So this isn’t the cheapest pub bistro in Balmain – it’s also far from the most expensive.
I’ll admit to being won over by the outstanding value Sunday Seafood Platter ($49.50) which provides two people with a considerable feast: half a Western Australian lobster in Mornay, excellent chilli octopus, oysters au natural, garlic prawns, crumbed calamari and nicely beer-battered fish with chips and salad.
It went well with a bottle of 2007 Josef Chromy ‘Pepik’ Chardonnay ($35), which aided our 'philosophical conversation' no end.
Another good match came from a special of Pipsqueak Cider with Steamed Tasmanian Mussels ($22). While I appreciated the toasted Turkish for mopping up the pot of bacon, cider, cream and herbs, I did want for a couple more briny, black mussels – but perhaps I just wanted to draw out my riveting dining situation?
Tables 30, 31 and 32 are situated right at the kitchen pass where the food comes up, creating a quasi-chef’s table setting.
I smiled to hear ‘the customer is always right’ ring out from Sous Chef Peter Hlebnikov in the Panopticon kitchen.
There’s a rather pervy portal on the other side, and a salad bar to look through, as well as our tables on the pass. Hard to hide anything in there!
He ran a warm and encouraging ship behind a well-placed row of chefly tomes;
...and the cooking surpassed my (outdated) pub bistro expectations.
Finally, if you're less fascinated by a bustling kitchen pass than I am, there are plenty of other areas in the hotel in which to dine.
On the left you can see a room that seemed quite family friendly, and on the right is the upstairs smoking terrace.
I even spied a curious lounge room you can be in when you're not in your actual lounge room setting that appealed to my quirkier side. With more pub visits like this one, I will make great inroads into my pub aversion. Shock therapy works!
The Royal Oak Hotel & Restaurant
36 College Street, Balmain
Ph: (02) 9810 2311