92-96 Station St Fairfield, VIC 3078
|Opening hours||Mon-Thu 7am-7pm; Fri 7am-9pm; Sat 8am-9pm; Sun 8am-7pm|
|Features||Food shop, Cooking classes, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Events|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9489 6399|
Over the past 20 years, Oasis has grown from a small family bakery into a zaatar-sprinkled juggernaut. The original Murrumbeena premises has expanded so many times that it now creates its own traffic jams on otherwise dull North Road.
Now, the Makool family that owns Oasis has expanded north of the river to Fairfield. Station Street is transformed: the cosy strip is seeing weekend brunch queues, parking is suddenly tricky and I bet longtime store-owners are wondering if they should freak out or gun for spillover business.
At heart Lebanese, Oasis is a multicultural, multi-purpose drawcard, a gourmet grocer, bread shop, cafe, takeaway joint and cooking class venue. The Fairfield store is a new, bright two-storey food palace but its most powerful feature – the Oasis vortex – has been transported from the scuffed original.
This is how it works. You come to buy dips and you stay for coffee ... OK, and cake. You pop in for breakfast and a loaf for later ... and what about 10 pies for the freezer? You're there to grab baklava for afternoon tea and suddenly you've filled a shopping trolley with items pantry-handy and compellingly delicious.
I've been happily and regularly caught in the Oasis vortex for years. When you're in there, food is a vibrant swirl of shared joy. The scent of toasted spices and fresh bread, the persistent bounty: it's all generosity and zinging life. Why wouldn't you want more of it?
Marwa Makool is the Oasis matriarch and an unstoppable food whisperer. As a child in Lebanon – an only girl with seven brothers – she was drawn to the kitchen. "I would wake in the night and polish my mother's pots," Makool told me.
She enjoyed unpacking spices from shopping bags and transferring them to labelled jars, smelling, learning, dreaming. She started secretly mixing spices and one day her mother unwittingly used one of Marwa's blends in the family dinner. Her father loved the taste. It was a turning point.
That obsessive love of food is threaded through everything at Oasis, including their own brand of spice blends and sprinkles, available on cafe dishes and in take-home tubs.
You taste Marwa's magic in the shakshuka – poached eggs nestled in a warm and spicy sauce of tomatoes, capsicum, onion and chickpeas. A dollop of yoghurt is scattered with black and white sesame seeds with chickpea shoots adding fresh crunch. Oasis's own fluffy and delicious Turkish bread sits to the side, baked in their southside bakery which runs 24 hours, uses five tonnes of flour a week and a cherished 30-year-old sourdough starter.
Bread is central but there is plenty for gluten-free diners, including a breakfast beauty of beetroot-cured salmon with potato roesti and smoked eggplant. I'm a sucker for side dishes, especially Archie's avocado, with its nutty sprinkle of barberries, pistachios and slivered almonds.
For lunch, the shawarma is always juicy, and again, judiciously spiced, but I seriously swoon for the side salads. Oasis chops 4000 bunches of parsley a week for the tabbouleh and I honestly feel like every leaf is cut with care: feathery, not mushy and with scant burgul to bulk it up. It's zesty and bursting with life, just one more example of the energetic and compelling Oasis spirit.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)