Address: 118 Military Rd, Neutral Bay NSW
Tel: (02) 9953 5515
* * *
The Oaks in Neutral Bay, is owned and run by the Thomas family. They purchased it about 40 years ago from the Furlong family, which had held the licence for it since 1918. It has been described as an “institution”, serving lower north shore patrons since 1885, and has become an icon in the food and bar world, especially north of the bridge.
When I mentioned that I was going to The Oaks this weekend, a number of my friends (mainly those who are older than me- in their 30s and 40s) exclaimed “oh, The Oaks”, or “yeah I know that place.” When I had asked people my age, some had heard of it but not many had visited.
Based on these reactions, it is was easy to see that The Oaks was more popular with the older crowd, or even with Generation Xers, than the recent 18-25 year olds.
In order to attract a younger crowd, The Oaks recently hired renowned architect Paul Kelly, who has worked on masterpieces such as Black By Ezard, Sokyo and Cargo Bar. The majority of the $4 million renovations were recently completed, and I was lucky enought to be invited to try the new menu by Celebrity Chef Danny Russo and long time The Oaks cook, Denise Brinson.
Owner, David Kelly and the lovely George from Wasamedia took us on a tour around the historic hotel.
The atmosphere varies depending on which room you are in.
The Bar & Grill area is where we started our tour, and concluded it.
It is the newly renovated area of the Hotel, with dark colours and funky lights, beautiful wooden finishes, and a modern yet classic look.
The cellar in the Bar & Grill room makes this room feel more like a restaurant than a pub
The glass partitions add some depth to the room, while the dark colours ensure the room is still cosy and welcoming
The stone walls and chequered carpets ensure that The Oaks retains some of its pub characteristics, despite its classy new look
The bar area is quite large and there are plenty of great beers on tap
The Oaks Butcher sources some of the best meat in Sydney and The Oaks offers diners the option of cooking their own meat! While some find this a little strange (why would you pay to cook your own meat?), others (such as MC) are fans, and think it is a novel way to make cooking exciting, like Korean BBQ!
Fun fact: apparently the purple lighting in the room was a mistake!
In the outdoor area, you can cook your own meat on the DIY BBQ and enjoy the lovely sunshine or the shade of the giant oak tree, planted by Ms Kathleen McGill (nee Furlong) in 1938.
The BBQ area is located in that little hut with a chimney…
It was a custom of the store in the 1930s to give an Oak Tree to any patron spending more than Ten pounds in one purchase.
It is now a tradition that good luck comes to anyone struck by an acorn from the tree in Autumn.
The Garden Pavilion is coming soon and renovations are currently underway for this area of The Oaks.
Following this, Mr Thomas led us to Nineteenthirtysix, the funky bar which opened in that same year.
Mr Thomas told us that the bar was popular with locals in the area who would rush in for a beer after work at 5.00pm, before it closed at 6.00pm.
Mr Thomas giving us a tour of the Hotel
He said the bar originally had many doors facing onto the road, and the actual bar was in the middle of the room, to make it easier for the crowd to get in and get out in the one hour after work.
It was interesting to see the original tiles and the $90,000 painting hanging in the bar, which are historic parts of Sydney’s history.
It was also intriguing to see the Bottle Department window where patrons used to purchase bottles of beer and alcohol to take home.
While the bar looks a little dated, I think the old school retro vibe adds character and authenticity to The Oaks.
We moved through the back kitchen areas to the Garden Bar, a quaint little art deco space with a lovely view of the courtyard.
The Garden Bar from outside
The view from inside
Inside, the bar is the perfect sports bar, and offers a great space for a chilled out drink or a game of pool.
The Garden Bar area
Next we headed up to the Cue & Cushion, the pool table area of the bar, located upstairs.
Mr Thomas told us that the wooden stairs and paneling are all original. They looked to be in excellent repair and I was impressed that a Hotel that is over 100 years old could be in such great condition.
We walked through some of the many pool table rooms, and the outdoor balcony area which can be hired out for functions including birthdays and special occasions.
The upstairs bar
An old telephone, still mounted on the wall in one of the rooms
Walking through the rooms we were led past the poker machines, and back down the stairs to the Bar & Grill.
The tour gave us a lovely insight into the historic Hotel and really brought home the importance of supporting local businesses which work so hard to preserve Sydney’s historic and cultural history.
Mr Thomas was lovely and MC and I both commented on how he and his son, Andrew worked in the pub, wearing the same uniform as the rest of the staff, and doing the same jobs.
They were friendly and down to earth, and you could see that they had a real connection with the patrons and locals in the area.
MC and I both noted that the staff were also quite relaxed and friendly, very helpful and polite (although I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that we were a table of food bloggers!).
Nonetheless, we had no complaints with respect to service.
We were also excited to hear Chef Danny Russo’s explanation of the menu.
Chef Danny Russo
He mentioned that it was designed to deliver tasty and exciting food which is good quality, without alienating the locals who were after good value pub grub.
He also noted that there were plenty of salads and dishes to please the ladies, as well as a number of good sharing options.
The Oaks has about 5 different bar and restaurant areas: Bar & Grill, Garden Pavillion, Cue & Cushion Bar, Nineteenthirtysix and Garden Bar, each with it’s own distinct style and vibe.
We dined at the Bar & Grill area and had an array of entrees, mains and desserts.
We started off with a drink- I had a Lemon Lime Bitters and MC had a cider.
To start off with we had:
Brioche bun with smoked butter, $6.00
Buffalo wings with blue cheese aioli, $15.00
Beer battered potato scallops, with sea salt and vinegar, $10.00
Fried buttermilk chicken with aioli, $15.00
Popcorn shrimp with chilli mayonnaise, $19.00
Ocean trout gravlax with baby capers, radish, horseradish cream & fresh dill, $22.00
Fried baby calamari with lemon and aioli, $18.00
All the entrees were delicious: the salmon fresh and light, the calamari and chicken crunchy and golden, the brioche (best I have ever tasted) soft and sweet, and the blue cheese aioli, creamy yet tangy.
There was a great selection and although some of the entrees were a little pricey for their size, they were quite filling and all were great quality.
My favourite entree: a toss up between the Buttermilk Chicken and the Brioche. The chicken was so crunchy and flavoursome, and the brioche was just soft and moreish.
Least favourite entree: the potato scallops were a bit too oily for my liking and not very crunchy either.
For mains, we shared a variety of dishes around the table:
Slow roasted Pork Belly with cauliflower puree, brussel sprouts, bacon, red wine jus & apple cider relish, $28.00
Roasted brussel sprouts, crispy bacon & almonds, $8.00
200g fillet mignon (grain fed), wrapped in bacon with spinach and mash, $28.00
Not sure which steak this is (I think sirloin- 300g $28.00?), served with Cafe de Paris butter
Eye fillet, 200g (grain fed), $28.00
Au Congo Mussels, cooked with coconut cream, lemongrass & chilli, $29.00
The Original Burger with tomato, lettuce, ‘tomato ketchup for grownups’, fries & condiments, $18.00
The Vegie Burger with grilled zucchini & eggplant, roasted tomato, rocket, haloumi cheese, caramelised onion, aioli & fries, $22.00
Sorry I don’t have an image for this one!
The Classic Cheese Burger with tomato, lettuce, beetroot, cheese, apple wood smoked streaky bacon, ‘tomato ketchup for grownups’, fries & condiments, $23.00
All the dishes were great but the delicious steaks were cooked to perfection (we ordered them medium rare). They were soft and juicy and there was a lot of variety from the meat to the sauces.
The burgers were great too, with a quirky brioche bun and some crunchy and golden chips on the side.
Favourite dish: I loved the pork belly, I am always a fan of it but the crunchy crackling and soft belly, paired with bacon (double pork) and apple cider relish, is definitely a winner.
Least favourite dish: the mussels. Although there was a fabulous portion size, the flavour of the mussels did not appeal to me, it was a little too much as I would prefer them with fresher flavours like chilli and garlic. Perhaps Provencale would have been better!
Finally, we tried three of the desserts:
Hot apple pie with vanilla bean ice cream & cream, $14.00
Warm sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce & vanilla bean ice cream, $14.00
Banoffee pie served with caramel gelato, $14.00
All the desserts were tasty but the Sticky Date could have done with a little more sauce (personally I thought my own version of sticky date was better and so did MC).
I would have liked to try the soft centred chocolate fondant with hazelnut gelato ($14.00), and the passionfruit creme brulee with passionfruit gelato ($14.00), but we ran out of time and couldn’t wait the 15 minutes for the fondant. Oh well- next time!
Favourite dish: Can’t beat a banoffee pie, and this one was delicious with a gooey caramel and a creamy gelato.
Least favourite: probably the apple pie. It was pretty average and just not as good as the other two!
Overall, The Oaks is a fabulous place for a Sunday lunch or a post-work drink. It is a 30 minute bus ride from the city, and the Coles carpark in Neutral Bay has free parking on weekends (there is also metred street parking).
The lovely family-owned Hotel has a warm and welcoming atmosphere and the renovations are modern but still in line with the pub feel of the Hotel.
The new menu is extensive and full of great options which are sure to please anyone and everyone.
Definitely recommend this place!
TCFB and MC dined as guests of Wasamedia and The Oaks.
Overall I would rate my experience (out of 10):
- Service- 8
- Food- 9
- Ambience- 7.5
- Value – 7.5