Many restaurants have come and gone in Canberra over the years. But in an ever-changing world, there has been one constant for almost 60 years – Charcoal Restaurant.
Even with the increasing demand for vegetarian and vegan options, this popular steak house still delivers high-quality steaks cooked to perfection for meat lovers.
It’s one of Canberra’s longest-running restaurants, located in the historic Melbourne Building, and it claims to be the first separate titled tenancy to be built in the building.
Modern, trendy bars and fusion restaurants with the latest foodie offerings surround it, but Charcoal Restaurant is a far cry from most of its neighbours in the Melbourne Building. It’s an old-fashioned restaurant, so don’t expect to find any emerging food trends on the menu and if you’re vegetarian or vegan, cross this one off your ‘to eat’ list.
You’d be forgiven if you thought you’d stepped back in time when you enter the restaurant. The menu, interior and style have remained pretty much the same since it opened in 1962.
Admittedly, we weren’t planning on dinner at Charcoal Restaurant. But we stopped in front of the restaurant and contemplated treating ourselves to a juicy steak. Originally intending to spend $50 for our Tuesday night dinner, we decided we didn’t want to fork out $150 and we continued walking. But when nothing jumped out at us, we figured we’d treat ourselves. We returned to Charcoal Restaurant to try our luck securing a table without a reservation.
Thankfully they could accommodate us and we were pleased to see a free table at the far end of the restaurant. For a Tuesday night, I’m surprised to walk into a near-full restaurant, but it’s not just suited professionals meeting and discussing business over a steak and a glass of wine. It’s couples and groups of friends of all ages who are happily chatting and escaping the cold weather to enjoy a cozy dinner in a restaurant with authentic character.
The restaurant is small and narrow with a long mirrored wall, textured ceiling, hanging lamps, padded seats and dark wooden features. Photographs of its history are displayed throughout the restaurant.
The menu features various sizzling and classic steaks from Oakley Angus Reserve and a range of traditional mains, entrees and desserts. The steaks are reasonably priced, starting at $36. The most expensive is $68.
We keep it simple with some garlic bread to start. A basket with two pieces of lightly toasted bread with a subtle garlic flavour arrives quickly, as does our glass of red wine.
We regret not ordering the sizzling 500-gram prime rib, but we can’t complain about our steak Dianne and pepper steak.
The 250-gram eye fillets are everything you would expect from a restaurant that specialises in steak. There’s a perfect char on the outside; it’s juicy, tender and cooked perfectly medium rare with no resistance when I cut through the meat. Both steaks are generously covered in our sauce of choice and are served with a selection of steamed vegetables and a jacket potato. The waitress brings over a condiment rack with bowls of sour cream, parmesan cheese and chives for the potatoes … we both choose all three options.
We have room for dessert so we order a crème brûlée and a sticky date pudding. The crème brûlée is flavoured with vanilla, and it’s the perfect consistency with a thin coating of sugar on top, producing a soft crack when I dig my spoon into it. The sticky date pudding is one of the best I’ve had in some time. The pudding is soft and light and the sauce is divine.
You’ll find nothing that comes close to sides of truffle fries with manchego or a burrata salad with micro herbs and edible flowers on the menu. But if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, I would suggest you try the fried Camembert with cranberry jelly and a carpet steak – an eye fillet filled with oysters.
The restaurant is an easy walk from Canberra’s legal precinct, so you can imagine the conversations and deals that would have taken place here over the years. If the walls could talk, they would have some fascinating stories to tell.
It’s the place to go if you want to enjoy a classic steak and a nice glass of wine with service that is friendly yet slightly reserved, leaving you to enjoy your meal with limited interruptions.
Charcoal Restaurant is located at 61 London Circuit, Canberra City. The kitchen is open from 12:00 pm to 2:30 pm from Tuesday to Friday for lunch, and 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm from Tuesday to Saturday for dinner.