In August 2013, five whisky pouring, music playing, mac & cheese baking lads moved into the neighbourhood.
Lucky for them, they brought dessert. So we let them stay.
We can’t resist a good dessert. So we knocked on their door hoping they’d saved some for us...
The first thing we notice as we walk through Neighbourhood’s front door is the bar. Specifically, the words painted on the bar, which read, ‘Please wait to be seated’. This place is not fine-dining by any means, lending itself more to a beachside bistro for frocks and thongs than anything else, but if there’s one thing you’ll feel once inside, it’s welcome.
Hardly a second passes before we turn heads and are greeted by three of the five men behind Neighbourhood.
A CV that reads of time spent at Diageo and Australian Bartender Magazine gives bar manager Simon McGowan more than enough clout to shake up our whiskeys. Like any good host, he’s quick to lay the welcome mat out and offer to wet our whistles.
The cocktail list brims with old favourites and new creations, constantly changing, though never exceeding, a dozen-strong. Simon prefers it be fresh and seasonal than overly pretentious.
Here’s what you need to know about your friendly, Neighbourhood, Bondi…
The vibe: Chilled and homely
Ideal for: Catching up with friends, partying with the beachy keen and drunk soul food injections
Bartender's choice: The Caramel Corn Old Fashioned, $20
Try the... Yankie Jaffle, $10
By the way...They take group bookings in the back two dining areas, but always leave the front bar open for walk-ins.
Find them on Facebook: Neighbourhood
We leave our alcoholic decisions in his hands and with them, he pours a Delicious Sour. All care is made to rest the egg on the counter before laying the white thick onto a Laird’s 100 proof applejack and creme de peche mix. It’s damn smooth, not too sour and perfectly delicious.
But it’s not one of his ‒ and Simon, he likes to show off his best and moves us on to his Caramel Corn Old Fashioned. It’s made of Buttered-popcorn Bulleit Bourbon and Talisker 10 year old Scotch whiskey (James Bond’s true drink of choice and Simon’s personal favourite), salted caramel and bitters and poured neatly over an oversized block of ice. “Some people take cocktails too seriously,” he says as he grabs a wooden peg from the counter, pours a handful of caramel popcorn into a mini red-and-white striped bucket and attaches it to the glass.
“But they should be fun.”
Grabbing our carnival concoction and sipping it gleefully, we move further into this deceivingly large venue and into the DJ box – home to Bondi Radio and its managing director Keith Hodgson, who’s focusing on expanding the station this year.
It’s early in the evening, so Keith’s soundtrack is by definition ‘chilled’. He’s curating a homestead where you won’t have to lean across the dining table screaming “sorry, I can’t hear you” like a (pardon the pun) broken record, to catch-up with old friends.
As the night progresses and whiskies sink in, the speakers flirt with funk, old-school rock and dance, in a finely tuned medley.
Over the weekend it’s not unusual for Keith to kick up his feet and hand the discs to one of his DJ friends, so by Monday, they’ve earned a rest, replaced with a live, acoustic set in the backroom.
Mac & cheese baking
A few steps further and we’re in chef Joshua (Joshy) Evans’domain. His room is an open-plan kitchen, designed by himself and decorated with (amongst other things) a single jaffle maker. “It’s my mum’s,” he says, reminiscing a childhood that’s reflected in his Australian-cross-Americana menu.
Of Neighbourhood’s legendary jaffles ‒ which moonlight as anything from ‘hearty breakfast’ to ‘drunk comfort food’ ‒ the Philly Cheesesteak is Joshy’s fave. But he knows better than to impress his favourites on us and poses we try the Yankee with its mac & cheese filling, instead. It isn’t long before we declare it the stuff of gods. The cheese lingers in our mouths long after it lines our stomachs, sending warm and fuzzy memories of cheese sizzling off the side of the family jaffle maker through our minds.
Then we eye the beer battered broccoli with its soft grating of parmesan and blue cheese dressing and wonder why mum never made them this way. “They’re our excuse for greens,” says Joshy. It’s probably not the healthiest way to eat our vegetables, but damn, if this ain’t food for the soul, we don’t know what is.
We press on to ask what dessert he’s saved for us and find his is literally a two-dessert show. “I’d rather do two things really well, than four or five things that are just okay,” says Joshy. And he does. We can’t speak for the white choc brulee, but his signature Secret Garden is lick-the-screen food porn enviable.
It was originally designed for a Secret Foodies event and could easily pass for a decorative plant, flower, clay pot and all. As we’ve eaten our greens already (thanks mum!), we skip past the edible flower and excavate the layers of biscuit crumb and lemon and vanilla cream cheese to hit that salivatingly gooey salted caramel base.
So, same time next week, neighbour?
Address: 143 Curlewis St, Bondi Beach
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 5:30pm-11:30pm, Saturday 9am-11pm, Sunday 9am-10pm
Facebook: Neighbourhood Bondi