I was describing the food at Santa Barbara to a friend. "It's kind of like good pub or dude food but with an Asian Hawaiian twist." Ironically, even though I'm not a dude and I was meeting Joan Holloway and Jen, dude food seemed appropriate. Our landmark for Santa Barbara for the directionally challenged among us (okay, me) is the Coca Cola sign. Entry is via Kings Cross Road, it is located where the Piano Bar used to be. A bouncer stands his arms crossed outside.
Another one of the Drink and Dine group which includes The Norfolk and Queenies, Santa Barbara is an enormous space. Unlike Queenies but like The Norfolk, it's bar service here and that's probably a good thing because service, well it errs towards the less than enthusiastic. I wandered around for a few minutes trying to find someone to ask about our booking and everyone that I passed looked through me as if I were invisible.
I finally located a responding human whom I ask about the booking. He shrugs his shoulders and tells me that it's clearly not busy tonight and that I can choose wherever I want to sit. I vow to try and practice hipster nonchalance in the mirror. When I go to pay at the self service counter, I could swear that they gave me a slightly questioning look for not adding a tip. Do we tip for self service now?
Jamie Thomas is executive chef across the venues and he can always be relied on to be creative. Even popcorn isn't just popcorn. Here it's studded with bacon, parmesan, pineapple, furikake and coconut. And it's wonderfully addictive, so much so that I want to make this at home and I made a home-made version of this.
_Chilli tofu bing $5.50 _
Bings are Chinese pancakes and there are five different fillings available. Jen is a vegetarian so she gets a chilli tofu one which she reports back as excellent while Joan Holloway and I split the two remaining bings.
The Korean beef short rib is all slow cooked softness and there's a generous amount of the beef inside. There is also sesame slaw, radish and kim chee ketchup which is a great alternative to regular ketchup.
The Peking duck bing however is the pick with a cucumber and spring onion salsa , crispy duck and bbq sauce and on top are deep fried lotus chips.
I must admit that none of us really went for the K Town pizza. At first it looked like an okonomiyaki but once we tried it, it was a soft, dry dough topped with sauces including Jalapeno salsa, red dragon sauce and queso cheese and black sesame seeds.
The crab comes as four whole soft shell crabs, deep fried and crunchy with a tomato chilli salsa macho and Szechuan pepper and a slice of lime for piquancy and freshness. The crab is well cooked so that it isn't too greasy and the texture is light.
These dumplings were Jen's pick as they were also vegetarian. Coming five to a serve, they are full of flavour and filled with a pumpkin, jalapeno and cheese filling and pan fried until the edges were crispy.
I must admit that we were completely besotted with the name Enchanted Chicken because how many burgers can claim to contain enchanted chicken? ;) In the basket were some fabulous salt and pepper sweet potato fries, crispy on the edges but soft and sweet and a smallish but good burger. I loved the burger at Queenies and this was just as good with a generous amount of sauce and a large chicken fillet.
The last to arrive, these were my favourite item along with the popcorn. Ssams are a fresh way of presenting food. The butter lettuce leaves, five to a serve have mango, chilli & black bean salsa, slices of smoked pork, deep fried coconut prawns, radish matchsticks, fresh herbs and chilli sauce. I'd actually forgotten that we'd ordered these so I had eaten my fill by then. And if I were to suggest one thing, it is that I actually preferred them without the slices of pork as they had a drier, slightly firmer texture than the prawns and salad.
I hope you don't get mad at me Dear Reader, but after downing three ssams, I had no room for dessert. There is one dessert option and it is churros with sichuan pepper and chocolate dipping sauce. I know, I know, I should have at least tried to have made room...
So tell me Dear Reader, do you prefer self service or table service? And if you don't receive table service, do you also leave a tip?
1 Baywater Rd, Kings Cross, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9357 7882
Mon - Thu: 12:00 pm - 2:00 am
Fri: 12:00 pm - 3:00 am
Sat - Sun: 4:00 pm - 3:00 am