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Oranaise review

Xanthi Barker finds Moroccan more-ish (ho-ho)

Published on June 1st 2011.

Oranaise review

Saturday afternoon in Hyde Park is a lazy affair. Hungover or drunk, hobos and students despondently wander the streets looking for cigarettes and carbohydrates.

Remnants of fancy dress costumes are trampled into the gutter. Broken glass and over-flowing bins line the streets like grumpy old men, reminding you to watch your step.

This part of Leeds is much like the living-rooms of most of the surrounding houses - almost dangerously relaxed. The half broken sign above the painted windows of Oranaise fits in perfectly.

Two huge slabs of cake and ice cream (£3.95) cannot confuse, only shock. Big Mama looked nervous. She weaned me onto cake and now she tries to hide from it."

Perhaps it is only in a place so dense with shrugs that a restaurant so casually cool could exist. There is almost a swagger to the ancient soft Moroccan sofas and night-sky ceiling. There is definitely a swagger to the waiter, who approaches with a grin, teasingly flinging some menus at Big Mama and I. He charms us completely, laughing as we coo over the exotic tea selection. Big Mama is a bit of a tea connoisseur, and even she is delighted being served a genie-style teapot and pocket-size glass. My pot (£3.45) contained mint, blossom water, cinnamon and honey  - as delicate as pixie medicine.

The menu is pages long, with standard breakfast options for the decisively mundane (or intolerably hungover), a varied tapas selection and larger plates of meat, fish and vegetable tagines, kebabs and platters. We decide to aim for maximum variety and order an assortment of tapas.

After a seemingly endless (but highly relaxed) amount of time, the waiter sauntered back with six huge plates of sprawling, home-cooked, oily goodness. Every dish was generous and glistening and we found ourselves with a lot more food than our bellies had bargained for, as well as a basket of pitta to soak it all up.

Zaalouk (£3.95) was my favourite - roast, marinated aubergine with tomato and onion - so simple but satisfying. Vegetable bourek (£4.25) were crispy and not too oily, with a good amount of feta and a cooling dip. Big Mama sang the praises of some grilled sardines (£4.25) - two utterly flesh-less skeletons remained at the end. Less inviting were the lamb kefta meatballs (£3.95), like grizzly tennis balls in a pint of sauce. The tzatsiki (£3.45) was refreshing and nice enough, although served as if dropped from a great height.

We also picked a sweet tagine (£4.25) which for some reason I had expected not to be exactly what it said it was. A bowl of apricots, prunes and raisins, not often seen at the dinner table (not in Hyde Park anyway), was surprisingly savoury. A confusing but pleasant final touch. 

The final final touch was not confusing at all. Two huge slabs of cake and ice cream (£3.95) cannot confuse, only shock. Big Mama looked nervous. She weaned me onto cake and now she tries to hide from it. Not today - at least ten fat cakes have been waving at us from the counter for the last hour. There is one in every flavour - this part of the menu is more America than Morocco.

But when they arrive, the flavour is irrelevant - ice cream and toffee sauce swamp soft, sticky sponge in glorious decadence, whatever is underneath. The blueberry gateau induces a few extra gurgles of pleasure than the caramel hazelnut slice, but after all that rich food, my judgement blurs.

 After another seemingly endless wait, the grinning waiter presents us with the bill and we are released from this crumbling exotic palace, satisfied, if a little dizzy with over-indulgence. The portions are big and the spices and oils are laid on thick, so delicate stomachs beware. But if you can maintain some self-discipline in the face of all those soft cushions and jangly wall hangings, Oranaise is infested with culinary goodness, far from the LS6 standard of bacon rolls and breakfast paninis.

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

Rating: 15/20

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 3/5

1 The Crescent
Hyde Park

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