Since the beginning of this year, Alfie has let us know that for his birthday he would like to go to SoCal, a Mexican restaurant with a name that is short for ‘So Californian’. He had been there just once before when Arabella took him out for lunch one day and ever since has declared it his most favourite restaurant.
It’s been quite a countdown and finally the day arrived and when Alfie woke up in the morning the first thing he said was, ‘How many hours until I go to SoCal?’
‘Just 11 hours to go, Alfie’. After dropping him off at school I came home and did a few things and then thought perhaps I’d better make a booking. I phoned SoCal and was advised the restaurant was fully booked but if we arrived as close to 6pm as possible, we could sit at the bar and wait for a table.
Friday night probably wasn’t the best night for two families with young boys to go to SoCal. The restaurant is situated in the heart of Neutral Bay, also known as Yuppie-Central. On Friday nights all the pretty and handsome 30-somethings in cocktail dresses and business suits head to a place like SoCal for some socialising and cocktails.
I couldn’t believe that after the lengthy countdown I’d been so silly as to not book a table but that was the situ and it was on with the show.
We arrived just after 6pm and SoCal was already bustling with the yuppie-set. The restaurant is up a flight of stairs and is divided into indoor dining with bar area on a polished concrete floor (think noise), and an outdoor covered courtyard (also noisy). My good friend Annie arrived a few minutes before us with her husband, daughter and grandson.
Our friends had been shown to a small outdoor table but when people at the next table left, Annie joined the two tables together and suddenly there was room for eight of us. Emily was our ever-smiling waitress and she was very welcoming and helpful and quickly took our drink orders. The two husbands ordered Mexican beers that came very chilled and with a salt edge and a wedge of lime. It was a very warm night and the beer with the lime and salt was very refreshing.
Annie and I wanted a margarita (when in Rome), and it works out better value to order a jug so we did. The margarita jug arrived fairly promptly and the drink was beautifully refreshing after all the heat and such a harried rush to the restaurant. However, it did seem there was an incredible amount of ice in the jug compared with the amount of actual margarita.
Alfie and his friend ordered a mocktail. This is Alfie’s motivation for loving SoCal; he loves the choice of mocktails. Alfie ordered something sour and his friend asked for something sweet. They were both very happy with what was brought to them.
As were were a party of eight, Emily suggested we order the banquet menu at $42.00/person. Arabella wasn’t that hungry so we ordered the banquet for five with the boys having quesadillas. Alfie wanted the Sriracha Chicken Quesadillas with charred corn and jalapenos but by mistake we ordered him and his friend, plain cheese.
The banquet menu is a selection of their most popular items and all are designed to share. The first dish to arrive was the corn chips with guacamole and salsa. This is all very nice however the guacamole and salsa containers were disproportionately small to the amount of corn chips and we quickly ran out of both.
The next dish to arrive was the chorizo and potato croquettes and these were a firm favourite with me. A good balance of spicy chorizo mixed with the mildness of potato and a very crunchy crumb coating.
But the quesadillas for the boys still hadn’t arrived and they were getting very hungry so I asked Emily if there was a chance they could bring them. She said they make them from scratch so it would just be a few more minutes.
Then the Baja Fish Tacos arrived with chilli slaw and pineapple salsa. These were messy but a definite firm favourite. At this time we noticed the front-of-house manager hovering near our table, clipboard folder in hand and tapping on it with her pen and an irritated look on her face. And still no plain cheese quesadillas.
As the Texas BBQ Beef Skewers with corn and cactus salsa arrived we again asked a waiter for the quesadillas. He said they’d be right out. The beef skewers were excellent with very tender beef but the quesadillas failed to arrive.
Next we had pulled pork quesadillas with fennel, onion and pimento puree. It was difficult to enjoy them with the hostile front-of-house manager hovering over our table and glaring at us and asking the waitress when we were leaving. The quesadillas for the boys hadn’t even arrived. Emily then told us that as there’d been an incredible delay in bringing the quesadillas, they would bring some complimentary churros.
Moments later the boys’ faces lit up because their quesadillas finally arrived. But Alfie said, ‘Where’s the chicken?’ And yes, I had to confess to him that we’d ordered him plain cheese by mistake. He said, ‘If I eat all of this can you order me the chicken?’ So as he is so thin I wanted to oblige but as the manager was making us feel unwelcome, I asked if they could be delivered quickly.
Then the manager, who continued to hover over our table, told a waiter to put a reserved sign on our table. It was slapped down at high speed and then the waiter disappeared like he’d been set on fire.
That was not-so-subtle and with the manager standing next to our table with her hostile look and her clipboard folder, we were unimpressed.
The jerk chicken salad with jicama, rice and herbs was the next to arrive and this was a favourite of mine. I loved the crisp, fresh flavours and how refreshing this was with the citrus dressing. The chicken was very soft and tender with a wonderful chargrilled flavour however, the portion size was very difficult to share between five people.
Then the sweet potato chips arrived. I’m not usually a fan because I normally find them dry and tasteless but these were flavoursome and soft. Then much to Alfie’s joy his chicken quesadillas arrived.
Just then the waitress told us the manager had said the restaurant needed the table and could we leave. I said, ‘But the complimentary churros you promised haven’t even arrived. Can we at least stay until you bring them?’ And off she scuttled to the manager.
She came back saying they would give us the churros in takeaway containers. I said, ‘As we now can’t eat the churros here, we don’t want them. Can you please just take something else off the menu to make up for the delay in bringing the quesadillas’. She went back to the manager and returned saying, ‘The manager has said you can have the chicken quesadillas for free’.
Emily brought over the bill and we paid the $350.00 (approx) for the meal. We were asked to leave immediately. I said, ‘But Alfie is still eating his quesadillas’. She walked away and so I told Alfie to get up with his enamel plate and walk out. With the plate.
And as we descended the stairs the manager, who had been so unwelcoming, gave us a fake smile and a trite, ‘Hope you had a great night’. As if. I’ve never spent so much to be made to feel so unwelcome. And that’s a crying shame because the restaurant, if you like noise, unisex toilets, cocktails and excellent Mexican cuisine, is fantastic. They just need to rid themselves of hostile managers with superior attitudes who take an immediate dislike to families trying to celebrate the birthday of a 10-year old boy.
Verdict: Getting a table doesn’t guarantee you a seat.
SoCal: 1 Young Street, Neutral Bay, NSW 2089
Ph: 02 9904 5691