SoCal

Rachel Olding
Vibrant: SoCal's beachy feel is complemented by the zippy fare on offer.
Vibrant: SoCal's beachy feel is complemented by the zippy fare on offer. Photo: Fiona Morris

1 Young St Neutral Bay, NSW 2089

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Opening hours Mon-Tue 5pm–12am ; Wed-Thu 12pm–12am ; Fri-Sat 12pm-2am ; Sun 12pm-12am
Features Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating, Licensed, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Bar, Groups
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Seats 130
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9904 5691

Uncle Sam is here to stay. If you thought Sydney had reached saturation point with hotdogs, sliders, tacos and margaritas in 2013, hold on to your hat. The American food trend is far from over.

We've had New Orleans soul food, New York brunch, 1950s diners and Tex-Mex galore. Next up: Southern Californian coastline.

Ben Carroll and Hamish Watts, who made their names at Bondi Hardware and the Botanist in Kirribilli, travelled the surfer routes of California seeking inspiration for this sandy, sorbet-coloured spot just a stone's throw from Military Road.

Summer's choice: Tommy's Margarita and Ceviche.
Summer's choice: Tommy's Margarita and Ceviche. Photo: Fiona Morris

In a previous life it was a gentleman's karaoke club hidden up a set of stairs. Now it's a beachy oasis dashed with bright bolts of colour and Hamptons holiday house touches designed by Momofuku Seiobo and Ananas designers Luchetti Krelle.

It's all about flashy tropical cocktails, fresh, healthy food and plenty of Mexican influence in between.

Salted Caramel Espresso Martini (Ketel One vodka, Galliano Ristretto, salted caramel, double shot of espresso, $16) is spruiked as the No. 1 choice and comes with a spectacular frothy head and crumbs of honeycomb; ours was heavy on the espresso, with barely a hint of salted caramel.

Mexican largaritas, margaritas and mezcal cocktails were much better. And there are plenty of summer arvo-ready options such as the Del Mar-tini (Ketel One vodka, peach liqueur and nectar, lime juice, sugar, peach bitters, $16) and super fragrant Frisco Pisco (chilli-infused pisco, elderflower liqueur, lime, sugar, egg whites, muddled cucumber, $16).

It's not the cheapest eating spot in the area but chef Zac Smart's menu offers plenty of zippy, mostly guilt-free dishes. We bypassed the sliders, mini hotdogs and cheesy quesadillas in favour of seafood, salads and juicy meats.

Kingfish ceviche was fabulously lively with passionfruit drizzled over it ($19) and a seared salmon steak had a beautiful salad of zucchini, coriander and walnuts beneath it. The pick was nicely charred scotch fillet, sliced to share, with zingy chimichurri ($24).

Tacos are generously sized and a selection of raw dishes such as Hawaiian tuna poke and salmon tartare would keep the skinny-mini Californian bikini babes happy.

There are some good American and Mexican beers such as Anchor Steam ale ($9) and Pacifico ($8), as well as some more predictable inclusions such as Corona, Negra Modelo and Sierra Nevada.

The short but surprising wine list is filled with interesting varieties from around the globe - some Californian natives, some deep malbecs and summery rieslings, a dry Palazzo Grimani soave from Veneto, Italy ($12.50) and a Radio Boca tempranillo from Spain ($9.50). All up, there are just 18 by the glass but it's tempting to try all of them.

Like Bondi Hardware and the Botanist, this place nails its locale and its clientele. The crowd is well-dressed, young to middle-aged, ready to get slightly rowdy late on a Saturday night. It's bound to have you California dreaming.

You'll love it if … you're looking for a hot new bar on the north side.

You'll hate it if … you're sick of the American food trend.

Go for … kingfish ceviche, charred scotch fillet, margaritas.