Restaurant Reviews

Review: don't let the name fool you. North Queensland's Oaks Kitchen and Garden is full of good surprises

With Lee Ho Fook and Longrain alumni running the show, expect delights of the earthly and culinary kind.

By Alexandra Carlton
Don't be fooled by the name. Oaks Kitchen and Garden might sound like a thousand non-descript bistros anywhere in Australia, where you could expect a nice piece of fish, an unremarkable steak and something that includes granita for dessert. It's none of these things. What you soon realise, when you bump down the muddy driveway, around 15 minutes south of Port Douglas, and park beneath the groves of foxtail palms, is that you've found yourself in a piece of wild paradise. And there's not a neat little square of Atlantic salmon anywhere in sight.
Co-owner and Lee Ho Fook alumnus Rachael Boon greets you as you walk towards the corrugated-roofed, open-air pavilion where lunch will be served. Stash your BYO bottles in the outdoor fridge and Boon, work boots on her feet and a chook feather in her hat, guides you and your lunch companions through her rambling permaculture garden.
She points out trellises of aerial yams, rosella bushes, galangal and mango trees, encouraging you to taste as you explore. Every now and then she'll pull back a thatch of tangled vines to discover one of her chickens has established a secret cache of eggs.
Oaks kitchen & Garden's Ben Wallace and Rachael Boon in 2019. Photo: Kara Rosenlund
Once you've nibbled on sweet basil and compared the flavour of a tamarind leaf to its fibrous fruit, you're led to a set of reclaimed wooden tables to get stuck into whatever Rachael's husband Ben Wallace – ex-Longrain in Melbourne – has been assembling in his outdoor kitchen. There are around seven expertly balanced dishes to this long Thai-centric lunch, plus rice and condiments. You might get a lively smudge of coconut and chilli relish on top of a wedge of cucumber, or a muddle of coral trout, makrut lime and nahm jim topped with a sprinkle of native green ants, whose friends and family you probably met scurrying over the garden gate just moments before.

Shan tofu with sweet tamarind. Photo: Supplied
Larger plates could be a yellow curry of Shannonvale goat or nuggets of red claw crayfish twirled into a green mango and papaya salad. The stereo blends Father John Misty and Edith Piaf with the busy hum of the rainforest. Tiny yellow sunbirds and electric blue butterflies dart around the Thai Buddhist shrines that bookend Wallace's kitchen and you're encouraged to wander over to the fridge to top up your own wine as much as you like.