Cumbria is an interesting place for food. It has more Michelin starred places to eat than any other county. It has some fantastic, cosy pubs – whether you fancy pub grub or something more fancy.
But it isn’t necessarily that diverse.
This make’s Oka’s arrival on the scene all the more welcome. It offers street-food-style plates to the dozen or so groups of people lucky enough to grab a table in the tiny restaurant.
After hearing some very good reports, Charlotte and I managed to bag a table for the Saturday lunchtime before Valentine’s Day. If love wasn’t already in the air, the food would soon have your heart racing.
The menu is a mix of Japanese classics and other perhaps lesser-known Asian options, all put together with intelligence to offer something for all. This means that not only do you get sushi, ramen, and gyozo, but also nduja prawn toast, Vietnamese chicken wings and more.
We arrived to take the last available table, and were delighted by the warm welcome we received, along with Teddy, who was keen to see where we’d taken him today. Our waitress explained the menu and was very helpful in offering her tips on how and what to order.
We plumped for the day’s special – a bento box filled with treats, supplemented by a main of Korean belly pork and the day’s gyoza special – duck.
The food was served as it was cooked, and this meant that you were presented with a steady stream of fresh, delicious items.
The bento box might be new to Cumbria, but the concept is increasingly well known. After all grazing menus, tapas and bar bites are springing up on menus all the way up and down the M6.
In the Oka take, you get a mix of their tastier menu options. Ours included sashimi and sushi rolls, filled bao, teriyaki beef and sticky rice, seaweed salad and the aforementioned prawn toast, all served in a beautiful, ceramic box.
Each was an explosion on the taste buds, and left you wanting more. The flavours were paired perfectly, and the selection of items in the box meant you took a rewarding, whistlestop Eastern tour.
We were advised that this and a couple of other items would be plenty, and this was sound advice. The belly pork was a perfect addition, and the gyoza really were a highlight as we were advised.
I considered ordering the ramen, but noticed the bowls were huge, steaming affairs. Our waitress advised otherwise, and I am glad I listened. This just means I’ll need to return soon. And the mizo creme brulee, which also felt a step too far for a lunchtime with a child to entertain, is another reason to come back.
All of the food tasted fresh and vibrant. None of it felt routine or mundane. It wasn’t Asia-by-numbers. It was clear that everything was prepared to order, and that the team went the extra mile to present Asain food which avoids the stereotypes and pitfalls that chain restaurants can suffer from.
The menu is complemented by an interesting drinks menu, which includes a handful of special cocktails, alongside local and less local beers. The attention to detail was faultless.
The restaurant is in a couple of rooms, with an open kitchen in the larger. We were seated in the smaller room, but had plenty of space in a minimalist room. Splashes of colour from some ropework on the walls and ceilings add to the relaxed vibe, reminiscent of a market in the Far East. I imagine.
Go for the food. Stay for the cocktails. Soak up. the ambience. You’ll be very content.
I could have saved myself some trouble with this review and simply repeated what someone said to me – Oka is very good – not Cumbria good, but anywhere good.
That sums it up perfectly.
www.okacarlisle.co.uk on the webz or Insta to find out more.