To describe myself as a creature of habit would be grossly understating the reality of the situation. (I think that’s called litotes? The opposite of hyperbole?) A lumbering jog along the waterfront is a daily ritual, and my route does not vary. Something about finding comfort in the same, in ritual, being averse to change, some might say. Others might call it OCD.
So it was with first surprise, then burgeoning interest, to see Quay Street Café (on the corner of Gore and the eponymous Quay Streets) close a few months back, undergo redevelopment, and reopen as Oaken, a day-to-night eatery decked in pale wood. Almost Scandinavian in its decor, it is a large and windowed space, and it was immediately on my “to-dine-at” list – an ever-growing entity in the current Auckland restaurant climate.
It is a quiet on the evening that I visit, maybe to be expected on an autumnal Tuesday. As I’ve arrived early, I have plenty of time to peruse the wine list – just as well, as boasts 144 options at any one time and, apparently, changes regularly. From this array, I select a Vouvray Chenin Blanc, Champelou.
One “larger option” is on offer each night, and we score with roast pork cheek served with mint, braised silverbeet, citrus, lardo bread, jus de gras (literally fatty juice…mmmm) and caramelised parsnip. To round the meal out, we choose from an array of smaller dishes, which are available every night. It’s hard to place from where the inspiration for ingredient combinations is drawn: we sample wagyu bresaola with pickled watermelon rind; lonza bocadillo (essentially a cured pork sandwich) with fried eggplant, Ortiz anchovy and orange; cauliflower with farro, aged ricotta and honey; and caciocavallo (a stretchy cheese) with charred lettuce and almond. No dish is priced at more than $20, increasingly a rarity these days (how’s about the infinite wisdom of a 26-year-old), and the bocadillo is our pick of the bunch. Complimentary sourdough is a welcome addition.
At least from my daily 7:54 a.m. jog-by, Oaken seems to attract a morning crowd, so I’d be keen to revisit during daylight hours. Given ordinary supplier relationships, I’m also intrigued by their offering of three brands of coffee (Eighthirty, Allpress, and Peoples). But for evening dining, I think I’ll probably prioritise a return to another of the surrounding restaurants beginning with ‘O’ (Orleans, Ostro, Ortolana; Britomart is fast becoming alliterative).
130 Quay Street, Auckland CBD
Open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to late, Saturday, 8 a.m. to late, and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
$136 for one larger dish, four smaller plates, and four glasses of wine