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From the Bondi Hardware/Botanist team, a taste of MexiCali.

First there was Bondi Hardware. Then there was The Botanist in Kirribilli. And now Applejack Hospitality have expanded their near-water empire to SoCal.

It’s time to slip into something a little more comfortable. Grab those large dark sunnies, your best dressed-up beach chic and head on over to the growing bar area of Neutral Bay.

Sit back and allow Cali to introduce herself. This is for the good-looking North Shore crowd who have been calling out for more stylish drinking venues. And it's not just for booze. There are great things to munch on; in fact, you could call it a dinner venue just as much as a drinking den.

The space use to be a 'gentlemen's karaoke bar' (although how much singing went on is questionable), which might explain the long staircase as you ascend into the bar. Once at the top you're greeted with a palette of bright yellows, including the large Cerveza Pacifico Claro sign in the courtyard area, pink flamingos, white timber, sky blue cushions and a stack of plants. The bar area with its large 'bar' sign (so there's no mistaking it for anything else?), old crates acting as shelves for the booze, adds a slightly different aesthetic to the mix, and the tunes, well, they're perfect for chilling out to.

Then there's the staff. There's something about a bearded barman that just screams knowledgeable about liquor. Especially when paired with a Hawaiian shirt. There are three options for jugs of cocktails at $35 each, including the Caliente Punch — Ketel One Vodka, elderflower and pomegranate liquors, strawberries, lime, orange and ginger beer. They're very drinkable, though don't look for high alcohol content return on your investment. The Salted Caramel Espresso Martini ($16) could do with a dash more of salted caramel to the mix, but is a great espresso martini if that's what you’re after. Other cocktails are classics with a twist like the Momma's Moonshine ($17) or the Muscle Beach Mai Tai ($18).

To eat there's a MexiCali-inspired share plate scenario, with a focus on fresh flavours and seafood. The pulled pork, black bean, rosemary and grilled eggplant quesadillas ($20), served with cheese and salsa on flour tortillas, are the pick to go with a drink — perfectly crispy on the outside, yet soft and squishy on the inside. There's also the usual suspects like chilli dogs and pintxos, as well as a raw section including the likes of kingfish tiradito ($19).

But you just can't go past the value-for-mulla tacos, even if they're a little bit drippy on the sauce side of things. You get three large ones for $20 — choose from Baja fish, shredded beef and Sriracha chicken. From the share section of the menu, the seared salmon with zucchini, coriander and walnuts ($20) is also worth trying out.

A table inside is perfect for a hot date (there's no way anyone at any other table will be able to hear your conversation), or there's outside for large groups. The half-covered courtyard is great for warm-weather weekends, and if you squint really hard you could be mistaken for thinking you're in California.

One of the best parts? The 2am licence, which means ol' Maisy's down the road has some competition. Okay, not really. SoCal wins hands down. Here's hoping more inspired venues spring up around the area. The younger locals are clearly dying for it — based on how packed it was. Yes, my booking for an outside table on my birthday was messed up, but it was rectified a few hours later. Hopefully any small issues like this are just teething issues.

Get your white-toothed smile ready and pair with a laidback attitude for some serious drinking and chowing down in the sun.

Published on January 08, 2014 by Lena Peacock

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