I've been meaning to cross the border and sample the Royal Hotel's award-winning steak since it first won Yak Brewing's Australia's Best Pub Steak in late October. But it's Queanbeyan.
But, as chance would have it, the boy had a physiotherapy appointment a block down the road. The appointment finished up in time for an early tea so we wandered down the block and found a seat about 5.30pm.
We were surprised to see quite a few tables already full in the main bar area. Sure, there were a few guys in fluoro whose early dinner was mainly amber liquid, but many people were ordering meals, including what looked like a Christmas party of some sort in the backroom of the bistro.
The boy has been busy doing work experience this week, wearing his own tradie's uniform, getting his hands dirty, and it was quite good fun to imagine that maybe, 10 years down the track, his old mother might join him at the pub for an early dinner after a hard day on the tools.
I miss pub meals. They were a regular highlight of my childhood. Here in Queanbeyan, the dogs are on the big screen, there's a TAB outlet, signs up advertising the upcoming appearance of the Choirboys, my late father would feel right at home.
It's quite a comprehensive menu. Some share plates, salads, pastas, seafood, burgers, pizza, a kids' menu with no surprises, pub favourites such as schnitzel, lamb shanks and ribs.
The wine list is a standard one, if a little disappointing, a couple of options from New Zealand, the rest are Australian, but there is nothing that stands out apart from a Nick O'Leary reisling or shiraz, but these are only available by the bottle.
It would be nice to see a little more support for the local wine industry by the glass. Instead there seems to be quite a focus on the cocktail menu, behind the bar the extensive list is colourfully written in crayon. A woman on the next table has this purple concoction, it's almost luminous.
We start with a little plate of KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) ($18). It's hard not to compare it to the Colonel's and these come out a winner. Six little drummettes, covered in a crispy breaded crumb. There's none of that greasy mouthfeel the real thing often leaves, and the chicken inside is still tender. There's a tangy sauce with quite a kick. These would go down a treat with a beer. (And there are plenty of those on offer at the bar.)
Mains come and the boy demolishes the Royal wagyu beef burger ($21) quicker than he demolished a wall earlier in the day, he tells me. The patty is thick and juicy, it's layered with traditional servings of bacon, iceberg lettuce, beetroot and tasty cheese with a mix of barbecue and ranch sauces. The bun is a little crisp for his liking, but it's a good burger.
And so to the prize winning rib-eye ($39.50). I have high expectations. And it doesn't disappoint. The cut, all 400g of it, sourced down the road from Bungendore, takes up half the plate. I like my steak rare and this one is perfectly seared. There are those little grill pan cross hatches, a nice caramelisation. I think the sign of a good steak is when you get a fatty bit and there's no resistance and that's the case here. The knife slices clean through the flesh, it's easy to chew, full of flavour. It's been a long time since I treated myself to a good piece of meat and this one is superb.
Both mains are served with chips and salad. Chips are another way to rate food in a pub. These ones are crisp and full of potato, a pleasure to eat. The salad, however, is a little sparse, a few leaves, a couple of quarters of tomato, a little piece of cucumber. There's a nice dressing but more salad would have been appreciated.
There are four dessert options and we go for a lemon myrtle meringue pie ($15) and a day and night chocolate mousse ($14). The pie is a let down. The pastry on the tart shell base was too thick and there was hardly any curd inside, not enough to detect any presence of lemon myrtle. The meringue itself is more marshmallow than meringue, there's nothing crispy to it at all.
The chocolate mousse looks lovely on the plate. A layered cylinder of dark and white mousse, topped with a thin layer of chocolate, sitting amongst some smears of berry coulis and chocolate soil. This dessert fares slightly better, there's a coffee flavour to the bottom layer, the white mousse has no real chocolatey flavour and there's a strange little aftertaste I can't place.
Overall we're not disappointed. The steak alone is worth the trip over the border, the competition got that right.
We're going to endeavour to review a wider variety of establishments in 2020, people are eating in all sorts of places, not just fine-dining restaurants, and we want to tell you about them all.
The Royal Hotel does a roaring trade and it's easy to see why.
The Royal Hotel
Address: 85 Monaro Street, Queanbeyan
Phone: 6297 1444
Hours: Monday to Wednesday, 10am to midnight; Thursday to Saturday, 10am 2am; Sunday noon to 10pm; Public holidays noon to late.
Owners: Anthony and Sandy McDonald
Chef: Beat Ettlin
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian: Some good options
Noise: No problem, even with the usual pub chatter