Seaweed, miso, dashi, wasabi and matcha – the flavours most associated with Japanese cuisine – is penetrating the Sydney café scene. Yes, we are seeing the eastern influences in our breakfasts and a small wave of cafes like Café Oratnek are opening across Sydney revolutionising the humble eggs or introducing elements of Asian cuisine to your favourite fry-ups.
Café Oratnek, is located in Pitt street in Redfern and is housed in an old-style terrace. The yard contains a seating area with a few tables, and in the interior is a clean design with subway-style black and white tiles with lots of retro school chairs and a display of enticing treats up at the counter. When the sun is out, there’s no better place to be than in the terrace’s backyard. Oratnek is just far enough back from Cleveland street that we’re shielded from the noise of one Sydney’s busiest roads.
The café is a creation by Kenny Takayama who plied his trade at Bills, so you can rest assured that he knows a thing or two about a good breakfast.
First off it’s a cappuccino. It’s light and creamy, there’s a nice texture to the coffee and the temperature is spot on, but the intensity is not as strong as many of the coffees you can find in the Redfern area. Nevertheless, it will appeal to a broad section of coffee drinkers.
I also try the espresso which is the base for the affogato. It, on the other hand, is strong and if you’ve wandered in, in a stupor, you will be zapped out of it with the espresso. It’s bold, yet does not stray in bitterness territory.
The matcha latte is a nice alternative to the regular café beverage fare. It is a good accompaniment to the Asian theme of the menu. It is light in taste not overpoweringly sweet. It provides the full matcha taste without being bitter or powdery-in-the-mouth feel.
Café Oratnek really excels with its food offerings. In almost every dish, you will find some reference to Asia and you can opt for breakfast staples which run all day. For example, the thick bacon and egg roll is distinguished with a spicy mango chutney, or the banana bread with kuromitsu butter. Kuromitsu literally translates to black honey and is made from unrefined sugar kuruzato. It’s a key sweetening agent in many Japanese dishes.
Lucky the entire Coco & Vine team are on hand for brunch, so we get to sample a few of Oratnek’s offerings. First up is the matcha french toast from the Breakfast Staples menu. It is served with banana, coconut, strawberries, and matcha mousse. The highlight is the matcha mousse – light, fresh, with that matcha tang – the freshness and the texture breaks up the heavier toast. Its a good serving size with a nice mix of subtle flavours. The coconut encrusted banana lends rich visual appeal and again enhances the texture combination. Very thick, moist toast slices, dusted with icing sugar, matcha powder, and garnished with fresh mint and strawberries.
The pork katsu sandwich from the sandwich menu is perhaps what Café Oratnek is most famous for. Almost every table around the café will contain a rustic board with neatly cut rectangles of pork, bbq sauce and mustard. To get the intended balance of flavours the sandwich must be eaten as a whole, no deconstructing now! Very generous pork katsu portions squeezed in light fluffy sandwich bread means you won’t be walking around clamouring for a helping elsewhere. The fresh shredded cabbage is a pleasant textural element yet gives a cool-mouth feel. The mustard has a tart bite…not hot, but very distinctive to cut through the other ingredients.
I opt for the seaweed rolled dashi omelette, and mildly spiced miso mayo. It’s a vegetarian option yet it definitely has onlookers marvelling when service staff place it on the table. It’s big, puffy, vibrant and novel! It’s like no other omelette you’ve seen. If you’ve never tried seaweed, this is a good introduction. Seaweed (or nori as it is known in Japan) with it’s saline, briny flavour characteristics can be an acquired taste but with the Cafe Oratnek’s take on the omelette, it is a very subtle flavour. It melds really well with the omelette, and gives off a subtle salty flavour but adds a striking contrasty green to the fluffy yellow eggs. The mayo is nicely balanced, rich yet not too spicy. The bread is fluffy and is perfect to mop up the remaining mayo.
On the seasonal spring selection, there’s a spicy pork stuffed chicken wings with chilli jam, chips and green laver. Green laver (again another name for seaweed) is presented in the form of flakes on the chips. The wings, with pork stuffing, is moist and delicious. It’s crispy and has hints of lemongrass, and for me is all Thai! The chilli jam is worth bottling – it’s a little spicy, a little sweet and whole lot of yum! I could eat it all day. The chips are a nice accompaniment and are crispy and perfectly cooked.
You must add Café Oratnek to your list of Sydney must-try cafes. The relaxed environment with attentive staff will deliver you dishes, that are a little bit of Japan, right to your taste buds before noon.