Israeli-born chef Oded Oren’s tiny Dalston restaurant Oren punches well above its weight. Opened in 2019, it was critically acclaimed from the get-go, growing its fandom during lockdown with its stupendous pantry goods and pitas to go. Of all its dishes, it’s the Jerusalem mix grill that deserves cult status. If you’ve got a spare £8 sitting in your account this week, here’s why the Jerusalem mix grill at Oren is the thing to spend it on.
“It’s just a mix of delicious things in a pita. You can’t go wrong,” says Oren. “I think it’s quite a remarkable dish because it mainly consists of offal. I didn’t know how people would perceive it at first but people cross town for it. I really love it. It’s exactly what you want with a glass of beer or even if you’re hungover.”
Oren knows it of old from Machne Yehuda market in Jerusalem, where the pita would be stuffed entirely with chicken offal: spleen, liver, and hearts. Chicken spleen being scarce and “the size of a pearl”, according to Oren, he swaps it out for plump, gamey duck hearts and adds chicken thigh to the mix. The cuts of meat, purchased from HG Walter, are dry rubbed for 24 hours “at least” then grilled over the plancha with raw onions and tucked into pita with some “really, really good tahini paste.”
Says Oren modestly: “It’s very basic, there’s no salad, no nothing. That’s it.” You can follow his recipe in the Oren cookbook but you might want to invest in an industrial plancha first. “When I started making it, I used griddle pans or cast iron until I decided to buy a plancha. That changed everything. You have to get the meat on at the right temperature with enough oil and don’t overcook it, so it’s slightly pinkish in the middle. This is what you want.”
Other non-negotiables are superb pitas. Oren reckons his are the best you can find. They’re hand-rolled, not machine-rolled, for extra fluffiness, and it takes every chef at least four to six weeks to learn the method in order to get the pocket inside just so. It’s difficult to mass-produce because the dough is a wet one, and very hard to handle. “A lot of people want the recipe. We don’t mind giving it. It’s not about the recipe, it’s about the oven, the temperature.”
“Tahini, that’s something I would not compromise on,” he adds. Oren favours Har Bracha tahini, stoneground in small batches by a Samaritan family near Mount Gerizim, for its natural sweetness. “They make the best tahini in the world, if you ask me.”
Oren set out to be an accessible restaurant and it remains so, in spite of the challenges it faces. “The energy bills have basically tripled since I opened the place. We’ve had numerous meetings about it, trying to be creative with the menu so we can stay affordable. I know a lot of places are raising their prices – we did as well, but not to the extent you’d say it was expensive here. It wouldn’t be fair towards customers, towards locals. We’re a local restaurant.”
Date night just got more affordable at Oren, where a dish from every section (vegetables, fish, meat, and dessert) needn’t set you back much more than £50. Just make sure one of the dishes is the Jerusalem mix grill.