The historic Dudley pub, the Royal Crown Hotel, is one of those you’ll find perched on the corner at a crossroads. It’s a welcoming watering hole for locals and passer-bys, an easy place to eat and hang out for families and friends.
Earlier this year, it was purchased by an impressive team – Ryan Hawthorne and Ethan Ortlipp from speakeasy bar Coal and Cedar, and Newcastle businessmen, Travis Hargreaves and Richard Claut. Their goal was to breathe new life into the old girl and turn her into a “pub for the people”. And so it is. Being my first visit, I’m not sure what it was like beforehand, but when I wandered through the doors on a balmy evening, it felt relaxed and laidback, not the kind of place where everyone turns and stares as you make your entrance.
The big venue has had a new lease of life since the purchase, with a large rear eating area that makes you feel like you’re inside a cosy renovated tin shed, and a smaller indoor dining room with high bench tables. The outside beergarden with its ropes of zig-zagged lights and a big “no bad vibes” sign painted on the wall indicates the direction the pub is heading: cool and quirky.
On this evening the back room is busy, but not bustling. The Stones and the Zombies are playing in the background and there are big tables with comfy French bistro-style chairs.
The menu has had a modern makeover like the building, although there’s a healthy helping of pub classics as well. It’s divided into snacks, burgers, classics, progressive and from the sea.
We begin with a bucket of king prawns, and it’s a pretty big bucket. There’s no lettuce hiding underneath to make you think there are more than there really is. The prawns are great – really full of flavour, bright in colour and big. You could squeeze roasted lemon on them but they are perfect as is. I’d love to try the Deep Blue platter to share (prawns, bugs, scampi, oysters, kingfish, mussels) but there’s more to explore so I’ll save it for next time.
A classic cheeseburger (has wagyu become the standard now?) cleverly has two slices of cheese – one above and one below the juicy patty – to ensure maximum cheese-in-each-bite ratio. A big fresh soft bun and the right hit of pickle, onion and mustard are all winners.
A panko-crusted chicken schnitzel is thick and crispy, and probably one minute too long in the deep fry. But it’s still good. Panko is always the best choice to maintain crunch and the chicken is tasty. It comes with a token salad, a ladle-full of gravy and plenty of thick-cut, hot fluffy chips.
A bowl of ricotta gnocchi is piled high and comforting in every bite. The dumplings are spongy and fluffy, and not doughy. The right amount of red sauce is sweet with sprinklings of basil.
At first glance I’m not sure what the ‘progressive’ section of the menu refers to. Does it come in parts at different times? Once the ‘smoked duck + cucumber yoghurt + pear + pinenuts’ arrives, it becomes obvious this was more in reference to a newer, lighter-style dish not usually associated with pub grub. The pulled smoked duck sits on Tuscan kale and a pool of creamy cucumber yoghurt, plus loads of toasted pine nuts sprinkled on top. A couple of poached pears add a lovely fresh sweetness.
The ‘progressives’ are clever inclusions and offer something interesting if steaks and burgers aren’t calling out to your appetite. It also shows the kitchen isn’t afraid to mix things up a bit and has competence with more than just a hot plate and a deep-fryer.
- What: Royal Crown Hotel
- Where: 94 Ocean Street, Dudley.
- Contact: 4944 7698
- Hours: Mon 3-8pm, Tues 12-9pm; Wed 12-9.30pm, Fri-Sat 12pm-11.30pm; Thurs ,Sun 12-10pm.
- Head chef: Steven Zielke
- Drinks: Tap and bottle beer, spirits, plus wines from $7 glass or $28 bottle.
- Vegetarian: Snacks, 1 burger, 1 pasta, 2 salads.
- Wheelchair: Yes
- Bottom line: Mains $16-35
- Do try: A bucket of prawns.