Bianca: Continually drawing crowds over every day of the week, Café Oratnek is truly killing it! I work literally across the road and wrote this little ditty when they first opened up nearly a year ago, which you can read about here > Cafe Oratnek.
Keeping things fresh and interesting is the lifeblood of a café/restaurant because we Sydneysiders are difficult diners. Step in Overtime at Oratnek – operating Thursday and Friday evenings for a 6 or 8pm seating.
Five courses for $55 per person, pretty damn reasonable to me. Courses are served somewhat family style, with shared platters in the centre of the table making for very convivial dining.
We start our meal with the Mini Soft Shell Crab Burgers – rice bun, soft shell crab, shallot, Cajun spice, limo mayo and bean sprouts. Everyone knows I appreciate a good burger (appreciate is rather tame isn’t it?) the rice bun was an interesting element but felt it overpowered each bite with the predominant flavour being that of the rice. I removed the top portion and ate it open-style. Each ingredient complimented each other and it was a textural explosion, with crispiness from the crab. I liked the freshness that the raw shallots added and there was a nice bit of heat that lingered on the palate.
And I think the universal favourite dish, the Miso, Fruit Marinated Chicken Thighs –w/marinated in banana, strawberry, pickled cucumber and daikon. Alex and I are like the ‘unprofessional’ food bloggers, we aren’t so keen on seafood, we don’t like offal and we like breast pieces of chicken…sue us! BUT the chicken thighs at Oratnek were nek level – juicy, tender and incredibly soft. If you had asked me what the marinade was before seeing a menu I couldn’t tell you it was a mixture of fruits, such a clever idea. The daikon was great paired with the chicken, having been lightly charred. Vanessa said she “Hadn’t enjoyed a thigh as good as that before” (wink). Mum loved this dish so much she was inspired to make it at home for my dad later the next week. Mind you my dad is allergic to bananas and broke out in a rather nasty rash. Needless to say she didn’t inform him of her faux paus.
Moving onto the last of the entrées with the Chargrilled Scallop & Spring Pea Salad – w/white grapefruit, snow pea shoots, alfalfa, witlof, 4peas, wasabi dressing. This dish was really not to our tastes at all. Scallops were flawless and melt in your mouth tender but the flavours didn’t work for us. A very simple, clean dish but ultimately forgettable. The overwhelming flavour of the alfalfa and raw snow peas just didn’t make for pleasant eating. I’m hoping this dish gets a workaround as it really did take what was an otherwise excellent ‘dego’ down a few notches.
Segue into our palate cleanser – one of the smoothest and easiest drinking Sake’s I’ve had.
Then bam straight back into mains, the 100g Porterhouse Steak and Autumn Vegetables – w/baby purple carrot, baby eggplant, purple kale, shiso, beetroot sauce and blue cheese. A big hit with the table, steak was cooked beautifully. I’m not a fan of beetroot and I could see how it could be divisive as it virtually smothers most of the dish. Everyone else enjoyed the earthiness of the beetroot sauce. Blue cheese is on the expensive side but we could have loved a bit more because it was a) incredibly delicious alongside the beef and b) we’re greedy!
As far as the accompanying Shimeji Mushroom Rice –w/ shitake mushrooms, carrot, burdock, sake, soy sauce, mirin, shallot and kelp. We found it rather understated, particularly in comparison to the vibrant steak dish. I understand it’s there to act as the ‘starchy’ element to the mains but beyond my first bite I wasn’t inclined to go back for more!
And to finish, dessert and a round of coffees where I managed to cajole manager Daryl into whipping me up an experimental Matcha Latte Mocha, we won’t get into specifics but let’s just say this hasn’t changed my feelings towards matcha! Haha
The Roasted Fuji Apple and Burnt Tea Crumble –w/ honey, cream cheese, vanilla ice-cream and a burnt tea analgaise was a delightful fusion of understated/lighter geared Asian flavours with bold in your face/heavy ingredients nee the Western folk. It was unlike anything I’ve come across before, the roasted apple becoming a vehicle for the cream cheese stuffed into its core to really make this dish sing. I liked the combo but it was divisive amongst the table but we all loved the burnt tea crumble!
Honestly for $55 it’s an absolute steal, it’s still early days and I believe they’re still taking on board a lot of diner’s feedback. But out of the gate they’ve started fairly strong, kudos to the team and chef/owner Kentaro Takayama.
Photos by Alex