Every so often, even iconic spots like The Oaks dabble in a refresh, but that’s probably playing down this amazing multi-million dollar transformation designed by renowned architect Paul Kelly. So it is also an understatement to say that I was chuffed to be invited along to be one of the first to see their fresh new look.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure in visiting The Oaks, let me set the scene. It is a Neutral Bay institution – a popular spot for a casual drink after work, a family friendly place to catch up with friends on weekends, great for functions, perfect for dining… and all the action is centred around a beautifully majestic tree that dominates the courtyard. I’m convinced that tree is enchanted. No matter the weather, it always provides just the right amount of shade and seems to create it’s own micro-climate for the whole area under it’s canopy.
The regulars would argue that it already had a great vibe pre-transformation and I’d have to agree too, but the forward thinking and innovative Thomas family who own the Oaks had a vision to set a new standard in the Sydney hotel scene and proactively took the opportunity to revamp both the premises and the menu. I was able to chat with the owner Andrew and hear his spirited description of the recent update – the big and obvious changes as well as the the little touches like the picture of his father on the cover of the menu (which he points out proudly).
The refurbishment is in complete harmony with the historic significance and classic art nouveau and art deco features. Having been a fan of The Oaks previously, I breathed a little sigh of relief that the refurb wasn’t a ‘rip and replace’ matter. Instead, it is clear that careful consideration and sympathetic attention was excercised at all stages. A lot of thought has been put into tying all the zones together – inside and out, old and new – and it all works seamlessly.
Rich and rustic dark wood interiors in the bistro area are married perfectly with stone features and stand out light fixtures. A walk-in wine cellar encased in glass creates a mood of sophistication, albeit in a cosy and approachable vibe.
The view from the bistro leads into the garden courtyard which I think looks magical by night. There is plenty of seating and the courtyard has a very relaxed atmosphere… is there any option but to relax when one has a drink in their hand and is sitting under a enchanted tree draped in fairy lights?
The new Garden Pavilion is a great space for private functions and I’m so glad that it isn’t a room that is shoved away in some closed off area away from the action (as is the case with many function spaces within larger establishments).
It’s bright, cheerful space with striking light fixtures and elegant, neutral soft furnishings. I like how the style isn’t obvious and prescribed: The light fixtures look industrial and so does the roughly rendered concrete wall finish, the panelling behind the bar is classic Art nouveau, the floor tiles Art Deco with a slight nod to the current Aztec trend, the vertically laid subway tiles on the front have some Retro swagger, the cafe chairs French Provincial, the lounges and cushions touch on the elegant Hamptons and Cape Cod vibe. It all coexists beautifully.
The space is gorgeous as it is, but I can also imagine how well the neutral foundations could easily be personalised to reflect the different functions that will be held there. Best of all, the french doors can close off the space for more intimate moments of a private function, and can also open right up to soak in the greater atmosphere of the courtyard.
The menu revamp is also a hit as I observe many patrons making that pause-close-eyes-chew-smile-sigh sequence with first mouthfuls (any many mouthfuls thereafter). I can personally vouch for their steaks (and so does most of Sydney since they’ve recently won the ‘Best Steak’ award in the 2014 Good Pub Guide) and a decadent banofee pie… and I certainly plan to work my way through their entire menu. The culinary medley on offer adds their contemporary signature flair on classic pub dishes, the extensive range of pizzas and of course the cook-your-own steak grill station in the courtyard.
As I part of my visit to the unveiling of the new look, I was invited to take part in a Steak Masterclass by chef Danny Russo. This was particularly advantageous for my household because steaks are the one thing I’ve never been able to get quite right (burnt, dry, chewy!). So keep an eye out later this week where I will be revealing his top tips for creating the perfect steak. In the meantime, here’s are some teaser pics to wet your appetite.
If you get the chance, make sure you visit them. You may see me there!