Orton’s Brasserie

August 20, 2020

It’s been nice to revisit favourite places as they start to reopen. And it’s also great to visit a new opening – especially one that seems as well-planned and with as high quality as Orton’s Brasserie.

 

This is located in the building on Orton Square that was the Queen Victoria Arts Club. That stunning conversion of some pretty dilapidated properties had a somewhat misfired launch and never seemed to fully recover until a calamitous falling out with the landlord saw the business – and the successful neighbouring Exchange Bar – closed down.(The Exchange has now reopened).

When Covid struck just as this new business was due to open it seemed fate was conspiring again. Three times the opening was postponed thanks to lockdown restrictions but finally they were able to open in August, and while there have been some changes as they navigated through lockdown, it does seem they’ve hit the ground running.

 

The venue retains the basic shape and an overall feel of clubby sophistication, but the edges have softened a bit  – graffiti artwork by a local artist cover some sound–baffling panels, some soft seating areas have been introduced and there’s a playful design scheme alluding to the “Gorilla in the Roses” headline in the Daily Mirror at the time of Joe Orton’s trial for defacing Islington Library books.

20200819_205148There’s an extensive cocktail menu – and our old-fashioned and negroni were both beautifully sharp-as-you-like palate awakeners.

The interim food menu is short and focussed on classic brasserie fare. Pricing is around £6 for starters, £12-£16 for mains, We started with a meaty ham hock terrine and a light-as-air chicken liver parfait. The plates were attractively dressed and the accompaniments – a mustard dressing and apple gel with the ham, dabs of orange emulsion, lemon gel and onion marmalade with the parfait  – were intense but well balanced.  It was all technically excellent – head chef Andy is a Masterchef semi-finalist apparently  – and very enjoyable.

 

Mains were similarly classic  – tarragon-infused chicken with a wild mushroom fricassee and belly of pork with salt-baked beets.  Belly of pork has to be done really well to remain interesting and this did the job  – we were particularly impressed with not having to fight with tooth-breaking crackling but could enjoy a beautiful thin layer of crisped-up fat almost like the crunch on top of a creme brulee. The meat was moist and piggy and the beets and carrots were earthy, soft and sweet.  The herby chicken was good too – loved the crispy chicken skin and charred sweet corn especially. Again, good-looking, technically fine dishes served up in good time by a staff team who were relaxed, confident, knowledgeable and genuinely appeared to be enjoying themselves. Indeed the place had a cheerful buzz of the sort I suspect we’ve all been missing dreadfully.

It all made me look forward to the full a la carte menu, to be launched in October (as far as anyone can predict anything these days) and to the daytime tapas menu, featuring the likes of black pudding scotch with remoulade, parmesan and truffle arancini and jersey royals with cashew pesto and charred peppers.

Owner Guy Kersey has plans to develop the basement bar into a gin-focused speakeasy that will feature live entertainment, hopefully linked in with what’s happening over the road in Curve. He claims that theatre-driven business will be a bonus rather than essential to the business plan, but obviously all boats are going to rise if 1,000 people a night can once again be brought into the area.

Nonetheless Orton’s appears on this evidence to be worth the trip into the cultural quarter anyway.

 

 

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