I’ve always loved the expression ‘soul food’, food that speaks to the very core of us.
For me, that’s about sharing and fun and laughter and - of course - irresistible flavours that you keep wanting to dip into.
Oranaise, by that definition, is the epitome of soul food.
Situated rather unassumingly in the student heartland of Hyde Park, it’s an Aladdins’ Cave of North African delights, and that’s not just what’s on the menu.
The decor screams Marrakech souk, with a variety of lamps and Middle Eastern crockery lining the copious shelves. Some of them aren’t just decor, they are for sale, so there’s clearly a lucrative sideline in pretty souvenirs. I guess the rather unsubtle aim is to transport you to the Maghreb without having to leave your seat.
It works to some extent, but it’s ultimately all about the food.
The menu offers up a range of hot and cold mezze options, featuring staples such as hummus, halloumi, falafel, a variety of grilled meats. couscous and tagines. There are also burger and pizza options, many of them with an added North African twist.
Interestingly one of the biggest selections is the vegan sub menu, with a variety of platters and pizzas and burgers available. It’s a hippy student’s dream.
We opted for a ‘bit of everything’ mezze platter (£9.95) and an extra portion of grilled halloumi (£3.95) as our starter. The piled-high dish wasn’t the prettiest, but boy was it tasty. The mountain of tometoey meatballs and chicken, hummus, couscous, falafel tzatziki, salad and pitta delivered heaps of flavour. The meatballs were well cooked and juicy and the tomato sauce had real depth. The chicken was served in the same deep, earthy sauce, and all the better for it,
The cold mezze elements were fresh and moreish. The only slight gripe was with the falafel, which seemed to me to be hard and overcooked. The additional halloumi was grilled to perfection and I had to keep going back for more of the soft, salty cheese. The three of us managed to polish off the platter with no problem. It was just great fun to share
We decided to share one main, the sweet Moroccan chicken tagine, (£10.45) along with a side of chips and the intriguing sounding ‘mhajeb’, a stuffed Moroccan flatbread. The tagine split the crowd. I have an ueber sweet tooth so loved the soft chicken cooked to perfection and swimming in a chunky sauce jewelled with fat juicy prunes and apricots. The addition of almond was also great for adding some crunchy texture. And though my companions appreciated the cooking, a few mouthfuls and they found it was just too sweet for their palates. The flatbread was actually something between a pancake and a stuffed paratha, with a lovely savoury taste from its onion filling. I didn’t think it was necessarily the best accompaniment for the tagine - which required something a bit dryer for mopping up the sauce - but it was still lovely to eat.
We rounded off the evening with a shared slice of carrot cake, and a pot of soothing, honey-infused mint tea.
The service was great throughout our late evening visit, and the staff were accommodating even though we were straggling beyond the 10pm closing time.
Oranaise is definitely one for those who enjoy unpretentious, robust and rustic food in a relaxed setting. It’s great for couples and groups of friends, and the upstairs section - replete with comfy cushions and exotic lanterns - can even be hired out for private parties,
Our bill came to just over £50, a reasonable price tag for our North African soiree.