Although my nights out almost always involve a glass of pinot, you won’t often find me in a wine bar. They have a tendency to be a little lifeless, stuffy or just generally lacking in the desired weekend vibe. But one with DJ nights, quirky small plates and a Shoreditch postcode? That’s something I can get behind.
Trailblazing Shoreditch’s natural wine bar scene, (relative) newcomer on the block Oranj is providing enough expertise to turn the whole of East London into grape connoisseurs. But it’s not just about bottles of red and white at this haunt… not even close. They’re also known for their sell-out food residencies, giving some of the city’s lesser-known chefs a platform to show what they’re made of. But the best things in life don’t come easy, so if you want to explore Oranj’s offerings, you’ve first got to tackle the obstacle of finding the front door…
After ending up down a desolate side street and questioning whether I’d put the correct address into Google Maps, we spotted an orange ‘O’ above an industrial wooden door that otherwise blended into the wall. After detecting a faint sound of music, we were confident that this was the place and pried open the door. We emerged into a dimly lit warehouse-style space flaunting a neon glow and dotted with low tables adorned with candles jammed into wine bottles. Cosy, casual and cool seemed to be the brief for these interiors, while also having serious date night potential.
We set eyes on the wine list and noticed that each one is available either by the bottle or a one-size-only glass, so a 250ml serving is off the table. Take the size restriction as a form of light encouragement to test drive one or two more tipples than you’d originally planned, especially since they range from just £9 to £13.
The wine menu isn’t overwhelming in terms of length but may seem a little intimidating to those who don’t know their chenin from their shiraz. All of the bottles were European, I know that much, but apart from the widely-known grape names, everything else may as well have been written in a different language (and after closer inspection, it turns out it was). Luckily, the staff are never too far away and always on hand to answer questions or give advice on which glass to go for.
We tried both orange wines starting with the Domaine du Petit Oratoire, Sacha 2022 (£9); a delicately acidic and citrusy blend from France, using both organic sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes. The heady Yannick Meckert, Deux Couleurs 2021 (£11), also French, is multi-vintage, sunset-coloured and delightfully easy to drink. We then ordered one of their two whites, the Les Grangeons de L’Albarine, le Grangeon de Mano 2019 (£11.50); a chardonnay with intensity, fruity notes and another pucker-free drinkability rating. The Il Farneto, Giandon Rosato 2021 (£9.50) was the rosé we went for; it was tart, earthy and could be characterised as more of a light red wine.
Just when we thought the boozy portion of the night was behind us, we were told to try the Utopia, Patience 2020 (£11.50). This drink is an ice cider, made from the juice of frozen apples. It was intensely acidic and sweet at the same time; an acquired taste but worth satisfying your intrigue with a taste (as long as you’ve got someone to slide it over to if it doesn’t take your fancy).
As for the food, we were lucky enough to catch Emily Dobbs’ residency, which meant unique Sri Lankan-inspired small plates. The three dishes we ordered featured some of the most creative food combinations I’d ever experienced. First up was the chicken curry eclairs with sour cream and coriander chutney (£16), making me briefly wish I hadn’t brought my friend along so I could have had both of them. How Emily thought it up and why it tasted so good are two questions I don’t have the answers to, but I do know that it gave me faith in the equally controversial second dish: the mango fritters (£12). Within the two weeks of Emily making Oranj’s kitchen home, these have become the talk of the town; the mango chunks are encased in a batter that somehow stays crispy despite how juicy the fruit is, and is paired with a garlic yoghurt that emphasises the savouriness of the dish. Much like the eclairs, they were as unexplainable as they were delicious. The final addition to the trio was the samba rice arancini (£9); another winning creation, elevated by the chilli paste mayo and tamarind date sauce.
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I have to applaud Oranj for its quiet confidence. Opening a bar with such a concealed entrance, especially when it has the rest of Shoreditch’s loud-and-proud drinking dens to contend with, is a bold move. There’s no hope of a passerby stumbling across it; they’re solely relying on word of mouth to keep the customers coming, but somehow I don’t think that will be a problem. The residencies are a great way to keep people talking; every few weeks there’s a fresh new menu, and if Emily’s is anything to go by, there will always be something to rave about. Overall, the relaxed vibe and exciting food and drink make me feel like this is the kind of place that would become many people’s stomping ground. It’s the epitome of a hidden gem that knows how to cater to its hipster crowd, fitting right into the Shoreditch scene.
💰 The damage: £89.50 for five glasses and three small plates to share.
📍 The location: 14 Bacon St, London E1 6LF.
👌 Perfect for: Casual dates and wine-fuelled catch ups.
⭐ Need to know: Be the first to know about their latest chef residency by following them on Instagram.