Tree Bark, Fermented Shrimp Paste, Frozen Foie Gras: Oha’s New Menu is Wild and Wacky

By Aug 19, 2020 Dining
Oha is a little counter restaurant with 20-something seats on Anfu Lu. When it opened in December 2017, it made some waves for its Guizhou-influenced western bites. And then chef Blake Thornley went on to other projects: Blackbird 2.0 in Columbia Circle (closed), Pass Residence (rammed) and more. Now he’s back at Oha for a few months, revamping the entire menu, and, man, it is wacky and daring and kinda punk rock.

I went last night and picked out seven small dishes from the purple paper menu. Here are just a scattering of ingredients that came on those plates: deep-fried tree bark; compressed “mountain” tomatoes; fermented shrimp paste dumplings; charred silver ear fungus; clarified fermented tomato juice; grated frozen foie gras; and fermented bean coconut reduction. It was weird. It was kind of exciting. It was, even when I didn’t like a dish, never boring.

Red tea cured kingfish (48rmb): Mt Cang tree bark, green apple chili gel, black tea

If Pass Residence is where Thornley caters to the relatively vanilla crowd with pizzas and pastas, Oha is where he lets his freak flag fly. It takes a lot of balls to deep-fry the bark of a tree and serve it with a straight face. Maybe even more balls to ferment half of the things on the menu and serve shrimp paste dumplings, which the staff basically dare you to order and Thornley himself introduces as a love-hate dish. It’s pretty punk and kind of fun to witness — there’s a no-regrets feel to the restaurant with this new menu (and a slightly new interior décor that opens up the front where the coffee bar is) and the sense that you’re part of an experiment.

Reconstructed eel maki (52rmb): Foie gras, sweet soy, rice, kale

Is it an excellent, fully polished and balanced dinner? No. It’s not. It’s a counter-side view to a chef thinking through some ideas and throwing them out there to see if they stick, priced low enough (I paid 436rmb for seven dishes) that if you don’t like a few, it’s no big deal. It’s an ADD approach to a meal, and probably the most unique approach to ingredients since the Botanik people were cooking sprouted coconuts up on that Tianzifang rooftop. The food is still nominally influenced by Guizhou — there are a lot of spicy and sour flavors across this menu — but is in a category of its own. I’m struggling to think of a second restaurant like it right now.

Shrimp paste beef dumplings (72rmb): Tofu puree, mountain beef, galanga

Thornley’s mind is in overdrive — he plans to replace much of the current menu in the next two weeks and base himself at Oha for the next couple of months. If you plan to go, having the right expectations — food and flavor experiments, no holds barred — is crucial. The place is tiny; reservations are essential.

Oha is at 23 Anfu Lu near Changshu Lu. Click here for more details.

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