Did you know that up until this time Shoreditch has somehow struggled along without a natural wine bar? Scandalous, I know.
The eco-wing of the vino movement has been sweeping the capital, and now Jasper Delamothe has turned his 2000-square-foot space into a dark monument to the low intervention method. Well, it would be more accurate to say half-turned.
Like any trailblazing concept, Oranj is hard to find. After a couple of tense minutes wandering up and down Bacon street, we spy our hint – a roughly painted orange circle on a wooden door. Both my partner and I sigh audibly. Of course this is it.
Inside a long warehouse L-shapes around a metal bar. Attempts to soften the hard edges have been made.
Canteen lights have been spray-painted a fitting orange and arranged along a wall, red strip lights are dotted around, and concrete plays a paired back role. The cover of gloom covers many sins, and everything is very much in the process of regeneration.
The toilet is a recently-built affair with sealant still visible and a worrying hole in the backend pipe shoddily covered with clingfilm. This doesn’t quite gel with the (cheapest) £45 bottle of wine being served on the other side of the resurrected wall.
The kitchen is still under construction, and the red half-lit effect is rather spoilt by a naked halogen bulb that casts uneasy shadows over the huddled masses.
I say huddled because low tables and stools create intimate enclaves (and all sorts of back problems) for drinkers.
Each island is lit by a single candle shoved into a wine bottle, as well as the icy starkness of the trouble-causing bulb. These are of course all teething issues – the bar only opened in November following two years as an online business – that can be easily surmounted.
Surely what is important is the wine? Looking around the devotees of this specific church, it is clear these are no lapsed members.
Delamothe has procured a moustachioed staff who understand what they are selling – and have surprisingly warm hands (don’t ask).
First up is the Domaine Durrmann Zegwur, 2021. The alarmingly orange white wine, tart and sharp, is floral in all the right places.
The Gewürztraminer grapes are sulphite-free and from granitic soils. This is coupled with my date’s orange Salvatore Marino Turi Bianco, 2020, which has the stormy appearance of the Venusian atmosphere and the feeling of a pleasant mouthful of lemon and herbs. A racy mineralogy with a killer tang.
The winemaker, Marino, is situated near Syracuse and bases his vineyard decision on the lunar calendar. Bottle of Scorpio rising, anyone? Organic wine, my friend – not always an easy experience but well worth the effort for the stories alone.
Between us is deposited a mournful cheese board. We have a Stichelton, a mild little blue. A 30-month comte, like a lazy Red Leicester. What was it doing for all those months, I wonder?
It certainly wasn’t developing much flavour. Maybe it was learning the violin? A nameless hard goat’s cheese (nameless as it’s from a supplier and not marketed yet) is a good start for the goat-skeptics among you.
Served with a portion of crackers that could be used to make drywall, this isn’t the best attempt at charcuterie I have ever seen.
We plump for the empanadas next, as although sardines, bonito, razor clams, and octopus sound delicious, cold seafood is not so tempting in the draughty space. Peaking over at our neighbour’s sardines, which are served in the original can, I am initially glad of our choice.
The chicken and cheese and onion empanadas are sad, rather stale things that don’t light the flame of Mexico. The green parsley, garlic, spiced chimichurri, and aoili are nice additions but don’t save these lonely pastries.
Two glasses of Staffelter Hof Little Bastard cheer us up! Like prosecco but for refined adults, these two little bastards really enjoyed their little bastards and chuckle accordingly.
Bottled by hand, this peachy, wild strawberry and lime number is from the Staffelter estate, which has been under the current family’s ownership since 1805 when they bought it from the Napoleonic government. As you do.
The dark, pumpernickel-like bread is another hit, dense but too petite, and the plain butter distracts again.
We end the evening with a bang (and not the good kind) – an Entre Vinyes Pet Nat Rosé, 2021. If I were offered this again, I would have to say, ‘Pet, no thanks.’
Imagine drinking strawberry juice that had been run through a SodaStream and then left in the heat to ferment. Despite the surrounding myth of a Catalan spirit being trapped in the bottle, this is a step too far from the summery rosé.
But three out of four ain’t bad for a movement unafraid of striking flavours!
There are improvements that I am sure will be made, both visual and culinary, but for those wanting to broaden their wine sights and breathe a rarer and less destructive air in an industrial space that will give them flashbacks of ecstasy and bucket hats, Oranj is one to watch.
Maybe just give it some time to mature.
Oranj is at 14 Bacon Street, E1 6LF.