The mark of a great new eatery is one that reinvents the wheel, in some way. Don’t get me wrong, wheels are great; but there is nothing more satisfying than being thrilled by the unexpected.
Eggs are everyone’s favourite breakfast food. With a golden yellow yolk in the middle and a malleable white that can be boiled, poached and sizzled into hundreds of versions of itself, it’s sometimes a wonder why we insist so frequently on dousing them in Hollandaise or scrambling them to the point of dry. Enter Oaken, Britomart’s newest eatery which has taken up residence in the old Quay Street Café spot. It’s pretty, and their breakfasts are pretty spectacular too. You can try eggs coddled with beautiful wagyu bresaola, celery, parsley stalk and chives ($18; trust me, it’s good) or how about 63.5 degree eggs with house cured bacon, rock melon water, mustard oil and nasturtium ($14; they try to slip botanicals in wherever possible here). All egg dishes come with either toasted sourdough or mixed grain bread and their delicious house-smoked butter. Their day menu includes all the aforementioned eggs, plus a selection of sandwiches, salads and mains of equal creativity and nous.
Interestingly the evening menu has already changed since Lynn and I visited, with the addition of ‘one very special dish everyday’ for $25, which I suspect was a response to the question ‘Do you do dinner?’ They have a permanent menu of small plates on offer every night of the week, from which Lynn and I sampled the farro and cauliflower ($10); caciocavallo and charred lettuce ($12); mussel escabeche ($12) and Lonza bocadillo ($10). The Lonza bocadillo, a small toasted sandwich filled with cured pork, fried eggplant and Ortiz anchovy, was both our favourite, comforting and surprisingly scented with orange. The caciocavallo, a smooth mild tasting cheese, had been melted over lettuce that seemed to have escaped the aforementioned charring process and was altogether a bit odd. Farro appeared in the form of ‘farro bubbles’, crisply puffed alongside – imagine if you will- dehydrated honey and thin fans of cauliflower that resembled coral. The dish was a textural delight, however a mysterious mustard oil that had not been mentioned in any of our dishes managed to appear in several of them anyway, blurring the distinction we were hoping for from our various plates. The mussel escabeche lacked the tang we anticipated, and stuffed with cold, palely flavoured Mograbiah, failed to impress.
Oaken is an interesting new concept in all day eating, part café, part wine bar, part restaurant. It nails it in the morning and lunch department but appears to still be finding its feet in the evenings. The addition of the rotating evening special holds a lot of promise so we’ll see what evolves.