Bianca: Breakfast for me is a non-event, I am notorious for pushing back catch-ups to coincide with the lunch menu. Eggs and bacon and especially Avocado on toast induce no excitement in me whatsoever but when a café comes along offering something other than the stock standard big ‘Aussie breakfast’ I take notice. Especially when they happen to sit directly across from my work.
I sadly watched the steady and slow decline of the former sites occupant ‘The Fern’ to what is now a heaving and thriving café. ‘Café Oratnek’ is helmed by former ‘Bills’ head chef Kenny Takayama and offers a fusion of Japanese and modern Australian food. And it’s now the ‘norm’ to see lines of people waiting for a table in what was an otherwise ghost town. So they seem to have hit the nail on the head in terms of food, venue and locale.
Despite my cursory interest in the breakfast menu, I was easily swayed by the lunch items, so a few visits were scheduled for some serious lunching action.
I had my first encounter with a skim ‘Matcha Latte’ $4.20. Yep… not for me. It came unsweetened so you can add as much sugar as you like, it tasted like a mixture of grass clippings and fish. Moving along.
My first visit I was joined by the ladies behind @NUTELLASUM and @Eilxrrr. First up was the ‘Wild Mushrooms, miso, butter, goats cheese, herbs on toast w/ a poached egg $15.50. This was requested without goats cheese, which is also to my personal preference, I always find it too overpowering. The mushrooms were plump, juicy and had a gorgeously rendered char on the outside. The miso was masterful, really elevating this from your café standard mushies on toast. If mushrooms are your jam, guaranteed this is one you’ll enjoy.
I’ll never knock back anybody’s suggestions for fries, so the ‘Chips’ –w/murray river pink salt & green laver $6 were ordered. These chips? Very dangerous! I’ll admit I didn’t pick up any overwhelming seaweed notes, I just thought they were herbs to be honest.
And here we have the items that make my stone cold heart flutter, not to mention that anything sandwiched between two pieces of bread usually has my undivided attention.
This was basically as close to having a burger as I was going to get at Oratnek so I went with the ‘Japanese Fried Chicken sandwich’ –w/kimuchi mayo $10. The chicken was tasty but my first visit, it was cooked WELL and on the verge of being a little overdone. Proportions were a little off kilter within this sandwich, a whole lot of bread and not a lot of chicken but it was rather fair for the price-point. I’m never one to advocate any form of greenery in burgers nee sandwiches but this is one that could have used another element, even perhaps some of the crispy cabbage.
What is quickly becoming a signifying draw-card dish the ‘Pork Fillet Katsu’ –w/cabbage, Japanese BBQ sauce, mustard $10. What is essentially a breaded pork schnitz, was beautifully cooked. I’m sometimes a little dubious when it comes to pork fillets as they can be tough and chewy. The katsu was enjoyably tender and juicy and really is the star of the show. I am all about that cohesiveness and I would have liked a teeny bit more sauce/mustard to balance out the pork. Crusts cut off always tend to amuse me but I understand this is how they are served in Japan. (I’m offending everyone today!!). Just to refresh my memory I also ordered this my second visit and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot more. The breading mixture can typically become a little soft once any sauce is added but the katsu remained crispy despite sitting around for a bit of time.
I was back two weeks later with my work wife, Mark, in tow. He was under strict orders, which basically went along the lines of “You may come, you have no choice what you’ll be ordering, enjoy”!!
We couldn’t look past the ‘Miso BBQ boneless short ribs’ – san choy bow, coriander dip $21. The second most expensive item on the menu and one that is worth every dollar. With generous hunks of short rib it is essentially touted as a DIY san choy bow – a sometimes messy one at that. You tend to get a mixture of soft velvety pieces and my favourite ‘the burnt ends’. With a well-developed flavour profile that ate well either on its own or thrown together with the accompanied ingredients, this is one I would push to the top of the ‘must order’ list.
Along with the short ribs and the Pork Katsu, we also tackled the ‘Smashed Egg Sandwich’ – w/mustard mayo and poppy seeds $10. I was feeling a little nostalgic when I ate this, not because I had a little Japanese grandmother fawning over me and making me sandwiches but smashed egg dishes always remind me of sleepovers at my nonnas when I was younger. Abundantly filled with the egg mixture these were rather well proportioned and make a hearty meal on its own. I was a little worried the egg would turn the bread soggy but it seems the opposite happened as it sat outside it lost a heap of moisture by the minute. The outer edges were well and truly hard by the time we finished eating it. I enjoyed the little popping bursts of the poppy seeds but I’d dread smiling if I was with somebody else other than my present company.
Lastly – we were both eyeing the ‘Banana Loaf’ –w/caramel butter $5.50. It hit the spot but I wouldn’t order it again, I would have liked a stronger banana flavour and the caramel notes in the butter were totally lacking.
I couldn’t help myself and returned with Alex in tow, fresh off the plane from his European adventure and keen to get some good Sydney Coffee and food into him. We couldn’t go past the chicken sandwich and the short ribs – both equally delicious as the previous visits. I noticed the short ribs had an added pickle element that was not present my last visit. I then broke my cardinal rule after we were told they no longer served the fig toast as they’re out of season – so we opted for the ‘Smashed Avocado, vine tomato, feta, za’atar on rye $13. Despite my disdain for people who regularly order this at cafes, this was a particularly excellent rendition, with the feta and za’atar really adding that special element. I just can’t justify spending $13 on something I can quite easily put together at my home for a third of the price.
Prices are pretty reasonable, especially for the sandwiches and it’s nice to have a café nearby churning something out other than your stock standard ‘café food’. This is one, I would be happy to consider my local.