A while ago, one of my friends commented that I should cover restaurants from different regions of Sydney such as South Sydney like Hurstville or Beverly Hills or up north like Crows Nest, Chatswood, Epping, Eastwood and Neutral Bay. Recently, I was invited to check out CaliMex restaurant bar, SoCal, in Neutral Bay for their first ever SoCal Sydney Social event with many other fellow Sydney food bloggers. I was very excited about this event as it has been on my wishlist for a while especially for their Southern Californian-inspired dishes and drinks.
SoCal is owned by Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll from Applejack Hospitality, the same company that also managed The Botanist at Kirribilli and Bondi Hardware at Bondi Beach. It was their first social event hosted by head chef, Zac Smart, and bar manager, Joe Worthington where we got the chance to delve into a 6-course degustation of Mexican dishes and matching glasses of wine or cocktail. Since the bar was located upstairs, it was initially hard to find until you spot a SoCal sign on the door. Inside there was a buzzing, noisy vibe with a packed out floor. And it was only a Tuesday night! While most of the venue had dim lighting, the lighting at dining room at the back (where we were all seated) was not too bad despite the pink and purple lighting.
Corn Chips with pico de gallo, guacamole and corn salsa
Upon entering the dining room, there was already a bowl of corn chips with a trip of tantalising dips. Although this was made to share, it was no surprise how addicted I was with this starter plate - especially the zesty guacamole.
Classic Margarita Carafes
Each course of meal this evening was paired with a glass of wine or cocktail so it was no surprise how tipsy I was by the end of the night. When I stepped inside, there was already a glass of classic margarita handed to me as I dig into the corn chips and salsa.
Before the six course degustation was served, we got to check out SoCal's Bar Manager, Joe Worthington, working his magic with his cocktail creations. Here, he demonstrates his signature "Joe's Super Amazing Mystery Interactive Cocktail Experience".
Crab and Sopressatta Tostadas
And now the feast begins! I was really excited about the crab and sopresatta (cured Italian dry salami) tostadas especially after trying similar ones at other restaurants and loving each one. This was no exception. Thin and crispy tortillas topped with a generous amount of creamy crab and sporessata. The filling was slightly spicy from the chilli mixed inside though it was quite mild in my opinion. Would definitely order this again just for myself.
Joe's Super Amazing Mystery Interactive Cocktail Experience
After watching the cocktail demonstration, we were geed up to taste the final product. Quite sweet with a decent layer of egg white foam on top and a citrus scent from the peeled oranges.
Chicken Sliders: marinated chicken breast with avocado and chorizo
Next we had the chicken sliders which had a generous amount of creamy avocado and chorizo packed inside the soft, glazed brioche bun. There was plenty of flavour coming from this slider especially from the tangy sauce and the juicy chicken breast. The taste was definitely worth the messiness.
The sliders were paired with the Frisco Pisco which was chilli-infused and mixed with egg white, elderflower liqueur, lime, sugar and muddled cucumber. With its strong and thick texture, this drink was quite a mouthful to handle when I tried to slurp it down.
Seared Salmon with broccolini, chilli and coriander salsa verde
The seared salmon was well cooked with crispy skin and topped with thin sweet potato chips, a bed of broccolini and small dollops of salsa verde. While the salmon was a bit mild until you add the salsa verde, it's an ideal option to have on your own if you are looking for a fresh and healthier dish.
Dry Creek, Fume Blanc, Sonoma CA
The next three dishes were paired with white and red wines made from different regions of California. It's like getting a taste of the Golden State without the plane ticket.
Slow roasted Lamb Shoulder with Faro, Freekeh, Quinoa and Kale
Lamb shoulder, quinoa and kale. Who would have thought they tasted so good together? It was juicy, soft and incredibly tender to the point where it pulls apart so easily. Even with the unusual ingredients and the abundance of grainy textures, the whole dish was full of flavour to the point when I was keen for seconds. If you love lamb, I would certainly recommend this dish. This was paired with a glass of Pinot Noir from Mendocino, California.
Bliss, Pinot Noir, Mendocino, CA (sorry for the pic)
Scotch Fillet with Chimmichurri
The savoury dishes ended with a plate of scotch fillet with chimmichurri and a side of mushroom salad. The scotch fillet was cooked medium rare which delivered a chewy yet tender texture. Lots of fatty bits. What impressed me was the amount of chimmichurri salsa coated on top of the fillet which added lots of colour and flavour to the overall dish.
With all that meat and seafood, it was nice to dig into a bowl of veggies to balance everything out. There was a decent amount of various mushrooms, salads, nuts and mixed beans which worked well to deliver crunchy and chewy textures. It was also surprisingly spicy though it's mild enough that it won't put off those who can't handle it.
Dry Creek 'Heritage' Zinfadel, Sonoma, CA - full bodied and rich that complements well with the meat
Chocolate, Pistachio and Tequila Brownie with Chipotle Cream
Lately I've been obsessed with baking brownies so I was very excited about indulging into SoCal's version of this classic dessert. With all the spices and unusual ingredients from many of the dishes, you would expect that the dessert will sooth your taste buds with a sugar hit. While the brownies do have an intensely sweet taste, there was a hint of spice coming from the chipotle cream. I admired the soft gooey insides with the crunchy pistachios as well as the crispiness from the outside layers though it was rich and decadent to handle especially after all that food. You can imagine that with tequila hidden inside, this was not your usual brownies.
Salted Caramel Espresso Martini
To round off the night, everyone received a glass of Salted Caramel Espresso Martini which includes a mix of Ketel One, Galliano Ristretto, salted caramel and a double shot of espresso with honeycomb dipped in the middle. Personally, I thought that this was one of the stand out drinks especially with the intensity of the liquor and epsresso and the sweetness and salted flavours from the caramel and honeycomb. Would love to order another glass if I wasn't feeling very tipsy at this point.
While Neutral Bay isn't a place that I would go to that often, there's so many CaliMex dishes from their regular menu that will encourage me to make another trip over the bridge. The service was very friendly and attentive and the atmosphere had that vibrant yet laid back feel throughout the evening. While the prices aren't cheap, the dishes are made to share so bring a few friends to try as many dishes as possible. If you live or work around the North Shore area; I would suggest SoCal for post-work dinner and drinks, special occasions or even a casual night out up north since it opens late.
Disclaimer: The Random Foodie dined as a guest of SoCal, courtesy of Pendulum Communications. Opinions are however, my own.
1 Young Street, Neutral Bay NSW 2089
(02) 9904 5691
Mon-Tue: 4:00pm - 12:00am
Wed-Thurs: 12:00pm - 1:00am
Fri-Sat: 12:00pm - 2:00am
Sun: 12:00pm - 12:00am