Santa Barbara may hold stead beneath one the most enduring and infamous landmarks in Sydney but it has gone through a bit of a shake-up of late. Sure, it has changed its hours (Monday and Tuesday night tipples are sadly no longer), but by way of compensation the venue has created a genuine restaurant that mirrors the kitschy spirit of Santa Barbara (and separates the barflies and their snacking from diners in want of a sit-down experience). A section of inner booths and tables are reserved for The Californian, while the rest of the space is still bar territory.
With the typical irreverence of Jaime Wirth’s many ventures, like The Norfolk and The Carrington, The Californian takes what you know and gives it a strange, but distinctly interesting twist. The menu is barbecue-centric and deeply eclectic, blending Korean, Chinese, Japanese and American styles and flavours. Adventurous appetites are catered for with dishes like the sticky and satisfying Coca-Cola chicken, grilled watermelon and BBQ ribs with coffee mole. The accompanying cocktail list makes light of some specifically Californian paradoxes, with an aloe margarita, valley girl sour and Betty Ford Old Fashioned appearing on the list.
All up, The Californian is a heady extension of Santa Barbara’s look and feel, just with more of an emphasis on dining rather than drinking – and a refusal to give up any of the fun.