Just walking down the street towards Orasay, I had a hunch I was going to like it. A summer’s evening, it had been raining, but the air was warm, and the front of this Ladbroke Grove restaurant had been completely flung open. You could see all the way in, to a room full of people having a good time: couples on dates, gaggles of mates. Near the entrance, one table were laughing with their waiter. ‘Perhaps they’re regulars’, thought I. Not so: we too were welcomed, as we arrived, like cherished friends.
Inside, the room is stylish, but unfussy. The plain walls are hung with modish prints, plus a couple of canvases. In the middle, there’s a service bar, where that waiter now stands, polishing glasses. The ceiling is clad in what looks like floorboards. There are no tablecloths, but there are proper napkins. In short, it’s JSE: Just Smart Enough.
Like the decor, there is a quiet confidence to the menu. Orasay is the first solo venture from chef Jackson Boxer (he of St Leonard’s and Brunswick House, both successful collaborations with fellow chef Andrew Clarke). The food here is simple, but interesting.
For snacking, there were four nuggets of skinless, boneless chicken thighs, under a two-tone layer of thick, shimmering sauces, the flavours oscillating from sweet and salty, to vinegary, to just a little bit charred. Double thumbs up.
As beautiful to eat – and prettier to look at – was a plate of summery grilled peaches with burrata and prosciutto. The fruit was sweet but firm, the orb of cream-centred cheese spilling its milky-white innards as you cut into it. Layers of prosciutto were draped over the top, along with casual dollops of salsa verde, bringing the whole dish together into an umami embrace.
There was a citrussy cod roe, smothered with chopped chives and spread over a thick deep-dish-esque disc of potato bread. My only grumble? Too much bread, not enough roe. Please fix, Mr Boxer. A more serious slip-up was a bowl of egg noodles with smoked eel, shrimp and lardo. The noodles were deliciously firm, but if you’re going to make a creamy sauce with that many naturally brackish ingredients, you really need something sharp or fiery, for balance.
But as soon as dessert arrived, we forgot and wholeheartedly forgave. A small metal cup was set down, beads of condensation glistening on its chilly sides. It looked like the Holy Grail. And though it didn’t quite contain the elixir of eternal life, its contents came close enough: a shower of chewy, crunchy morsels of toasted popcorn over a sweet-salt brown bread ice cream. Sublime.
Orasay is an easy place to like, from its affable staff to its laid-back interiors and chilled retro soundtrack (the Walker Brothers, Carly Simon). It’s already attracting a fun-loving, fashionable crowd. And looks set to stay that way.