Driving down the Princes Highway is hardly one of Sydney’s most attractive experiences. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, like a desert mirage, appears Sarita’s. It serves LA-inspired pub food, and its bare wooden fit-out makes it feel like an expensive Swedish alpine retreat.

Head chef Joel Gottlieb says the Feros Group – which runs and owns the Rocksia and a number of other venues – was inspired by a trip to LA’s Gjelina. The famous restaurant’s New-American-style tapas has been riffed on and augmented to create a menu of new-bistro-style food loosely disguised as pub classics. “What I've tried to do is take some really classic dishes and modify them a bit with some cheffy nuances, without being too pretentious,” Gottlieb says.

Take the garlic prawns, for instance. They’re baked in the restaurant’s wood-fire oven with garlic butter and confit chillies and served on a bed of saffron aioli and watercress. When it comes out it looks and tastes like a bloody good serving of garlic prawns. The short beef ribs have been marinated in Gottlieb’s homemade bulgogi sauce, giving them a rich sticky taste somewhere between classic American ribs and Shanghai-style sweet-and-sour pork.

Gottlieb says although the menu will retain some stability around its signatures, such as the garlic prawns, the rest of it will change with the seasons. “We’re not going to try and sustain a menu that doesn’t represent whatever is really good for that vegetable or seafood at the time.” During winter try the wood-fire baked cauliflower in a pool of Spanish almond and red-capsicum sauce.

The wood-fired oven is a centrepiece of the restaurant’s menu, pumping out shared plates, such as the cauliflower or crispy-skin chicken, and Gottlieb’s pizzas. “I’ve spent 18 months working on the dough recipe; it’s between a Roman pizza and a Neapolitan style.” For non-pizza nerds that means a thin crust that’s chewy but crispy enough to snap at the bite. The toppings are classically Italian with a few tweaks – look for a margherita or the fancy meat lover’s pizza with Italian sausage, French salami, German ham, chilli and buffalo mozzarella.

Sarita’s holds an almost exclusively Australian wine list and some easy-drinking cocktails. For something refreshing, try the Cocojito with coconut water, coconut liqueur, Barcadi white rum, mint and lime, or for sweet tooths, Prom Queen, a candy-like mix of white chocolate and vanilla liqueur, Baileys and cream that’s encircled by florets of hundreds and thousands.

Rocksia Hotel, 299 Princes Highway, Arncliffe
(02) 9567 8242

Mon & Tue 5pm–11pm
Wed & Thu 12pm–3pm, 5pm–11pm
Fri & Sat 12pm–11pm
Sun 12pm–10pm