ON MY MENU THIS WEEK: I’M DIG­GING OUT MY PASS­PORT FOR A TRIP TO ODED OREN’S SOUTH LON­DON POP UP

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY ANTHEA GERRIE

The Wal­worth Road, a gritty stretch of high street south of Lon­don’s Elephant & Cas­tle, is not where you ex­pect to find an Is­raeli chef used to cook­ing for the so­phis­ti­cates of Paris, Cal­i­for­nia and Her­zliya. But it’s where Oded Oren is cur­rently at­tract­ing rave re­views at Louie Louie. Oren, who looks more Scan­di­na­vian than Sabra, has been in Lon­don five years, yet his name re­mains rel­a­tively un­known. Pos­si­bly be­cause Louie Louie, his long­est Lon­don restau­rant ten­ure to date, is far from the foodie en­claves of Soho and Shored­itch and un­usual in more ways than its lo­ca­tion.

By day it’s an airy, ul­tra-mod­ern cafe serv­ing ev­ery­one from work­men to cre­atives. Ev­ery evening — from Wed­nes­day to Satur­day — Oren and his souschef dis­pense mod­ern Is­raeli fare he de­scribes as “Mediter­ranean rather than Mid­dle Eastern — heavy on fish and fresh herbs but light on the spice — and above all, clean.”

Born in Tel Aviv, Oren cred­its the Moroc­can and Iraq nan­nies who helped bring him up for his more ex­otic culi­nary in­flu­ences. Yet although his fam­ily is Ashke­nazi, he was not raised on bland cui­sine: “My mother was a good cook, and my fa­ther was big on eat­ing out in restau­rants. Then when you’d go to friends’ houses in Is­rael you were ex­posed to all kinds of dif­fer­ent food.”

Af­ter cater­ing school in Is­rael, he went straight to Paris to hone his skills (“that’s where I learned the im­por­tance of a proper mise en place”) fol­lowed by a spell in Cal­i­for­nia, af­ter which he went to work at Turkiz — a seafood restau­rant in Her­zliya — where he in­dulged his love of all things pescatar­ian.

Oren fol­lowed girl­friend, Ta­mar, to Lon­don, where she was study­ing for a master’s de­gree and they later mar­ried. He ini­tially made his way as a pri­vate caterer. That led to a se­ries of suc­cess­ful pop-ups — in Dal­ston’s Broad­way Mar­ket, the Oval Space in East Lon­don and at the Na­tional Gallery un­der the aegis of Oliver Peyton. These led to his cur­rent six-month res­i­dency at Louie Louie, which he’s nearly half-way through.

Oren cooks with a pro­fu­sion of herbs, and when he does use spice, he’s very par­tic­u­lar about his sources: “I only use a spe­cial pa­prika I bring from Is­rael, which is very rich and dark and has a lovely flavour; any­one who vis­its knows they have to bring me a sup­ply,” he laughs.

His menus con­tain plenty of fish and lighter dishes; his favourite sig­na­ture of­fer­ing is a “ke­bab” of hand-chopped sea bass and hake sea­soned with chopped onion, green herbs, fen­nel seeds and lemon zest: “I mix it to­gether with no bind­ing what­so­ever and char-grill the pat­ties — but you can do it at home on a grid­dle.”

In­ter­est­ingly, given the steer away from Mid­dle Eastern flavours, one dish which at­tracted a spe­cial men­tion from nor­mally acer­bic food critic Jay Rayner in a re­cent re­view in the Ob­server, was Oren’s hum­mus. Whipped fluffy enough to sub­sti­tute for mashed pota­toes it was served along­side braised ox cheek: “We prac­ti­cally lick the plate clean,” raved Rayner.

What is Oren’s se­cret for per­fect hum­mus? A ter­ri­fy­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail most cooks would not want or have time to at­tempt at home: “The chick­peas have to be cooked prop­erly then peeled so they’re not grainy - and there is no short cut to peel­ing them one by one,” he says.

Sadly for Louie Louie, the South Lon­don eatery seems to be just a step­ping stone for the 41-year-old chef, who plans his own East Lon­don restau­rant as his next step to star­dom.

“I’m still look­ing at sites, but en­vis­age a space with 40 cov­ers and a lot of food pre­pared be­hind the bar to cre­ate a good am­bi­ence.”

Sounds a bit like Palo­mar, but when asked about Lon­don’s cur­rent slew of Is­raeli restau­rants, Oren says: “My food is not re­ally like theirs — it’s much cleaner.”

louielouie.lon­don

PHOTOS: IAN TILLOSTON

PHOTO: STEPHEN MAKIN

PHOTO: STEPHEN MAKIN

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