There is a world of tranquillity just behind the buzz and throng of Oxford Street. That celebrated retail hub is a river of bag-burdened humanity even on a Sunday but there is a haven awaiting the savvy shopper just a few yards away.
Thai restaurant ORA could easily be overlooked and that would be a shame. It has an unassuming front door on a side street off Regent Street. Pass through that portal and one is transported to a contemporary refuge populated by graceful ladies and gentlemen whose sole purpose seems to be to calm the vexed psyche and to smooth the furrowed brow by way of truly delicious food, and now they even the offer the prospect of some live jazz.
ORA is launching its new Jazz Evenings which will be held every Sunday from 20th March to 10th April. Diners on those evenings can choose from a special three-course set menu for £25, which includes a glass of champagne, and will also have the opportunity to win a trip to Thailand. The evenings will run from 6.30 till 10.30.
City Jazz, formed by saxophonist Sam Sharp, has many years’ experience playing worldwide as well as at prestigious venues in London such as the Royal Albert Hall, the South Bank Centre and The Barbican Centre. Sam will invite guests to accompany him each week and will play a melange of jazz in both classic and modern styles.
City Jazz will have ORA as its regular Sunday night home for a while. The restaurant has an ideal ambiance for this kind of event. Its black walls and furnishings give the air of a nightclub when it’s throbbing with diners, but that same dark interior is romantic on other evenings when occupied by those seeking a more intimate environment. ORA’s head chef Tamas Khan’s regular à la carte menu of traditional Thai dishes offered us a wealth of temptations. I am no expert on Thai cuisine but the food sounded enticing, and the reality lived up to our hopes.
We chose some cocktails to sip while we pondered the menu, and these were exotic and thirst-quenching. Thai Breeze sounded appropriate, and it was one of those deftly-layered drinks which one immediately un-layers. I often wonder what goes through the bartender’s mind as he sees the recipient of his labours thoughtlessly swirling a straw. Lemongrass- and vanilla-infused vodka, fresh lime juice, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice combined to produce a dangerous tipple. It would be all too easy to succumb to a few too many of these.
Although I am indeed a consumer of alcohol in all its guises I must confess that one of the best cocktails I have ever had was the Gulf of Thailand. This was a vibrant mix of fresh mint, fresh galangal, lemon and ginger cordial, fresh lime juice, apple juice, and ginger beer. It didn’t have that noble and watery sense of a non-alcoholic beverage. I could have been persuaded that there was a hidden shot or two of some kind of spirit. The hit of ginger gave the drink real substance.
My guest chose Kanom Beurg Sai Gai as his starter. This was a savoury pancake stuffed with chicken, bean sprouts and fresh herbs, served with cucumber salsa. The saffron-coloured pancake was filled with truly smoky smoked chicken. The sauce was tangy and light. The crispy calamari and black- pepper sauce Pla Mauek Kratiam Prik Tai was a second starter that we couldn’t resist. The rich pepper sauce was a spicy foil for the sweet and crispy seafood.
We ordered Pad Thai Koong – Thai rice ribbon noodles with prawns in sweet and sour tamarind sauce and peanuts – as our first main dish. It was a good example of this classic, and contained large and evident prawns which elevated this noodle dish above versions that one might find in other restaurants. Another example of the effort that ORA makes to remain noteworthy in a restaurant-saturated market.
Kae Pad Phed – lamb with Thai aubergine, kaffir lime leaves and red chilli paste – was a piquant triumph. The succulent strips of meat had a shiny mahogany hue. Yes, there was a striking chilli punch but this provided mouth-filling flavour rather than overpowering heat. We were coaxed back to the remains of this dish even when we had truly had enough to eat. Just another little nibble seemed to beckon. Moreish and memorable.
Whilst the Kae Pad Phed should be a signature dish, the Massamun Neur – beef cooked in Massamun curry sauce, nuts and potatoes – could be considered its equal. A very different dish but remarkable. I was expecting chunks of potato but ORA presents a cube of precisely sliced, trimmed and stacked vegetable. A small touch, but once again showing the attention to detail. The meat was slow-cooked to melting. The sauce was the star here, though. I would have enjoyed this just spooned over plain rice. It was aromatic, creamy and comforting, and a must-try from this menu.
Sarm Sa-Hai – a selection of traditional Thai desserts – was a tray of three banana leaf-wrapped squares of creamy white confections that were almost too attractive to eat. They illustrated the simple elegance of Thai food in general.
ORA has a convenient location and a fascinating menu. It’s true that I don’t know much about Thai food but I can vouch for the quality of ingredients and the mouth-watering results of the chef’s efforts. We are planning a return visit to try more dishes and to learn more about this increasingly popular cuisine.
ORA Thai restaurant
6 Little Portland Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7JE
Phone: 020 7637 0125
[This restaurant is currently closed.]
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018