SoCal, Neutral Bay ($$)

Address: 1 Young Street, Neutral Bay NSW

Tel: (02) 9904 5691

Website: http://socalsydney.com.au/

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I had seen SoCal pop up on FB a few times and was pretty curious to find out what it was all about.

Sydney’s North Shore isn’t exactly a hip and happening spot for a night out.  A few places such as Blackout Cafe, Cabana Bar, the Greengate, Kipling’s and The Far North have improved the North’s nightlife, but apart from these you have to trek about 40 minutes on a train into the city to get a good bar.

I was super excited when I then got an invite from the lovely Jo at Pendulum Communications, inviting me to the SoCal launch on Tuesday.

MC and I caught the train to North Sydney after work and jumped on a bus for a 5 minute ride to SoCal.

It is pretty easy to get to on the way there but the irregularity and infrequency of buses on the way back makes it a little difficult to stay out very late if you’re not driving or getting a lift.

That said, Neutral Bay is a nice area and SoCal or even The Oaks would be great for a day time visit for lunch on the weekend.

Atmosphere

SoCal is a new initiative by Chef James Privett of Bistro CBD, and Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll of Applejack Hospitality (which also own Bondi Hardware and The Botanist).

The place has a 2.00am licence and can fit 100 diners inside and another 50 outside.

As we walked in and up the flight of stairs we were greeted by about three different ladies all dressed in various shades of yellow.

The girls were all friendly and welcoming and invited us to take a seat somewhere while drinks were being prepared.

SoCal Neutral Bay 3.12 (3)

We chose a seat outside at one of the little tables in the middle of the court yard and had a look around.

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The outdoor area is full of bright and summery colours, particularly blues, yellows and oranges.  The white furniture and planters contrasted strikingly with the colour and gave the place a very beachy and fun look.

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I could definitely see the Southern Californian touches with the painted stools and South American influences such as habanero sauce on the table and palm trees around the courtyard.

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The outdoor area also had a semi-covered pergola with coloured lights which looked beautiful at night time.

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After a few hours outside, we began to get a little cold (summer hasn’t quite kicked in fully), so we decided to move indoors.

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SoCal’s indoor section has beautiful cushions, high tables and a bar area with a DJ and stools around a tiled table.

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It’s a cosy and fun setting and the chilled out atmosphere, combined with funky unique music and funny bar tenders makes for an awesome hang out spot!

Service

Once the place started to fill up a little, the staff came around with some drinks.

The menu on the table featured a variety of cocktails, wines, beers and spirits.

SoCal Neutral Bay 3.12 (1)

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On offer were some of the American brands such as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pacifico and the very Mexican, Coronas.

MC enjoyed both these beers and had quite a few!

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I, on the other hand, went for the Del Martini, featuring vodka, peach liqueur and nectar, lime juice, sugar and peach bitters.

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The martini was delicious, very sweet and fairly strong, just the way I like it.

The beautiful bright yellow and the refreshing mint leaf made it feel very tropical and I enjoyed pretending to sip on a cocktail and imagining I was at a beach house in Mexico.

Food

Once the food came around (past the other hungry scavengers waiting by the kitchen and the bar to grab some!), we were quite pleased with the variety on offer.

First up was a Hawaiian Tuna Poke. What is a “tuna poke” I hear you ask?

Well I thought the same thing. A quick Google informed me that it is a raw fish appetiser, served in Hawaiian cuisine.

This “poke” was served on a toasty corn tostada.

I really enjoyed the refreshing taste of the slightly oily tuna combined with a little lemon or lime juice and fresh herbs. MC, who is not really a fan or raw fish, and who only ate sushi for the first time a few years ago, actually had a second serving of this tuna poke when it came around AND he enjoyed it. Amazing!

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After a loooong food drought during which one waitress kept serving food to the same crowd of people, leaving none for us, MC finally managed to pick up two hot dogs on his way back from the bar.

The hot dogs, SoCal Chilli Dogs, were mini frankfurts on a soft and chewy bun, topped with black beans, chilli, cheese, tomato sauce and mustard.

They weren’t my favourite thing on the menu (especially when I ate parts that weren’t covered in the chilli) but MC enjoyed them, so maybe it’s a dude food?!

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Next up were the Crab and Sopressata Empanadas.

These tasted a bit too fishy for my liking, but the crunchy pastry and creamy sauce (I don’t know what was in it) were delicious!  The pastry reminded me a little of the pastry used in Sri Lankan patties.

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We managed to pick up some Pollo Loco Pinchos – spiced chicken skewers on rice with sauce Mole.  The cute boats were perfect for this dish and made it look very beachy and exotic.

The chicken pieces were well cooked through without being too dry and the quinoa, pea, lemon and herb mixture was very fresh and light.

I really enjoyed this dish and would order it again.

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Finally, for dessert, we had Churros with Chocolate Sauce. Of course, being a sugarholic, I loved this!

The churros were tasty and golden, cooked until crunchy and coated in cinnamon sugar.  The dark chocolate sauce was a little bitter for the churros but was a nice way to end the meal.

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Overall

Overall, MC and I had a fun night out at SoCal.

We enjoyed the music and fun atmosphere, loved the funky and beachy decor, and enjoyed the interesting and unique food on offer.

This will definitely be one of summer’s hot spots on the Lower North Shore.

Rating:

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 6.5
  • Food-  7
  • Ambience-  8.75
  • Value – 7

TCFB and MC were invited as guests of Pendulum Communications and SoCal.

SoCal on Urbanspoon

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Mejico, Sydney CBD ($$)

Address: 105 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW

Tel: (02) 9230 0119

Website: http://mejico.com.au/

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My lovely Spanish-speaking uni friend, SenoritaLay and I were planning to have sushi for dinner on Friday night. However, I happened to walk past Mejico whilst on an errand at work earlier in the day, and was reminded about the new restaurant, which I had been wanting to try for some time. We decided to check it out and, around 5.20pm I turned up at the restaurant without a booking, hoping to find a table for two.

Atmosphere

Mejico has been open for just over a month now. It has a really funky, hole-in-the-wall vibe, with exposed brick walls painted with neon pink and black patterns. It features a large bar at the front of the restaurant, quite similar to that in Jamie’s Italian a few doors down. The wooden tables and chairs along with the (fake) candles and mortar and pestles on each table make it an interesting yet inviting space.2Service

When I arrived I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get a table. The lady at the front of the restaurant told me we could either have a table for two until 6.00pm or a couple of stools at the kitchen bar until 7.00pm. I chose the latter, and was soon seated at a high table towards the back of the restaurant.

Throughout the night we had one waitress who took our orders, helped us choose dishes to order, and brought us drinks. The waitress had a South American accent which was kind of cool and added to the  Mexican experience. However she was a bit touch-feely which both SenoritaLay and I thought was a bit awkward as we didn’t really know her.

Drinks

The waitress brought us some water and asked us if we wanted to order drinks. We decided to go with the non-alcoholic chia drinks as they looked quite interesting.3Chia is a type of seed which is believed to have cardiovascular, blood sugar and digestive system benefits as well as containing high levels of fibre, omega 3 and protein. It looked like an interesting option so we decided to try them out.

I chose the Afternoon Delight (hibiscus and apple juice with chia seeds and SenoritaLay chose Silk Stocking (lychee and ruby grapefruit). Both were excellent choices: mine was a little sour with a beautiful fragrance, and SenoritaLay’s was sweet and smooth with a light pink colour.4Chia drinks, $6.50 each

Food1Our waitress recommended we try the Market Fresh Guacamole with Plantain chips as a starter and we decided we would try it out. Almost everyone at the restaurant had ordered the same thing and it seemed to be the restaurant’s star attraction.

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SenoritaLay with the cool plantain chips!

The dish was made right in front of us using fresh avocado, lime juice with brown sugar, fresh cilantro, spanish onion, chilli and some pistachios to garnish.5Our waitress mixed all the ingredients together in the mortar and pestle, explaining what she was adding as she went along. At the end, we were left with a chunky and colourful dip which was creamy and rich in flavour. The beautiful long plantain chips (a type of cooking banana) were long and striking and tasted great with the dip. I definitely recommend trying this out, even if it is just for the cool experience and lesson in guac making!6Market Fresh Guacamole, $9.00

The waitress suggested we order two entrees to share (either a salsa, ceviche or tacos), one main and one side dish. As well as the guacamole and chips, we ended up choosing two tacos, one side dish and a dessert instead.

First up we ordered the Braised Lamb Shoulder tacos. This included mint-mayonnaise on the side and chilli and chopped herbs to garnish. There were three mini tacos presented on a cute flat plate.They were piled high with lamb and the herbs, and we also tasted some breadcrumbs in the seasoning. SenoritaLay really enjoyed this dish and I also thought the lamb was tender and soft, very well-cooked, while the tacos were nicely grilled and perfectly shaped.

The Smoke Pork Belly Tacos contained pork belly which had been smoked for 20 hours, black bean hommus and tomatillo salsa. This was my favourite dish. The pork belly was soft and smoky and was great with the creamy yet tangy hommus and fresh lime.

Both tacos were enjoyable but I would add, quite pricey considering their size. It would be better if they came in 4’s as well as it would make it easier to share!

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Braised lamb shoulder taco & smoked pork belly taco, $16.00 each

Next up on the menu was our side dish of Croquetas- sweet potato, cumin, onion, and manchego cheese. Although the waitress told us there would be 5-6 croquettes, there were only 4. However, the dish itself was quite tasty, with a crunchy and golden exterior and soft, creamy sweet potato and cheese inside. The tangy dipping sauce was tasty and a great way to balance out the richness of the croquettes. A very enjoyable side.

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Croquetas, $8.00

Finally, we chose the Agave-glazed caramel fudge for dessert. The other dessert options looked a little plain: one was basically a fancy fruit salad; and the other was a chocolate shot (which we all know I have had many times at Max Brenner).

We weren’t disappointed with the fudge though. It was nicely presented on the plate with orange (citrus) mousse, shards of hard toffee and pecans. The vanilla biscuit base and creamy fudge was delicious with the contrasting nutty pecans and soft cream. SenoritaLay was really full by this stage (although she eventually managed to eat her share), but I have a second stomach for dessert and quickly gobbled this one up! Definitely a winner in my books!

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Agave-glazed caramel fudge, $12.00

Cost

This meal cost us about $75 all up.

Rating:

Overall I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 8
  • Food- 8
  • Ambience- 7.5
  • Value – 6

Méjico on Urbanspoon

Boca Argentinian Grill, Darlinghurst ($)

Address: 308-310 Liverpool Street Darlinghurst NSW

Tel: (02) 9332 3373

Website: http://www.boca.com.au

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I returned again to de Boca to try some of their other tasty offerings.

My friend, a Spanish speaker, chatted to the friendly staff and we were very pleased with the service there.

Although small and not very fancy, de Boca is popular among locals and the office crowd. We had to wait about 5-10 minutes for our food, but only because there were a few orders before us.

This time around I ordered the Lomito Roll ($5.00) -char grilled rump steak slices tossed in a garlic, parsley dresssing with aioli. The steak was cooked to perfection, pink on the inside and charred on the outside. It was tender and juicy, full of flavour and absolutely perfect with the green tangy sauce.

I also ordered some Tapioca chips with paprika seasoning ($3.00). While there was only a small serving of these large, stringy chips, it was more than enough for me as I didn’t really like the somewhat bitter flavour of the chips. The paprika seasoning didn’t do much for it either and I would have preferred some salt on it as well. My Spanish-speaking friend said one of the staff members told her they would put salt on it for us next time we came around.

Overall, a delicious and filling lunch which I really enjoyed.

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Boca Argentinian Grill on Urbanspoon

Boca Argentinian Grill, Darlinghurst ($)

Address: 308-310 Liverpool Street Darlinghurst NSW

Tel: (02) 9332 3373

Website: http://www.boca.com.au

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My visit to Boca was due to another work lunch exploration with some colleagues.

Two friends had dined here the day before and we decided that we wanted a piece of the action.

I ordered a regular (non-spicy) Choripan Roll with chimmichurri dressing -a mixture of “garlic, parsley, red chili, oregano vinegar and olive oil.” I also ordered a side of fries with garlic, parsley and vinegar dressing. One friend ordered the same while the other ordered a Ropa Vieja Roll which consisted of “pulled char grilled pork and lamb, braised in a sweet-sour capsicum and tomato stock.” All the rolls were only $5 at lunch time and the fries were an extra $2- great value!

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Boca is styled as a take-away cart restaurant where you order on the street through a little window and then sit on small tables outside. On this occasion, due to the wind, we were allowed to sit inside at the bench on some bar stools. This gave us a good view of the staff cooking the food at the wood-fire grills and preparing the fries.

We received our food within about 2-3 minutes.

The roll, although small, is quite filling due to the large sausage and filling inside. The chorizo was crispy on the outside and was perfectly matched with the slightly spicy, oily chimmichurri. The fries were crunchy and well seasoned and the addition of herbs added some extra flavour to an otherwise common side. I absolutely loved my meal and would like to return again to try the Empanadas, Lomito Roll and Pollo Roll.

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