Pokie machine manufacturers must hate what's happening in Sydney. Whereas there wasn't anywhere to drink a decade ago without hearing the ping and ring of gambling machines, now it's virtually a sin to install pokies in a pub and certainly a bar. A gambling problem just isn't cool, it would seem. Captain Cook probably didn't come to Sydney to sit in a small, smoke-filled room to feed coins into a slot machine. The statue dedicated to him in Randwick stands outside what was, over the years, Balzac, the Montpellier Hotel, a butchery and a Pizza Hut. The sandstone building has had both high and low-end tenants.
Now it's the turn of The Cookhouse, from the people who brought you Oscillate Wildly, as well as the Carlisle Hotel in Newtown. Owner Ross Godfrey and chef Shane McCready saw the building as home to a modern gastro pub, free of pokies and more in the style of an upmarket British drinking establishment.The bar has been renovated to get away from the previous wine bar feel, with small tables and low lighting. It's a classy pub, essentially, with relatively inexpensive but impressive bar food.
There's the standards — burgers, fish and chips, calamari — but also a cracking grilled barramundi ($26) that's beautifully cooked; a seafood pappardelle pasta with mussels, prawns and crab ($23.50) that needs more of a salt or chilli kick, and a tender kangaroo loin ($26.50) on a small mound of spatzle, the German doughy pasta dish, which is a rubbery filler, to be frank.
The desserts are pleasant if nothing astounding — the toffee caramel pudding ($12) is a bit "off the shelf", but the passionfruit tart ($12) is a hit, especially the marinated pineapple chunks on the side.
Randwick isn't known for its rambunctious nightlife, so it's a good boost for the quiet burb, and it's worth the trip to try the Cookhouse's snack menu, especially the scallops on black pudding ($7), a nod to Cook's English heritage. For a quiet beer and good nosh, it's the first port of call in Randwick.