Oren is the first solo restaurant from Israeli chef Oded Oren, located down Shacklewell Lane. It opened its doors at the end of last year following a series of well received pop-ups and a talked about residency at Borough Wines in Kensal Rise. Known for combining Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisines, Oded’s pocket-sized neighbourhood spot is a welcome jewel to Dalston’s already thriving restaurant scene.
The restaurant is cosy, making use of natural wood and brushed concrete colour tones. Of an evening, the space is a glowing cave, a welcomed escape from winter nights. It’s is well packed with 35-covers, or alternatively you can grab a stool at the small bar; a perfect viewpoint to witness the character of the place. The atmosphere is as you would hope in a spot like this. Boisterous music plays, chatter from excited Londoner’s chomping their way through the sharing menu and busy waiters smiling away, coming back and forth from the kitchen with armfuls of delicious looking plates.
The staff here deserve a special mention. They’re particularly friendly and knowledgeable, with any signs of stress from the bustling restaurant removed from their faces. There is a well-curated wine menu, from Bitten & Written’s Zeren Wilson, focusing on low-intervention wines from small vineyards. You are sure to find something special on this list, regardless of budget.
The menu, on the other hand, is a collection of dishes from Oren’s pop-ups and experience working in kitchens from around the world – from Paris to California, to Tel Aviv. I started with the cold-filtered coffee Campari, the perfect way to kick things off: the well-balanced bitter-sweet nectar packed a soft punch. We started with simple, delicious cured sardines – little slithers of saltiness in a nutty, buttery puddle of Cretan olive oil.
The stone baked flatbread was a moreish pillow to tear and dip into chunky, sweet tomato purée and olive oil. Order the flat bread if you are tempted by the burnt aubergine, which comes with a mount of Gerizim tahini. This was the dish that left me underwhelmed, perhaps slightly too simple, served at slightly lower than room temperature, ultimately leaving me to desire a lick of zest and bite.
Grilled Hispi cabbage with romesco and raw tahini showcased a lovely little charred cabbage with a bright splodge of tangy sauce. I would have lathered that sauce all over the charred vegetable, but a tasty dish nonetheless. As a nice alternative to the usual lamb or chicken kababs, Oren serves a wild hake variation. The flavour of subtle herbs sings through and harmonises with the hit of sourness from a dollop of yoghurt.
The Jerusalem mixed grill with tahini and pickled mango may divide opinions. Two soft homemade pittas were stuffed to the brim with duck hearts, chicken livers and lamb sweetbreads. Messy and indulgent, this is for bold offal lovers. Again, the dish cries out for a slight lift: a fresh squeeze of lemon, perhaps, or more of the pickled mango.
Ox cheek and hummus champions two of my favourite things to ever come into existence. I knew I was going to order this before I sat down. The ox cheek fell apart at the slightest touch, leaving you to scoop and devour the rich, juicy meat with velvety, slightly nutty hummus. I wish I’d saved some of my bread for this dish, or perhaps it could have come a tool to mop up the plate’s contents.
Never one to miss dessert, we shared the lemon polenta cake with soured whipped cream. The zesty cake was a beaming light with its dewy texture: a remarkable, light way to finish a meal at Oren, with the only regret being it had been a dish shared. A lively neighbourhood restaurant in Dalston, with a lot of heart and plenty of promise.
Oren can be found at 89 Shacklewell Lane, London, E8 2EB.