There's no denying the Charing Cross Hotel has history, starting off as the hangout for the newly formed Waverley Council back in 1857, all the way to being loved/loathed for more recent offerings of $10 jugs and tranny bingo. Recently, however, this old dear's had some extensive work done and, like a deep microderm, drab and dull has been buffed away to reveal young and fresh.
Don't get us wrong, there's room for $10 jugs and tranny bingo in this city, but the new Charing Cross has well and truly left its previous incarnation behind. Think light-filled, seaside chic; white polished concrete floors; a large central service space and glass-ceilinged open plan dining room. Outside sports a now-ideal-for-summer courtyard, home to impressive 7 metre-high letters spelling out 'Charo', linking the space back to the bar via a hidden-away games room.
With notable head chef Matt Kemp (Balzac, Montpellier Eating House) behind the kitchen helm, bringing along a family-friendly and simple European-inspired menu, it's no surprise owner Warren Livingstone went all-out to ensure a positive reaction from the local community. And to be honest, by the looks of the hustle and bustle already, 'positive reaction' is an understatement.
We began the night with a negroni from the classic cocktails section (all $16) and salt and rosemary flatbread. The former came with a contemporary twist of orange bitters (also highly recommend the blood orange margarita from the house faves list, all $17, and don't use the straw), while the latter kept us entertained before our starters of king prawn cocktail ($22) and smoked chicken wings ($12).
First thing you notice is the portions aren't stingy, and massive props to the prawns: so succulent with just the right amount of cocktail sauce. The chicken wings were greasy, but that kind of good greasy you don't mind when your mouth is filled with hot chicken dipped in chipotle and shallot aioli. We also wanted to try the crispy pig's head with piccalilli ($14), but sadly it was already out.
For mains we shared a plate of the beer battered local fish ($24, and on our visit monkfish) and the braised shoulder of lamb Nicoise with rocket pesto and fregola ($28). Lovers of fish and chips will like this option, although personally I found the batter just a touch too thick to taste the flavours of the lobster-like fish. The lamb was tender (watch out for the big bones) and the entire concoction was utterly smashable.
We paired the food with a bottle of Scarborough Chardonnay ($54), which balanced both the meat and fish nicely, and finished by sharing a terribly rich but definitely amazing Snickers pudding with fudge ice cream and caramel sauce ($15), alongside a couple of cheeky espresso martinis ($17).
Overall, Kemp has done a great job with the menu, and with friendly and charismatic service thrown in from the restaurant waitstaff, it seems this place has pretty much nailed its renewal. And when done right, who can say no to a tasty modern take on a slice of Sydney history?