First of all, I do apologise profusely for the delay in posting. I moved into my new apartment last Thursday evening and simply haven’t had the time to gather my thoughts. Not to mention the kitchen has the oldest stovetop and oven I’ve ever seen…!
It truly takes vintage to a whole new level! I remember gaping at it during my first inspection of the apartment, wondering how on earth I was going to bake with gas marks (no temperatures!) and a lack of a viewing window, but the rent is temptingly cheap and I my mantra is that I can make it work. If women in the mid-1930’s (which was when gas mark ovens were first released) could cook with these, I will rise to the challenge. I probably won’t try making macarons in it though…haha. But just while I get settled into the apartment and figure out how to work this baby, I will not be posting for a couple of weeks just so I can adjust and adapt to this new toy. Wish me luck…!
Anyway, the post for today...SoCal in Neutral Bay…
When I heard that the guys behind one of my favourite North Shore joints, The Botanist, had a new set up in Neutral Bay – I was super excited. The Botanist had a feel of an inner city bar. Hipster-clothed barmen, seasonal sharing plates that were always impeccably presented, and a laid back, friendly vibe about the place. It is said that SoCal – short for Southern California – came into being after a trip by the guys to that exact location, and they then decided that they wanted to try to emulate that feeling in their hometown of Sydney.
I arrived at SoCal not knowing quite what to expect. The location is slightly tricky to find, as is the required characteristic of a small bar. You go up a narrow, dark flight of stairs and you come up to quite a spacious second-floor bar, complete with enclosed courtyard out the back which was glowing red from heat lamps.
The courtyard was full of bloggers, of course with us being summoned for a tasting of the menu, but I was surprised to see that the main bar was also packed and busy for a rainy Tuesday evening.
We start our meal with a Classic Margarita Carafes and Corn Chips with Guacamole and Salsa:
The margarita is refreshing without any tequila burn and the delicate salt rim balances out the sweet tartness of the popular cocktail. We snack on the addictive corn chips while we socialise; the house-made guacamole is the table favourite, but I personally enjoyed the corn salsa the most. It was just a shame that it’s a bit fiddly with the process of scooping it out of the jar with a small spoon, gingerly tipping it onto the corn chip and balancing it on the way to your mouth. But a tasty challenge regardless.
We start on Course One – the Crab & Soppresseta Tostadas: a thick paste made of delicately-picked crab meat, chorizo and various herbs and spices, served on a crispy tostada. While it was tasty, it was a little on the salty side and would have been better presented on the tostadas in smaller servings, I think.
Our next course was the Chicken Sliders: Marinated chicken breast with avocado and chorizo. This is something familiar from The Botanist, with the mini buttery brioche buns.
The chicken is tender, the avocado smooth, and the sauce with it spicy and creamy – reminding me somewhat of the chilli sauce that comes with Oporto’s Bondi burgers hahaha. But it’s made all the more naughty with the delicious buttery buns. A perfect plate to go with a round of beers…or a Frisco Pisco in our case: a combination of chilli-infused Pisco, egg white, elderflower liqueur, lime, sugar and muddled cucumber.
Course three we were looking at some seafood: Seared Salmon with broccolini, chilli and coriander salsa verde, paired with a Dry Creek Fume Blanc from Sonoma, CA.
The fresh fillet of salmon is cooked ’til tender, and the skin would have been a little more crisp were it not for the topping of salsa verde. The salmon is further topped with crispy sweet potato chips, which are satisfyingly sweet and crunchy. Broccolini ensures that you get your daily intake of veg…
The wine was similar to a sauvignon blanc with a slight bite and acidity, but of course not from Australia or even Marlborough. The guys have sourced all of their wines for this venue through an Australian distributor of American wines; allowing you to try what the other side of the world drinks.
We move along to the Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder with faro, freekeh, quinoa and kale, paired with a red Bliss Pinot Noir from Mendocino, CA.
The lamb has been slow-cooked so it near melts on the tongue, and the mix of grains provides a deliciously different nutty texture that pops. The only downside to this dish was that it was quite a heavy dish with lots of meat juices and over-salted gravy – factors which can probably be easily remedied.
The last of our savoury courses was probably my favourite, being the Scotch Fillet with Chimmichurri & Mushroom Salad, paired with a slightly heavier red, the Dry Creek ‘Heritage’ Zinfandel, from Sonoma CA.
The steak was a perfect medium-rare, with the Argentinian-based sauce adding amazingly zesty flavours to the succulent meat. I also loved the mushroom salad that came with it – a combination of various mushrooms, cooked, with lots of baby spinach leaves. A perfect winter salad to balance out the piece of protein.
We had finally reached dessert, and the cocktail that most of us had been eagerly awaiting finally arrived. The Salted Caramel Espresso Martini with Ketel One, Galliano Ristretto, salted caramel and espresso with honeycomb was a dessert in itself. It’s very potent – one for serious coffee drinkers only. If you’re strictly into flat whites, frappucinos and lattes, this isn’t for you. It’s dark, dense, moody and bitter; you can taste the amazingly fruity notes through the freshly brewed espresso, right before you get a crunch of the sweet honeycomb.
The Chocolate, Pistachio and Tequila Brownie with Chipotle Cream is worth a mention as well. Yes, you can taste the tequila in the brownie and the chipotle in the cream!
A very unique baking creation. I probably wasn’t the biggest fan of tequila in my brownie and may have preferred something more like chilli – as chilli and chocolate have always been so perfect paired together.
The lads behind the bar are always smiling, the menu and drinks are plentiful, and with the place full on a Tuesday night – you know it’s going well. It looks like the boys behind The Botanist and Bondi Hardware have made yet another successful venture.
1 Young Street,
Neutral Bay NSW 2089
(02) 9904 5691