Orasay, Notting Hill.
Can you possibly turn down the heavy metal, I say to the enthusiastic waitress? It’s too loud and I’m too old.
This is the second time in as many weeks I’ve had to have the conversation about the music. It seems to me that it is there for the waitstaff (all v young and v trendy), not the customers, some of whom are quite young and trendy and some of whom are like us. One couple is even older, which might be a record.
And before this develops into a full-blown rant (because that is where I am heading) there is research to say that this sort of music makes people spend less than classical music or even (joy of joys) no music whatever. Restaurateurs, hear my plea.
So they change it to something only slightly less likely to induce ear bleed, but it is still that bit too loud for (my) comfort. And so we start.
I am with C and I make him go on a bus from Paddington to Notting Hill. Anyone who has even the most fleeting acquaintance with C will know that C is not a natural habitué of the London or indeed any bus. But I am keen to demonstrate the joy of bus travel, in advance of him receiving his Freedom Pass in October, so that he can sail around London absolutely gratis, on the top deck. It is only 8 stops and there is no time for The Face to develop. Winning already.
I have been to Orasay in the Before Times and it was one of those times where I was not drinking, because there was a menopause scenario and for a while that meant that even half a glass made me feel grim in the morning. But thankfully, we are in the sunlit uplands of the post-m period and we can now drink what we like, which, for me, is a very big hefty aromatic white, thank you.
Unless you are a wine writer, you will probably have no clue about the wines. They are esoteric. They have Keg wine and Orange wine and very interesting bottles, whose names are entirely unknown to me, which I quite like. There is a line through the one alcoholic beer that they have on the menu. Which was what C wants to drink. The Face makes its appearance.
Orasay is a quintessential neighbourhood restaurant; cosy and simply furnished. There is, of course, an outdoor area au pavement should you require to breathe the fumes of Kensington Park Road, rather than the possible Covid droplets of your neighbours. You might consider going kerbside, as the tables are quite close together indoors and it still feels slightly strange.
Diversion: has anyone else noticed the pernicious creep of curbside rather than kerbside in the UK? We are not living in north America. When you think about it, the word curb makes sense for a kerb but that’s not enough to let it off the hook. And then there is Advance and Advanced. Advance means prior, Advanced means far on. So it’s advance warning, not advanced warning. And you thought you were here to read about food.
Don’t you love a menu where you want everything on it? Me too. This, sadly, wasn’t it. Trout Roe, Saké, Chips didn’t speak to me. Or rather it did and the word was no. Many dishes on the menu have an ingredient which makes me pause to imagine what that might actually taste like. Despite that, I order the La Latteria Burrata, Raspberries and Grilled Cucumber. It comes topped with what I believe are shiso leaves and some rings of pickled onion and what tastes like a balsamic dressing. So there is a lot of flavour going on.
Despite misgivings about the raspberry, it is quite interesting and sweet/tart with the cucumber and onion and the burrata was excellent. I would have been happy to lose the raspberries, but they looked good and, you know, it’s good to try new combos, even if you won’t be recreating them at home.
C’s IoW tomatoes and crab is pronounced delicious. I try it. Generous and tangy and dare I say it, really tomatoey. Some unidentified leaves are draped over and I can’t use my plant finder app to identify them, because it doesn’t recognise them on a bed of crab. I know. I tried. And Isle of Wight tomatoes; I wonder who does their marketing, because every restaurant namechecks them now. It’s clearly the law. And they are just fine. Not amazing. Not worthy of the great tomato take-over.
Because this is a fish restaurant, it would be rude not to, so we go for the Wood-grilled Monkfish with Smoked Bone Marrow Bordelaise. I am quite keen to see how the wood-smoking will deepen the flavour of the fish sufficiently to ensure that the sauce does not overpower it. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
From Wikipedia: bordelaise sauce is a classic French sauce….The sauce is made with dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, shallots and sauce demi-glace (a rich brown sauce made of beef or chicken stock). Traditionally it is served with grilled beef or steak though it can also be served with other meats that pair well with red wine demi-glace based sources. The emphasis is all mine.
Sometimes traditions are there for a reason. Just because monkfish is a meaty fish doesn’t mean it will partner well with a meat-based sauce. It’s similar in texture to lobster, sometimes even known as poor man’s lobster and like lobster, it’s delicate in flavour. The sauce was really superb, by the way, unctuous, umami, melting and wonderful. I’d have loved some bread or mash, but there are chips, which have to do the job of mop-it-up carb. And green beans which, with their chilli and garlic and almonds, don’t go work with the fish. And there is no other choice of side. Green beans or chips. And the fish itself is lovely but under that thug of a sauce it tastes of precisely nothing.
I do not know why I do not order the Cru Virunga (chocolate) mousse with Caramelised White Chocolate and Hazelnuts; some sort of self-denying thing, because it has my name all over it. Instead I go for the Yogurt Sorbet, Passion Fruit, Strawberry Granita. That sort of dessert never has my name on it.
I make the mistake of digging the spoon into the Cru Virunga, before I taste mine. My relationship with C is such that I cannot force him to swap desserts. But the yogurt is really good, creamy and rich, sort of cream-cheesy but light and the granita sparkled in the mouth and I got a bit of brain freeze as I had slightly too much too quickly. If you are a person who doesn’t love chocolate, I don’t even pretend to understand you but you might want to order this. C, who is slim for a reason, leaves two mouthfuls at the end. It’s almost passive-aggressive. I duly inhale them in a waste-not want-not way. Order this if it’s on the menu.
So I really want to love it, not least because the waitstaff were lovely and keen, they clearly liked working there and an effort was made with the food. But for me it’s trying that bit too hard to be adventurous and not always with success.I want them to do well because why wouldn’t you want that? I suspect that the menu might be a bit too adventurous/quirky for the locals and the wine list is fairly scary for your average Notting Hill punter, more Hackney than Holland Park.
Scores on the doors
Ambience (music aside) 7/10
Couldn’t agree more about the fish + bordelaise sauce. Unhappy partners.
With a good quality fresh fish what’s wrong with a quartered lemon?