Santa Barbara oozes cheesiness at every turn. Photo: Rachel Murdolo
There's not much of it on the menu but cheese rules at Santa Barbara. The lettered stairs, the fringed lamps and squishy booths, the half-pipe roof-tile bar canopy, the pink-and-blue neon bar sign, and the whole crazy Disneyland, tiki-bar California kitsch of the place oozes cheesiness at every turn.
Billed as US/Asian, or even Hawaiian, barbecue, the not-very-cheesy food list is mostly Korean-ish, along with Japanese-ish, Chinese-ish, Mexican-ish and Caribbean-ish.
There's dairy in the tropical teriyaki chicken salad ("cashews, iceberg, cheese and messy lime dressing"), but otherwise, it's more about Hot Sauce, Slaws and Salsas. And an abundance of capital letters.
Coke-Can Chicken with sweet potato fries and sesame slaw. Photo: Rachel Murdolo
Santa Barbara is the latest themed bar/diner in the series created by the talented, tongue-in-cheek Drink N Dine duo, Jaime Wirth and James Miller*.
A lazy $10 lunch while peering down on Darlinghurst Road from your hidden perch under the Coke sign is just about the perfect way to spend your time. A heap of daily deals pulls crowds around the clock.
There's the obligatory place-mat paper menu from which you order at the bar. Drinks focus on craft beers and ciders and cheesily named cocktails by the jug – Santa Colada, Singapore Slang – as well as a few twists on the Bloody Mary – Bloody Mexican, Bloody Korean, and the gruesome-sounding Bloody Barbara (happily, it turns out to be a rather less gory "vodka, Mary mix, tom and lemon").
From the selection of snacks, sandwiches, "bings", burgers, barbecue, salads and sides, Coke-Can Chicken is a tribute to the location. A dark-sauced hunk of chook is trayed up with sweet-potato fries and sesame slaw. Yum.
The Mexican street salad (pork belly, octopus, cabbage slaw, lemon dressing and parmesan – ah, another cheese sighting) doesn't quite do it for me – fish, meat and parmo not being the happiest companions.
But the bings (yes, you were wondering) are great. Officially jianbing, they're a kind of Chinese crepe – floppy roll-up wrappings for kung pow chicken, Peking duck, and the very excellent Korean short rib with kimchee ketchup. It's Santa Barbara's so-on-trend contribution to Taco Town – which, like Santa Barbara itself, is pretty well where casual eating is at in Sydney 2013.
* James Miller's tragic death this month has shaken Sydney. The huge success of Wirth and Miller's ventures is one of countless reasons to mourn his premature demise.
Do ... check the Facebook page for those daily deals
Don't ... expect fine dining, but do expect fun eating
Dish ... Coke-Can Chicken with sweet-potato fries and sesame slaw
Vibe ... a mixed crowd, to match the menu
- 02 9357 7882
- Cuisine - Contemporary
- Prices - $10 buys almost everything except barbecue items — $12-$15; no BYO
- Features - Bar, Cheap and cheerful, Licensed
- Owners - Jaime Wirth, James Miller
- Opening Hours - even days from noon-2am (later on weekends)
- Author - Joanna Savill