Mighty Oak in Morrinsville

Words Denise Irvine, Images Ashlee DeCaires

“Build it and they will come,” is the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, and it seems a pretty good fit for Oak Eatery, in Morrinsville.

Oak is the up-to-the-minute café at the Lockerbie Estate on the northern outskirts of town, and on this blue-sky Friday morning customers are streaming in for coffee and brunch. There’s a family group at a big sunny table and others are taking the fine-day opportunity to sit out on the deck. There are parents with pre-schoolers, older couples having a quiet chat, a business woman heading off with a takeout coffee, all of them clearly enjoying the new “local” in their midst.

The café is framed by venerable trees, it is adjacent to a park and a children’s playground, and it is a key addition to Lockerbie, the burgeoning new Morrinsville subdivision on a former dairy farm. Nowadays, the subdivision is home to young families as well as residents of the estate’s retirement village . . . and everyone in between.

Oak Eatery opened in late May, with husband-and-wife hospo team Shane and Tash Lowe at the helm, in a business partnership with Lockerbie Estate. Shane is the former head chef of Foundation Bar at The Base, in Hamilton, and Tash was Foundation’s restaurant manager. The pair met at Foundation, married nearly five years ago, and Oak is their first venture as independent operators.

They have worked closely on the project with Lockerbie’s developers and the café’s builders. They’ve devised the food and contemporary fit-out to suit their unique park-like location and diverse customers, including Lockerbie locals, random road-trippers, and the wider Morrinsville population. Each decision has been carefully considered, from choosing the coffee beans (Supreme) to the style of home-baking (classics with a twist).

Shane, originally from South Auckland, served his culinary apprenticeship at the prestigious Bracu Restaurant at Bombay. He began as a dish-hand, on high-school work experience: “Then the sous chef asked if I wanted a full-time job in the kitchen. So twelve, thirteen years later, here I am, still cooking.”

Tash started in hospo as a student, to fund her Bachelor of Business Studies degree at Auckland University, and she’s remained in the industry ever since. At Oak, she is multi-tasking, running front-of-house as well as taking on baking and cabinet-food duties, and some other cooking.

“We’ve put together a great new staff team,” Tash says, “but I need to step into the kitchen as needed.”

Her cabinet is fresh and colourful, everything made from scratch with the exception of gluten-free bread and sourdough. Oak makes its own light and fluffy milk bread, though, and it is the perfect vehicle for toasted sandwiches and the like. “The Cuban [toastie] has been a big hit: pork shoulder, ham, mustard, pickles and cheese on house-made milk bread.”

There are also wraps, sausage rolls, croissants and breakfast buns with fillings and flavours tweaked each day.

Baking includes KitKat brownie, rocky road, lolly cake, Louise cake, cheese scones, oatie caramel slice and sweet scrolls. Tash says she takes her lead on these treats from Kiwi favourites and her childhood memories of home baking.

“The new twists I get are from social media and I also draw inspiration from Hamilton’s baking queen, Chrissy Houghton [from Cream Eatery in Garden Place], and cookbook writer Donna Hay.”

The breakfast and lunch menus have similar emphasis on cooking from scratch, and there is also a neatly pitched menu of kids’ treats. Shane says customer breakfast favourites include the Oak Breakfast Combo, which has a beef, cheddar and black pepper sausage plated with broccolini, bacon, confit potato, roast mushrooms, relish, toast and eggs. Banoffee crumpets also fly out of the kitchen, a sweet serving of Nutella-covered house-made crumpets with vanilla mascarpone, caramelised banana and other goodies.

For lunch, Shane’s cooking pulled lamb flatbread, wild risotto, penne alla vodka, chicken waffle burger, and bulgogi beef sandwich. His Korean-classic bulgogi, with marinated beef, pickled daikon slaw and Swiss cheese on an Oak milk-bread bun, is based on a deliciously memorable bulgogi that he and Tash enjoyed in Chicago during a recent trip to the US.

At present, Oaks is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, seven days, from 8am–3pm, and a catering service for functions is also available. By spring, Shane and Tash are looking to run some pop-up evening soirees at Oak, and they envisage their extensive deck will lend itself well to these events.

They’re now fully licensed, offering wine and beer lists, and they’re planning a few signature cocktails which will work with the evening pop-ups.

Oak is building its reputation very nicely, the word is spreading, and as the line from the movie says, “the customers are coming”.

Oak Eatery, 105 Fairway Drive, Lockerbie Estate, Morrinsville. oakeatery.co.nz

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