As we look out of our window each morning recently, we’re greeted with the same eerie sight and the stark reminder that the deadly bushfires that are burning throughout the state are still very much an issue.
Smoke blankets Sydney, and each morning, the sun shines a ghostly glow through the palls, giving a haunting yet beautiful filter to the cityscape.
The air is full of smoke here, which makes us wonder what it’s like closer to the action. It must be terrible. Our thoughts are with those affected by the fires.
But moving on to this Weekly Edition, we talk a lot about gin, with both an international trend-setter and some home-grown talent on show. We’re exploring a part of Sydney that’s quickly making a name for itself in the art scene and we meet with wine master Damian Shaw for a wine-focussed dinner.
We hope you enjoy this Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
Christina’s always been a fan of Christmas, and not only because her name is pretty much a typo of the holiday! But even she is a little overawed by this person’s door.
What do you think? Is this taking Christmas decorations a little too far?
One thing’s for sure, today is a swimming day. It’s hot! This is in fact the first bomb – and swim – of the summer, so keep your eyes peeled for more. I’m pretty sure there’ll be plenty coming up.
Even more refreshing that a dunk in the pool is a glass of Warner’s gin. We feel a bit of connection to this distillery, which is a husband-and-wife team too.
But these guys – Tom and Tina Warner – are UK-based and grow a lot of the botanicals in the gin on their farm. They also harvest honey from their bees and draw water from the stream that flows through their Northamptonshire property to make their spirits.
As well as a solid London dry, Warner’s has a whole range of flavoured gins, including the pink rhubarb gin that’s said to have started the pink gin movement across the UK and Europe.
Tom and Tina use fresh rhubarb juice in their gin – in fact around a third of each bottle is real rhubarb. The result is a bright, sharp, herbaceous gin that works well with a Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic or even ginger beer.
And a garnish of blood orange matches the zesty flavour and pinky colour well.
Warner’s has other flavours to think about as well as rhubarb. Elderflower, raspberry, sloe and lemon balm gins all have flavours that come straight from their gardens.
And the honeybee gin has a dollop of honey from the farm’s hives in each bottle.
This afternoon, we’re exploring Sydney’s suburb of Chippendale as it celebrates its 200th birthday.
This area used to be one of the roughest, most dangerous parts of the whole country, but is now has a reputation for art and architecture.
Even the Strickland Building, reportedly Australia’s first housing commission building in 1914, has a looming beauty that’s only being recognised now.
I’m pretty sure the likes of corrupt cop and murderer Roger Rogerson, as he shot drug dealer Warren Lafranchi dead round the corner from here in 1981, was oblivious to it.
We’re following a self-guided walking tour that starts at the Four Points by Sheraton in Chippendale – a tour the hotel has devised. If you haven’t heard of this hotel before, we’ve got plenty to talk about later.
As we walk Chippendale’s streets and alleys, we meet this impressive structure. As much a piece of art as it is a building, this is the Phoenix Gallery – home to wealthy introvert Judith Neilson.
Her architects are in the process of creating what will surly be one of the most unique private art galleries in the world, but for the moment, it’s still closed. You can see some of the concepts and designs here.
This area used to be a stomping ground of Christina’s when she studied art at the University of Sydney. She explains that this is a perfect example of art students’ favourite word: ‘juxtaposition’.
The ‘other-worldly’ curves and concrete of this post-modernist edifice contrast deeply with the symmetry and straight angles of the cramped workers’ terraces next door.
It starts to rain on our tour, but thankfully our friend Peter, who wrote the walking tour for the Four Points Hotel, knows of just the fox hole to take shelter.
We dive into the Sneaky Possum – an archetypal hipster bar with plenty of character, great beers on tap and some fine looking food too. We settle down to a beer and a chat while the storm rages outside.
And this is one of the great things about Chippendale. There still is a pub on (almost) every corner at the say-so of the brewery that employed and ruled the suburb.
These days, if there’s not a pub on the corner, it’s probably a gallery.
As we leave the pub, we duck round the side alley to check out some famous street art. ‘Bin Chickens’ but Scott Marsh is a much-loved icon of the area and represents a lot that Chippendale has become:
An irreverent, arty concourse that’s fine with laughing at itself and creating something interesting in a place that once was grim and full of shadows.
Of course, there are still parts of the suburb that are run down. But now, rather than causing revulsion, they inspire interest and even beauty.
The pealing paint, and fading door and shutters here look intentional, but our friend Peter discovered his mistake when the resident came out when he was here last and made it clear the facade was not an example of distressed paintwork… at least, not in the way he was thinking!
Back at the Four Points Hotel, just back from Broadway and close to Central Park Sydney, we pause for a quick beer at the hotel’s bar Malt.
The name Malt is a nod to the brewery heritage of the area and in an even better ode to bygone beer factories, Sydney Brewery has created an ale to celebrate Chippendale’s bicentenary.
The Chippend Ale, which is now only available at Malt Bar, is inimitably drinkable and perfect for this welcoming, airy space. The all-glass wall facing into the lane beyond really lets the outside in.
Beyond the bar, Four Points’ foyer expands into Central Quarter Restaurant and our final destination for the evening.
Tonight, we’re dining with wine star Damian Shaw – son of Philip Shaw from Orange, NSW. Damian is taking us through several of the winery’s most favourite wines along with a five-course dinner.
Wine&Dine is an event that Central Quarter Restaurant puts on every quarter, where a winemaker from around the country comes to the restaurant and talks you through a multi-course meal with their wines to match.
As the evening begins, Damian explains little-known details about the wine we’re drinking and his family’s brand.
Fascinating and delicious, this is the way I enjoy learning about wine!
We start the meal off with some delicious Sydney rock oysters with pomelo, coriander and lime, paired with a glass of the Philip Shaw Edinburgh NV sparkling.
It’s a perfect match, but the artwork on the bottle catches our attention. Damian explains that it’s purposefully repellent as he doesn’t want everyone to like his wine – especially those who only like wine for the label.
As the meal progresses, we enjoy duets and trios of wine, so we can compare different production methods and styles. Two different Chardonnays show two completely different characteristics.
We also get to try three different Shiraz styles: The Idiot, the Experimental and the No.89. I’ve had the Idiot before and liked it, but it fades away next to the wonderful No.89. This is an absolute belter of a wine. Highly recommended.
Interestingly, Damian and his dad prefer to work with numbers – like the 89 – because their dyslexia hinders the meaning of words.
Funnily enough, I’m dyslexic too, but prefer words to numbers! Still, I won’t be forgetting the No.89 in a hurry.
The food keeps coming and we keep eating. Scallops perfectly cooked with a smooth pea puree, charred corn and chorizo jam, a remarkable piece of wagyu rump steak with a wattle seed rub, celeriac puree and a rich jus, and finally a cheese selection.
It’s interesting to learn that the wagyu is in fact Japanese Tajima cattle raised in Australia, which makes this grade of wagyu very special.
Of the cheeses, everyone seems to have fallen for the smoked cheddar.
It’s an excellent night of food and wine, and we’ll definitely be keeping out eye out for the next one.
This afternoon, we’re at Paddington Town Hall for a gin festival. Gin Palooza is an annual celebration of Australian and New Zealand gins, where small producers come together to showcase their work in this three-day event.
Your ticket gets you an empty glass and access to tastings of any and all the gins you’re interested in. You also get the chance to talk to the distillers in many cases and if you fall in love, you can buy bottles of gin here too.
It’s pretty busy today, but everyone knows we’re all here for the same reason, so it’s amazingly friendly here.
Christina and I roll up our sleeves and work our way round the room.
Our first stop is to the Farmer’s Wife, where we get to chat with Kylie – the head distiller and owner (indeed, the Farmer’s Wife) of the distillery.
She cooks out of Allworth, not too far from Maitland, where we recently spent a weekend.
Kylie’s gin is delicious, fresh and balanced. We’ve started strong with this one. It’ll be hard to beat… not that we’re keeping score.
Another stand-out was our time at the Bass & Flinders Distillery table. Perhaps the biggest range of gins, this is also one of the oldest gin distilleries in the country.
Opening its doors in 2009, it makes sense that this distillery has so many styles.
I try them all! The Maritime, a seasonal gin but one that’s likely to become a regular, is earthy and salty, full of the tastes of the sea. It’s wonderful.
At the other end of the temporal scale is the Wildspirit Distilling Co, who have only been open a few weeks! They have already won an award though: for their bottle’s label art. It’s pretty good, I must admit.
Wildspirits Co only have the one gin at the moment, but it’s different to most gins out there. With botanicals of fresh tomatoes and celery, this savoury gin is perfect for a Red Snapper cocktail – basically a Bloody Mary but with gin instead of vodka.
One of the last distilleries we visit is one I’ve wanted to try for a while. Prohibition Gin has probably the best packaging we’ve seen with a hip-flask style bottle.
But, as they say, it’s what’s inside that counts, and the gin these guys make lives up to it. In particular, their barrel-aged gin is amazing.
Aged in barrels that once held Kentucky Bourbon, then Barossa Shiraz, this 60%ABV gin is complex, rich and terrifyingly drinkable. Hard to say no to this stuff.
We finish off the week with a wonderful party in Balgowlah – our friend Riccardo is celebrating his 80th birthday. Everyone here is like family to us and we’re so happy to have been able to come.
It’s a wonderful day; my only regret is that I haven’t known him for all of those 80 years of his.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Weekly Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx