Finding miso on Cafe Oratnek’s breakfast menu is a self-affirming revelation. Like the time Sydney café, Cornersmith offered lamb curry as a breakfast item, it’s heartening to know I’m not the only one who enjoys a walk on the savoury side first thing in the morning.
So once I spy miso mushrooms, I cannot unsee. The tumble of enoki and swiss browns are the best ‘shrooms on toast I’ve had for a while. Miso drives the flavour bus, and the sauteed mixed mushrooms are its happy passengers, studded with goat’s cheese and herbs.
The Japanese-influenced cafe menu is courtesy of ex-bills head chef Kenny Takayama. He’s renovated the former terrace site of The Fern with a minimalist look and breezy outdoor courtyard seating. The Japanese touch is smattered throughout the breakfast/lunch menu—a touch of miso here, a drizzle of soy mirin dressing there, and general deliciousness everywhere.
My housemate refuses to go out for breakfast unless there is bacon and eggs at the end of the journey. I’ve lured him out of his cave with the promise of a B’n’E roll “with not too many fancy bits”. He’s impressed with Oratnek’s rendition, the bacon and eggs served with mustard mayo and iceberg lettuce, safely enclosed in a toasted white roll.
Lunch options are of the sandwich/salad variety. Spoilt for choice, the waitress guides me towards the pork katsu sandwich, apparently the most popular of the sandwich options. It’s less a sandwich, and more a massive hunk of pork with a side of bread, in the best sense of the word. The 200g pork katsu a hefty log of firm and succulent meat, with an incredibly crispy outside crumb. It’s layered with shredded white cabbage, mustard and Japanese BBQ sauce, and fluffy white sandwich bread. White bread! It’s the sort of tip-top sandwich you would find at high tea for tradesmen. Or bikies.
Sydney’s penchant for pickles continue. A side of cauliflower and edamame is dusted a pretty yellow from turmeric, and provides a pleasant astringent counterpoint to my meat mountain.
Beverages receive the same house-made treatment as the food. The fruit tea is made by stewing a mix of fruit for hours (I spot kiwis and apples), resulting in a comforting, delicately sweet tea. It’s like a delicious warm cordial, without the processed sucrose of the Cottees variety. Coffee is from Mecca, the consistently good roaster in Alexandria.
Two thumbs up to the floor staff. They’re knowledgeable and attentive, without trying to be your next best friend. And a word of warning—they have a knack for tempting you into the sweet treats at the counter. The matcha lamington could have been baked by Gumby—it looks like a lamington, talks like a lamington, but has an eerie green tinge. Luckily, the sponge is impossibly yielding and fluffy, and the combo of green tea and coconut works well.
From savoury beginnings to sweet endings, Cafe Oratnek delivers big time. Tucked away just off the Cleveland Street end of Prince Alfred Park, it almost pains me to write about this new Sydney café, lest it become too popular. But that’s the thing with self-revelations—sooner or later, everyone will find out.
Image credit: Daryl Kong