We had visited Oakover Winery Mark 1 a few times in the past, and had fond memories of a large room, with neat tables and chairs, white linen tablecloths, room for a pram, large tasty meals, a great outdoor space, and reasonable prices. Good times.
On our last visit to Oakover we discovered it had undergone a rather substantial renovation. Not the building so much, which is still a large tin shed in the middle of the Swan Valley, but the personality of Oakover has been fiddled with, probably in an attempt to bring it in line with the hipster breweries in the valley and the wine bars dotting the city.
The new decor at Oakover has you reaching for your sunnies
All of a sudden the standard restaurant tables and chairs are gone, and replaced with a mishmash of tables made from random rescued doors, some with broken records and cutlery embedded in the top. The metal chairs shriek with their vibrant colours. Vintage curvy ladies smile down from the brick walls and recycled wood pallets act as storage and shelving. It's school meets op-shop meets back-of-the-local-fish-and-chipper. It's too much.
The separate room for wine tasting and gifts has gone, and now the massive space morphs from dining room to bar set-up, complete with pallets full of wine cartons, and a couple lonely couches in the corner. Perhaps that's for the people on dates.
Outside, where the biggest drawcard was always the open space, views to the vineyards, and the small dam, it improves marginally. The majestic gum trees throw beautiful shade even on a hot summer day, and the free paddleboats beckon temptingly from the water's edge.
Unfortunately, the wooden tables under the trees are recycled from who-knows-what, and while they may look very cool with their uneven planks, they are ridiculous to eat at. With as much as half an inch between the pieces of wood, it's easy to lose your drink, and anyone less than six foot tall sit at eye-height to the table since the chairs are so low.
Be careful where you put your glasses on the outdoor tables
But enough witching. It wasn't all horrible, it was actually quite pleasant and we did have a nice lunch (the bits we didn't spill). Oakover has changed a fair bit, but it's still only a lunch time venue. Along with its rad new look, it has also taken on a hipster new menu, moving away from the traditional 'modern' Australian, to a more 'American BBQ/pub grub/share plate' style.
The top of the Co-op menu states 'create your own culinary adventure and remember, sharing's caring.' The entire menu is based around selecting a variety of meats and sides and bits and bobs and throwing it all in the middle, and sharing the love. I do appreciate the concept, not that we really shared anything the day we visited.
There is a 'deli' section which includes various cheeses and meats from the slicer ($7-$8.50), plus other entrée type dishes such as salmon rillette ($8.50), chicken liver pate ($7.00) and green olive tapenade ($7.50). Sorry, that's meant to be $7.5.
There is a section of the best sounding sandwiches I have ever laid eyes on, and these aint no normal sandwiches. There was the Linley Valley sticky pork sandwich with sauerkraut, provolone and chipotle aioli and served with potato salad ($22). For the vegetarians, they could choose the Moroccan chickpea cakes with smashed pumpkin, green olive tapenade and feta and served with bean salad ($22).
I chose the steak sandwich with coleslaw, cheddar, pickle and coffee BBQ sauce served with onion rings ($24) and I have to admit, I forgot all about my issues with the table for a while. It wasn't as big as I imagined it would be, but it was tasty and very filling. The onion rings were brilliant, but I was forced to share as I couldn't finish them.
The next section on the menu is called 'meat on a stick'. It's a bit of a lie actually, because my mother-in-law ordered the Shark Bay prawns with chilli butter ($12.50) and there was no stick in sight. Instead, they arrived on the edge of the serving tray, sitting on paper which lined it. I'm not sure quite why this was the case, as she had to transfer the prawns from the large tray to her plate (we had all been given an empty plate, despite our food all arriving on… well, plates). Again, for $12.50, the two blackened prawns didn't look very big, but they were tender and tasty.
Other meats on sticks (which range from $7.50 to $12.50) include lamb and pinenut kofta, Oakover shiraz beef sausage and free-range chermoula chicken. I imagine you are meant to order a selection of meats and plonk them down in the middle of the table to share.
There are three salads-as-meals, all much more interesting than the standard Caesar with chicken. There was the coffee glazed bacon and green salad (and pomegranate, garlic croutons, cherry tomatoes and parmesan) for $24; a watermelon and tomato salad (with baby fennel, buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto) for $20; and the cinnamon roast pumpkin and cous cous salad with candied walnuts, feta and green beans ($19). Yum.
We ordered the coffee glazed bacon salad, because it sounded totally awesome. Unfortunately, much like the hipster makeover it just missed the mark a little: the sticky pork bits were much too big, as were the croutons, and although the whole thing was tasty, it wasn't quite right.
To finish the menu there are also a selection of sides, both hot and cold including the intriguing sounding parmesan fries with truffle oil ($10.50), onion rings, mac and cheese and three salads.
The salads come in two sizes and when we queried it, we were told the small would serve a single person ($8-$9) and the large serves three to four people ($12-15). Since there were four of us, we ordered a large crushed potato and pickle salad with green mayo. It could have fed the whole restaurant, but perhaps it was also because we had ordered the fries as well as a dish each.
Children have always been taken care of at Oakover, and that hasn't changed. There is a small but dedicated kids menu (all $9) including ham and cheese sandwich with fries, crumbed chicken and fries or mac and cheese. We ordered my daughter the mac and cheese, a serve of fries, and an apple juice. I'm not sure if we ended up with a kids sized juice or it was the standard one (it came in a dinky little bottle) but it was tiny, and we needed to get a second one. The mac and cheese went down a treat, and the serve of fries was enormous. We couldn't finish them.
But for kids, it's more than the food. There is a bucket of balls and balls by the door for the kids to have a hit while their parents are eating. They can run around on the open grass, or even go out on a boat on the dam (with accompanying parent). It was frustrating that the pink scooter sitting inside is apparently 'display only' as I then had to try and explain that to my child.
Service was friendly enough although quite slow considering it was a very quiet Wednesday. We ordered the kid's meal as soon as we arrived but it was still a very long wait for her.
We didn't have dessert because we were saving room for chocolate goodies elsewhere in the Valley (but Oakover do offer a small range of 'popsicles' including banana and Nutella and the adults only sangria flavour). They also offer a range of Oakover wines (by the glass and bottle), craft beers from local breweries and coffee from Fiori, which has just opened up in a huge shed behind Oakover.
Oakover has a bit of an identity crisis in that it isn't a flash winery but it also isn't a pubby brewery. It's somewhere in the middle. But although a bit of a mixed bag, it was still an enjoyable lunch.