The people who brought us Mexico, Orleans and Beirut have added yet another restaurant to their narrative, though this time veering away from the regional theme — unless they're particularly fond of an ancient hamlet village in Staffordshire, England, population 324.
Located in the former stomping ground of the Quay St Cafe, Oaken is an all-day affair, with intentions to tower above the usual glad-wrapped cabinetry of your traditional cafe. Breakfast is centred around hugely inventive 10 egg dishes, ranging from poached with cold smoked salmon, soft boiled alongside minced mushroom on toast, 63.5° immersed eggs with house-cured bacon, rock melon water and mustard oil, to a duck egg white omelette with charred lettuce, avocado and torched peppers. All come served with either sourdough or mixed grain bread and alongside the house made smoked butter — a triumph in itself. For caffeine fiends, the establishment is also an espresso freehouse, offering not one but three different grinds — Eighthirty, Allpress and Peoples.
By night, the space becomes an intimate dining setting with tables set around comfortable bench seating and flying saucer light fixtures presenting a soft glow. Accordingly, executive chef Javier Carmona pulls focus on a selection of small sharing plates under the $15 mark, all particularly highlighting smoked and dehydrated elements.
There's the lonza bocadillo, a salty and smoky sandwich with fried eggplant, smooth Ortiz anchovies and orange (the perfect drinking accompaniment); the pickled Piper, a half dozen fillets of the tiny native fish topped with crisp garlic chips, microherbs and finished with subtle mustard oil; crispy farro wheat underneath a nest of finely sliced cauliflower with dots of honey and blackened garlic puree. The masterstroke is the smoked mozzarella, a slice of the warm cheese with a bang of citrus provided by dehydrated lemon leaf and smoke kudos to black parsnip ash dusted on the plate. During the early hours of the day this dish comes with the addition of two poached eggs, making cheese for breakfast an entirely feasible option.
The drinks menu also allows for experimentation, with a smaller sized tasting pours available from $5 a glass. Top-shelf varieties that are usually only available by the bottle are even contenders, kept fresh using an argon behind the bar between pours. Short and sweet, the cocktail menu also features an Aperol spritz with rosé on tap and a cask Negroni — as we're told, it will eventually carry the restaurant's signature smoky characteristics as it lingers in its tiny charred barrel.
Oaken is the perfect addition to the blossoming dining precinct in Britomart, and whether you're in the mood for breakfast, lunch or dinner, it'll sort you right.