Midway through one of your many plates at Oren, you’re likely to pause. Not because you’ve knocked elbows with the neighbouring table—though this Tel-Aviv influenced spot is probably Dalston’s most delicious panic room. Nor because you can’t really see what you’re eating. Is that a charred potato? Or grilled mackerel with green tahini? Who cares. Just stick it in your mouth and tear some challah off while you’re at it. No, the reason you’re going to pause at Oren is because you’ve just eaten something meal-stoppingly delicious. It could be ox cheek and hummus. It could be grilled salsify with laben kashk. The point is—whether it grows from the ground, swims in the sea, or lounges in a field—something will be so good you take a beat.
But to get to that point—squashed into a moody room on Shacklewell Lane, looking at a grilled pitta in the same way the old geezer from Jurassic Park looks at mosquitoes—you need to know a few things. The first is that Oren is a very enticing restaurant. Knees touch and hearts flutter. If you’re not falling in love with something on the menu, then you’re falling in love with the person sitting opposite you. There’s just one problem, though. The menu is big and made for sharing.
Said menu is made up of 18 or so dishes, from sweet marinda tomatoes, to pollock pastrami, to Jerusalem mixed grill. All food groups are covered and, as such, to come here on an enchanting, candlelit date fits in every way apart from one. Ask yourself if your priority is a single person or multiple plates of food. It’s a question we ask ourselves often. No prizes for guessing the answer.
Once you’ve made your mind up, get organised and make a booking. Oren is a restaurant that's heaving almost every night, while simultaneously being slept on. A small part of that is down to the size of the restaurant—if one person’s phone vibrates here, everyone checks their pockets—but the main reason is that it’s making some truly sensational food. An entire braised cabbage, a vegetable often reduced to the flavourless sibling of the whole cauliflower, is a revelation. Grilled amba chicken thighs with toum are ludicrously juicy. Arayes, a pitta stuffed with hake before being grilled in lamb fat, is one of the best things you can eat in London.
Given the confidence with which ingredients are treated here (a confidence that extends to delicately leaving marinated artichokes alone to do their thing) it should be no surprise that Oren’s low-intervention wine list is similarly punchy, in both price and flavour. If you’re inclined to come here and order like we do, things will add up. It’s a £60-a-head-type restaurant to really get into the menu. You don’t have to do it that way though. And nor should you. With flavours this big and a sell-out space this small, Oren isn’t going anywhere. And if it ever does, we’ll be heading in the same direction. No pause for thought necessary.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Be the first to get expert restaurant recommendations for every situation right in your inbox.
Marinda Tomatoes, Thyme, Olive Oil
Whatever you do at Oren, make sure you order as much bread as humanly possible. Challah, flatbread, whatever's going. All of it ends up going wonderfully with plates like this: sweet and juicy tomatoes slathered in a delicate olive oil.
Braised Cabbage With Dates & Sour Cream
A wedge of cabbage might not be everyone's idea of a feast but this one will people think differently. It's been braised for eight hours which could, we admit, trigger memories of your nan's Sunday roast. But there's nothing to worry about. This cabbage is luscious on the inside and charred on the outside. It's sweet as well as smooth and is one of the best leaves we've eaten in a long time.
Every once in a while you eat a revelation. This pitta is one of them. It's stuffed with hake and herbs before the pitta itself is fried in lamb fat. Charred, yes. Burnt, no. A bite of this pitta is sumptuous and meaty. There's chew and crunch, flakiness and flavour and, combined with a dip of chilli-laden tahini, it will be one of the best mouthfuls you've had in a long time.
Amba Chicken Thigh & Toum
There's a school of thought that suggests chicken is a boring order. That school has not been educated on the joys of perfectly grilled chicken thighs. The kind that combine smokey flavour with a sweet and lightly mango-ish marinade. These chicken thighs are straight from the barbecue of your dreams.