A touch of Southern California cool hits the burgeoning bar scene in Neutral Bay.
It’s been open barely two months, and yet you’d be hard to find a person north of the bridge who hasn’t heard about SoCal, the bar that’s an ode to all things Golden State. Stop by any night of the week and you’ll find the place thronging with locals stopping by for a drink or two or seeking out a lively place for dinner.
It’s tasteful and tacky all at once, where well-executed Aztec prints mix with flamingos and pineapples, and out on the open-air deck stylish girls table hop to talk to boys in Hawaiian shirts. It just works.
Part-bar, part-restaurant, it’s the third venture from AppleJack Hospitality, the guys that brought you The Botanist and Bondi Hardware. They’ve nailed this bar thing down: aside from the casual-cool interior, there’s a superb cocktail list complete with good looking people to make one for you. On balmy afternoons you can’t go past a Momma’s Moonshine (with Ketel One Vodka, fresh pear juice and mint), or if you want flavours you’ve never had before, the Garden Party combines gin, elderflower and rhubarb in ways more delicious than you can imagine.
Naturally there’s a heavy focus on tequila (and no less than three types of margaritas), but don’t let the stigma of American beers keep you from sampling the fare – you might just be pleasantly surprised.
Feeling peckish? It’s hard not to be, when you’re witness to the constant stream of tempting-looking platters on their way to tables that aren’t your own. The name of the game here is share food – friends don’t let friends order an entire tray of sliders to themselves. SoCal is proving incredibly popular, and with limited seating you’d be well advised to book a table if you want a chance to eat at one.
Pro tip (where ‘pro’ means ‘have eaten on several occasions’): grab a plate of the quesadillas to share (pulled pork is my favourite), plus a little something from the raw fish section (try the Kingfish Tiradito with passionfruit, coriander and chilli) and a portion of either the sliders or the tacos (or both) to round it out.
The most underrated dish on the menu, however, is the Roast Cauliflower, served with currents, pistachios, oregano and cumin yoghurt. Fun fact: no one in history has ever made cauliflower taste this good. Probably.
It has a 2am license on Fridays and Saturdays (complete with DJ), so it’s that perfect place for Neutral Bay locals if a) they don’t want to go across the bridge to Kings Cross and b) they wouldn’t set foot there anyway if it was on their doorstep.
SoCal: for people who want a good time but actually want a seat and/or conversation occasionally.
Our Top 5 Picks:
- Roast Cauliflower with Currents, Pistachios, Oregano and Cumin Yoghurt – $16
- Baha Fish Tacos with Pineapple Salsa – $16
- Mamma’s Moonshine: Vanilla-infused Ketel One Vodka with Tuaca, fresh pear juice, mint, lemon juice, sugar & a dash of soda – $17
- Spicy Señorita: Jalepeno-infused tequila with Contreau, lime juice and Bitterman’s habereno schrub served on rocks with a chilli salt rim – $16
- Caliente Punch: Ketel One Vodka, elderflower & pomegranate liqueurs, strawberries, lime, orange & ginger beer – $35 (to share)