1 Young St
Neutral Bay, Sydney

SoCal is the relaxed Southern Californian surf influenced place that has rapidly become very popular in Neutral Bay.

If you like comfort food in laid back surroundings with subdued lighting and great music playing then head up the staircase! It's a deceptively big space with several areas that are separate but flowing into each other.

A massive bar - signposted BAR which you can't miss - stretches along the length of the main room. At the rear is a very casual room with a real indoor/outdoor feel to it. Plants at intervals and exposed pipes on the ceiling give it an almost casual industrial feel, and coloured lights, surfboards on the walls, share comfort food and the music ensure that Southern Californian aura.

We studied the menu while our first preliminary order arrived - a very tasty serving of corn chips with guacamole and salsa on an enamel plate.

It's hard not to order this - they looked good and most tables around us had them. Their popularity was a good sign that they'd be good - and they were.

It was a decent sized serving as well with a generous bowl of corn chips and two separate jars - one with salsa and one with guacamole.

The salsa was nice and chunky and very fresh - with a bit of tang as well.

The guacamole was a bit tangier again - and it all went really well together!

Drinks time - we were in a bar after all!

I had a Fee Fi Fo Rum - as a rum drinker I just couldn't resist the name!

It was made with aperol, Pampero blanco rum, lime juice, vanilla syrup a splash of sugar and angostura bitters. Very tasty too!

Mlady had a Garden Party - made from blueberry infused Tanqueray gin, elderflower liqueur, spiced blueberry syrup, rhubarb bitters and basil.

The immediate feedback showed that she really enjoyed this.

Both drinks were very well presented, as expected, and nicely garnished.

Our first entree was a cracker!

The prawn and crab puffs with habanero mayo were actually not quite what we expected - but they didn't disappoint at all and turned out to be great.

We probably pictured something in puff pastry and what arrived was more like a round croquette.

They were so good.

The "puffs"arrived piping hot, crisp on the outside and yet soft inside. The habanero mayo was a winner as well - it combined really nicely with the puffs and had a nice kick yet it didn't overpower the seafood filling.

We'd grab these again any time!

Mlady is quite partial to vegetarian dishes - and I usually politely avoid them. Sometimes one makes the list to be ordered and they're usually quite good - for vegetarian dishes.

This one was an exception.

I'd probably describe it as similar to a vegetarian lasagne. It was rich, substantial, complex and most of all extremely tasty - so much that I think I ate more than she did.

Our next share dish was quite light and yet still a substantial serving. It was the mahi mahi with lentil salad, rocket pesto and veg crisps.

The fish was nicely cooked and the lentil salad and pesto added texture and complexity to the dish.

The veg crisps were to die for! Thin and crunchy we could have kept eating them. If they were available as a side we'd order extra servings!

Dessert time had arrived and even though we had filled up quite a bit, there's always room for a sweet finish to a meal! The sweets weren't shown on the menu but they were written on a surfboard on the wall opposite us and as there were two choices we decided to try them both. The almond and mocha moose was Mlady's choice and I ordered the lemon and caramel cheesecake with raspberries. The concept was to share them, but we failed. We each shared a mouthful but then stuck to our own choices as our favourites. Both were very tasty and the sizes make them ideal to share - if you can!

SoCal has a real buzz to it. It's busy but things keep moving at a nice pace. The southern Californian influence is certainly very apparent in decor, lighting, music and of course food and drinks. It all combined well to create a great place to stop by, chill out, grab a drink and devour some snacks or a full meal. Most tables around us went for the full meal option and shared dishes - giving everyone in each group a wider range of dishes to taste. 

Sir and Mlady dined as guests of SoCal. Thanks to Gemma for looking after us and recommending dishes. Special thanks to owners Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll of Applejack Hospitality. Thanks also to Olivia Warne of Pendulum Communications for arranging our visit. 

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