Isn’t gastro pub a horrible phrase? It sounds more like an affliction than a treat. A treat is definitely in store, however, at The Orange.
Celebrity chefs, by the baker’s dozen, have jumped on the gastro pub bandwagon, among them Gordon Ramsay, Jean-Christophe Novelli and Marco Pierre White. The Orange is the welcome contribution to the genre by the team behind The Thomas Cubitt and Pantechnicon eateries.The pub itself has been stripped back to basics, with cool cream walls, pale wood and soaring windows. The result is light and airy, elegant and serene. The bar is on the ground floor, as is part of the restaurant, with the rest arranged, in pleasingly random fashion over three other floors.
It’s tottering distance from Sloane Square – what do you expect? Wall-to-wall pretty young things, dining on daddy’s credit card… Such glossy clientele makes people-watching an aesthetic delight.
The Orange doesn’t try to be something it’s not. It serves hearty fare, delivered with aplomb to its higgledy-piggledy rooms by charming staff. Leading the way to a table by doors opening out on to a tiny first-floor balcony, don’t be surprised if your waitress offers you a heater to keep out the winter chill.
But this is unnecessary, as the food warms the cockles admirably. Starters of deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with smoked mozzarella (£5.50) – arancini to Italian aficionados – and veal meatballs (£6) both come with a tomato sauce. That with the former is light and sweet, while with the latter it is deeply reduced and savoury. Both are excellent, although the risotto balls could do with a little more cheese.
A main of wild boar, chestnut and chorizo stew (£12.50) – what a refreshing lack of pretence that it is not described as a casserole – is dark and rich and gorgeous. It is served with generous slices of densely delicious rustic bread and needs no further adornment; the waitress gently dissuades against ordering mash, bless her. Although not an enormous bowlful, the stew is very filling, with generous chunks of boar and chorizo complemented by crunchy chestnuts and silky slices of mushroom.
Sadly, an Aberdeen Angus rib-eye steak is less successful (£15.50). On the small side, one end is medium-rare while the other is blue. The herb butter that comes with it is more of a pitter than a pat but the glossy sauce served in a dainty jug is excellent. The accompanying potato wedges are good, too - crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. A side of steamed broccoli is perfectly cooked. Also on the menu are a delicious-sounding roasted vegetable lasagne and a selection of wood-fired pizzas, which are roughly the size of a Range Rover’s steering wheel.
Puddings nod to the nursery in the guise of baked rice and bread and butter. Deep joy. A tarte tatin is presented as a single, dinky apple – a tiddly pomme! – on a disc of crisp pastry. It tastes just like a toffee apple. The fig and walnut upside-down cake is luscious and, in contrast, on the large side. It comes with chantilly cream instead of the advertised creme fraiche but is none the worse for it.
Try the English Mojito (£9). Really, you must. It is made with Hendrick’s gin, cucumber, lime and mint and tastes like an English garden after summer rain. It must also count as at least two of your five a day. A Basil Martini (£8), with Stoli as the star attraction, could easily become addictive. Likewise, a complimentary nibble of praline grapes – black seedless grapes enrobed with goat’s cheese and rolled in caramelised nuts – would be a prerequisite before every meal, except earnest pleading fails to prise the recipe from the chef.
The winelist is varied and reasonable, with a drinkable Viura from Spain and a light and fruity Corvina the house white and red, both at £16. The signature, and eponymous, cocktail is Sicilian blood orange and Champagne. House bubbles are Billecart-Salmon at £49 and a slightly wince-making £9.50 a glass.
The Last Word
In a city where the gastro pub is king, The Orange has a little way to go yet to claim the crown. Some of the cooking is stellar, some less so. But there is potential for greatness.