boundaries, without necessarily resorting to technical gadgets. The results often are unique dishes that have very characteristic flavour profiles.
Whilst the majority of the food here is terrific, some of Levy’s dishes don’t quite work. A dish of okra and fava beans is such an example. It is served cold, and the elements merge into an indefinite blend of flavours. Much better is a dish that exemplifies Levy’s cooking: raw yellowtail with tofu skin, ponzu, and garlic. Served in the restaurant’s specially made Jingdezhen porcelain, this is a plate that manages to bring together strong flavours with the delicate fish without overpowering the latter. The combination of the ponzu dressing, soft-textured fish, and firm tofu skin makes this a captivating plate of food.
Where Okra really comes into its own, however, is with sushi. This is what makes the restaurant stand out. Levy’s sushi is characterised by rice that is liberally seasoned, cooked so that it retains a hint of firmness, and some of the finest fish in Beijing. With the exception of Yotsuba, eating sushi of this quality is impossible in China’s capital.
Okra 1949 is one of the most exciting restaurants to have opened in Beijing since Mio. It serves food that is unlike anything else in the city. Even if it is early days for this restaurant, it looks like it will become one of the best in Beijing very quickly.