Royal Hotel Muswellbrook
BY ROS BALDWIN
When I stepped into the cool hotel from the heat of the afternoon, I had only two things on my mind: an ice-cold gin and tonic and a good chat.
Let’s just say that I got more than expected. The hotel was the newly refurbished Royal Hotel in Muswellbrook and I walked into a cool, modern room freshly decorated in warm hues of suede, bronze and cream, with inviting lounges and timber tables. But without a doubt, the show stopping feature was the slick, textured modern bar with chilled copper beer taps, behind which the friendly staff dressed in very snappy uniforms and cool chocolate aprons, made me that delicious, tall and icy G&T I was dreaming of.
Part of the driving force behind the renovations were Jonathon and his gorgeous wife Tiffany and I was treated to a full tour of the newly renovated hotel with an interesting insight into the whole process and future plans.
Historically, the Royal Hotel was first established in 1893. It is interesting to note that it stands on the first allotment of land sold in Muswellbrook, establishing it as the centre of social life and entertainment for the town. The recent renovations have simply brought this glorious grand old lady back to her absolute prime (with a modern touch), ready to continue that social significance into the next century.
As you enter the front of the hotel and walk through the relaxed TAB area into the main bar you are just witnessing the tip of the iceberg! Walk behind the bar or through a set of doors, opens you up to another world of intimate seating nooks, two outdoor beer gardens, one with an enormous enclosed fireplace, a large dining area divided into three cleverly designed sections and a feature glassed floor area looking straight down to the original, stone walled, cool storage cellar. A roped off area has steep stairs leading down to the historic underbelly of the hotel, bringing you out to the very alluring cellar, now stocked with an entire wall sized wine rack of vintage wines. VIP guests will soon be treated to private events here. That’s one to watch out for!
Upstairs, she remains the quintessential Australian hotel with big wide verandah overlooking the town centre, a maze of corridors leading to eighteen rooms and five original bathrooms. The renovated rooms are a mix of singles and doubles, all air conditioned with coded entry for greater security. When I visited midweek, all the rooms were booked out so I couldn’t have a sneaky peak. But I did head to booking.com and checked them out online. Nice indeed! There is also an amazing function space to fit thirty guests with, what seemed like 25-foot ceilings, more comfortable lounges, solid stone dining tables and easy access to the downstairs bar and kitchen. Perfect for a hen’s night or special birthday occasion.
Tour complete, we went in for dinner and I got to meet Raj, the chef at the helm of the kitchen and a sweet find from Sydney (originally from Nepal). His menu is an elegant version of classic pub offerings, using beef steaks sourced from Aberdeen, Pukara lamb and local suppliers of fresh produce. His portions are generous without being overwhelming and there is an undeniable high level of skill and refinement to his cooking. And everything is prepared and cooked in the kitchen.
To start we shared a plate of crisp crumbed calamari with tartare sauce ($12) – so crunchy and fresh – as well as the hand rolled balls of crispy, creamy deliciousness they call mushroom arancini ($12). Then I had the salmon fillet with carrot puree and chargrilled broccolini ($32). But be warned. There is some kind of magic in his puree. It’s incredible! The other dishes had included the slow cooked Pukara lamb with mash and beans ($34), pan-fried barramundi with mash and a lemon tomato salsa ($32) and the chicken and fennel salad ($20). The menu will keep even the most discerning diner happy, with vegetarian options, kids and dietary requirements all taken care of.
The manager, Steve Shaw, also joined us for dinner. An informed, experienced and friendly man who ensures that all guests at the Royal Hotel get swift, smooth and friendly service. I can’t tell you the number of times he jumped up through dinner to check on guests and staff. But when he said that the dessert lady had been in the afternoon to ensure freshly made sticky date pudding and gooey chocolate brownie was available, who was I to say no to a taste! And, of course I was not disappointed. The brownie was rich, warm and not too sweet and the sticky date pudding was hands down one of the best I have had. Enough said.
To me the highlight of the evening was the interesting banter between Jonathon, Tiffany and Steve. They were constantly chatting about plans and aesthetic improvements they could still make to the place: a bit more art on the walls, some more greenery, a shady vine to keep punters cool outside, personalised function spaces, an imminent website. I was filled in about stories of interesting renovations finds – vintage trinkets discovered in fireplaces and historical newspapers found under lino, that now are proudly on display in the hotel. Steve was keeping them abreast of return customers and feedback stories. The hotel’s dress code of ‘no fluoros after 7pm’ was explained (definitely stop and have a beer after work, but go home, have a shower, come back to enjoy your evening with friends and family). Jonathon’s phone was going crazy with calls and notifications of check-ins and emails.
But I just want to give my sincerest congratulations on a fantastic transformation of this magnificent lady, by an amazing team. The Royal Hotel is once again deserving of its rightful place as the social centre of Muswellbrook. A hotel with a dress code. I can’t wait to come back.