130 Quay St
(09) 379 4462
Monday - Friday
7am - late
8am - late
Every couple of years, the city’s food scene seems to be taken over by a group of clever people with a vision. Right now, that group is led (in the kitchen, at least) by Javier Carmona, the executive chef behind Mexico, Beirut and now, Oaken. It’s a cafe by day and a wine bar by night, and the fit out is a beauty – Scandinavian meets industrial, with oak-clad walls and exposed pipes on the ceiling. It was designed by Britomart taste-makers, Cheshire Architects, and subsequently, the love is in the very fine details. There are shelves lined with tiny cacti in handmade ceramic pots, and large scale photographic prints by Stuart Robertson of Peace in 10000 Hands fame.
My favourite thing about breakfast at Oaken is the coffee, you can choose between three different roasters: eighthirty, Peoples and Allpress. The staff are able to describe each roast and give recommendations based on your tastes. My Peoples long black was a joy. The day-time menu is far from your average eggs on toast, I’d even go so far as to say it’s daring. On my first visit, breakfast was warm smoked mozzarella with Oaken’s signature 63.5 degree eggs, fresh scented lemon leaf, leek ash and mustard oil. It came with a side of warm toasted sourdough in a little basket and it looked like a work of art. That mozzarella was subtle in its smokiness and very creamy, and the soft eggs ran everywhere, creating a perfect mess to mop up with my sourdough. It was a surprising dish that made me want to head back to try the duck egg white omelette, or the coddled egg with wagyu bresaola. My second breakfast sampling was Oaken’s take on granola: farro served with brown rice syrup, cacao, bruised grapes, white raisin, macadamia water and young coconut. Once again, unlike anything I’ve eaten at breakfast before, this was sweet, textural, nutty and delightful.
Oaken transforms beautifully at night into a golden, warm, and refined spot for drink or a meal. When I went, cars were streaming past in a rainy rush hour hurry, and it felt there was no better place to be at that moment. There is a petite but perfectly formed menu of small plates intended for sharing, as well as a weekly specials menu, offering one choice of main each night. This feels revolutionary and incredible. My choice one Wednesday was a delicately spiced duck neck sausage with poached tamarillos, burnt radicchio, pistachio, rhubarb and lavendar – explosive flavours, so undeniably delicious and daring that I found myself surprised anew with each bite. These main dishes are complimented by the small plates: puffed farro and shaved cauliflower with aged ricotta; charred lettuce cups with caciocavallo and toasted almond; house made venison bresaola with fermented watermelon rind. An evening meal at Oaken is an adventure, I was absolutely delighted. A large part of the glory of the evening Oaken experience was due to the wine list, by David Nunn, which celebrates alternative winemakers from all over the world – whether that be Bay of Fires in Tasmania, or a Rhone blend from Domaine du Pegau in France, or some of our own superstars, Fromm, Neudorf, Seresin and more. Many of the wines are available by the glass or half glass, which left me free to dabble with far more varietals than I usually would on a week night. Follow Oaken’s instagram and you’ll notice they hold free tastings most nights.
The fit out may be very on trend, but those warm wooden walls are the only thing about Oaken that feels familiar – it’s a beautiful, boundary-pushing cafe by day, and a quality wine bar and eatery by night. On my first visit, I was intrigued, on my second I was head over heels. It’s stellar.