The Oaks is an iconic pub in Sydney’s Neutral Bay. It opened its doors in 1885 and throughout its 120 year history, it has never failed to be a place that Sydney-siders will frequent time and time again.
By a stroke of good fortune, Lorraine had an appointment at The Oaks and asked if, along with Celia and Pete, I would like to join them for lunch. I was thrilled. Because I love a spur-of-the-moment event and this was an opportunity to catch up with good friends and I’m one of those people who is sentimental about The Oaks.
Way back in my nursing days, after an evening shift, we used to pile as many people into a car as possible and drive to The Oaks for a few champagnes or cocktails. We’d laugh and carry on all night long swapping stories about the horrid Charge Nurse on 8C or the lazy Sister in 7D and often we’d be there until closing time. The Oaks is a place where people walk away with warm and lasting memories.
Pressing forward a couple of decades, The Oaks would still have to be one of Sydney’s best pubs. While it has been renovated and while the menus have changed and while they have made improvements like having their own on-site butcher’s ‘shop’, it is still the same as ever and most importantly, there’s the famous oak tree, looking as healthy and as impressive as always.
I can walk to The Oaks from where I live. It’s a bit of a trek but it means I don’t have to fight for a park or once at the pub, continually check my watch to see when I next need to run out to put more money in the meter. I entered through the gates on Ben Boyd Road which takes you through to the outdoor beer garden where any time of the year, it’s very pleasant to sit under the shade of the oak tree. That’s where I waited for Lorraine and Celia but alas, I was in the wrong part of the pub and found them in the Bar and Grill. There is nothing on the menu that’s going to surprise or amaze you but there are plenty of options. The Oaks has always been famous for its steaks and also for the fact that if you wish, you can cook your order at the barbecues out in the beer garden. In 2013 the SMH Good Pub Food Guide awarded The Oaks, Best Steak in NSW. I saw potato scallops on the menu and as I was famished after my hike, I ordered them. Even though I thought they were pricey at $10.00 for a small bowl. It said they came with vinegar but I couldn’t taste it. I found the scallops to be a bit oily and felt they needed to be served with some sort of a dipping sauce like an aioli or tomato sauce – or at least the vinegar!
Then we had The Oaks classic prawn cocktail. I thought the salad part of it was a bit limp and blonde looking and definitely the salad needed a bit of colour.
We thought we should try a pizza. We chose a mixed wild mushroom, garlic, mozzarella and truffle oil. We all thought it was rather bland and as it was presented, it certainly looked like it could do with a splash of colour. However, the thin and crispy pizza base was wonderful.
We ordered the Classic Cheese Burger with tomato, lettuce, beetroot, cheese, apple wood smoked streaky bacon with a spiced tomato ketchup and fries. I just loved this burger and I thought the meat patty was generously proportioned and it was good to know the mince came from their very own butcher.
Another dish we tried was the beer battered flathead fillets with fries, mushy peas and tartare sauce. Don’t you just love mushy peas! They provide so much colour to a plate of fish and chips. The batter was crunchy and the fish tender. This wasn’t an inexpensive dish but it was well executed.
Whenever I see pork belly on a menu I have to order it. We had the slow roasted pork belly with apple and fennel slaw and apple relish. I just loved this beautifully presented dish. The crackle was ‘crackly’ and the pork, through the slow roasting process, very tender. The richness of the pork was beautifully contrasted by the apple and fennel slaw. It’s a dish I’d come back for.
The most expensive dish and the most raved about and the one The Oaks received the award for, was the rib eye on the bone with bone marrow, roasted potatoes and green beans. You can have it with a variety of sauces and we chose the green peppercorn but I’m not sure I had any. The steak was so tender and juicy and full of flavour that I just let it scream on its own.
We couldn’t leave without dessert and shared two between us. The first was the white chocolate brulee with summer berries and chocolate ice cream. The brulee had a wonderful snap of caramel on the surface and then the custard had a welcoming smooth and creamy texture.
We also had the Banoffee pie served with caramel gelato. By this stage I was so full I could only manage a spoonful of the gelato and yes, it was fantastic; very smooth and creamy and lovely to have something icy cold at this stage of the lunch.
I loved my time at The Oaks as the place is so full of memories for me however, although I believe the food is better than the average pub food, you are also going to pay a lot more for it. I felt the prices surely can’t go any higher without losing patrons. By another stroke of good fortune, shortly after this lunch, two of my nursing friends contacted me asking if, ‘for old time’s sake’, I would like to meet them at The Oaks. I squealed. We had three and a half hours of catching up and reminiscing on the good times we’d shared on the wards and at The Oaks.
If you’d like to make some memories, I suggest you beetle over to The Oaks and start to create some wonderful experiences – you might even meet some nurses! The Oaks: 118 Military Road, Neutral Bay NSW 2089 Ph: (02) 9953-5515