Christmas, New Year’s Eve and everything in between

Wow! It’s always amazing how much of a blur Christmas and New Year’s are when you try and look back on it all – and not just because of all the mince pies and brandy. 

Anyway, as this is our first post for 2019, we thought we’d catch up on what when over our festive break. And don’t worry, it’s not all about those mince pies and brandy!

In this Edition, we’ve got Christmas movies, bottomless rosé brunches, beautiful renovations on a heritage pub, storms, Buddha bowls and of course fireworks!

We hope you enjoy this Weekly Edition and that your 2019 has begun superbly.

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx

Golden Age Cinema, Surry Hills

It’s the penultimate night before Christmas (yes, that means the 22nd!) and we’ve decided to get right into the ‘spirit’ of things with a cocktail and Christmas movie at the Golden Age Cinema and bar in Surry Hills. This place is right round the corner from where we used to live, so there’s even more nostalgia for us coming back here than if we were just here to watch… Home Alone!

Of course, it’d be rude not to take advantage of the excellent cocktails they have on offer at the Golden Age pre-show. Their negronis are the way to go.

Golden Age Cinema, Surry Hills

The cinema itself is pretty cool. It’s in the old Paramount building where films were stored and distributed. This restored screen was where the executives would come to pre-screen new releases back in the ’50s and the aesthetic is still strong here. It only seats around 60 people, so you need to either book ahead or be very lucky.

The Golden Age Cinema has a fascinating history (you can read about here) that stretches from the 1920s to the ’70s.

Golden Age Cinema, Surry Hills - Home Alone

I don’t think there’s a better Christmas movie than Home Alone, though Die Hard’s pretty up there, and we’ve recently discovered that The Princess Bride could count as a Chrimbo flick too – I spotted a Santa on the grandson’s bedroom wall recently. What a scoop!

Exchange Hotel, Balmain - reopening again

After the movie (what a classic) we’ve headed into Balmain to check out another old classic. The Exchange Hotel on Beattie Street has re-opened. Again. You might remember us telling you about the re-opening back in August after a long stint of being shut.

Well, that didn’t last long and the doors closed once more after only about 6 weeks. Thankfully though, there’s a new name above the door and things are not only looking promising, they’re also looking more sustainable.

We spoke to the gov’nor, Alan, who’s planning on building more of a co-operative element to the pub, which will hopefully make it not only busier but also more part of the local community. We all need more of that.

Exchange Hotel, Surry Hills

We’re so happy to see the doors of this place remaining open. It’s a beautiful old pub. Make sure you get down there to check it out – and keep up with some of the specials they offer behind the bar and in the kitchens. Pretty good stuff!

Exchange Hotel, 94 Beattie Street, Balmain

Sydney Harbour ferry ride

This morning – the day before Christmas – we’re speeding our way out over Sydney Harbour to the East – to Rose Bay in fact – for Christmas brunch with our awesome friends Danny and Vicki. In spite of the varied weather, today is perfect for a morning by the harbour.

Regatta, Rose Bay

Regatta Rose Bay is a beautiful restaurant over the water amidst some of the most spectacular yachts in the harbour. I think even in winter this place would be a great spot for a meal… but on a pristine summer’s day like today, it’s the best place to be.

Regatta Rose Bay - Bottomless rosé brunch

We’re wondering how the day could get any better when the rosé starts to flow. Yes, it’s only 10am, but it’s Christmas! Until the end of March 2019, Regatta is offering their Bottomless Rosé Brunch for $80pp. Check it out here and all the other things they’ve got going on.

Regatta Rose Bay - amuse bouche

The food that comes with the rosé is excellent too. From the little amuse bouche of vanilla yoghurt and granola (in case you’ve missed breakfast) to the jamon and gruyere stuffed croissants, the steady flow of wine food and fun convo makes for the best Sunday we’ve had in a long time.

Regatta Rose Bay - Danny, Vicki and us

Bottomless rosé brunch - Regatta Rose Bay

And just because the meal’s over doesn’t mean that the rosé is. We carry our drinks out onto the beautiful balcony and enjoy the sun. When you live in Sydney, it’s quite easy to forget what a beautiful city it really is.

Thanks to places like this, and thanks to Vicki and Danny for coming up with a plan for our Christmas catch-up, the reminder of the  splendour Sydney has to offer.

Regatta Rose Bay mojito

Sooner or later (I think it was sooner) the rosé runs out. So we move on to cocktails and beer. Very wise. And it’s (probably) after midday by now. Totally acceptable. I mentioned it is Christmas, right?

Alpine sponge and Christmas pavlova

And right on cue, we’re here: Christmas Day! And amazingly, the only photographic proof we have of it is this: a spectacular pavlova (well done, Christina and her mum) and a quite remarkable fir tree bundt cake from our mate Steph.

The pavlova, by the way, is from Christina’s mum’s fool-proof recipe you can find here. And the topping, which is Christina’s new favourite, is a lemon curd you make with all the egg yolks left over from the pavlova meringue. Very smart.

Woolwich Pier Hotel balcony

With all the crazy of Christmas over, Christina and I have come to the Woolwich Pier Hotel in Woolwich to check out the incredible refurb they’ve done here and to sample their brand new menu.

Overlooking The Goat Paddock (excellent name) and glimpsing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the balcony of this grand old pub is amazing. And by fitting new all-glass sash windows, they’ve managed to lower the balcony balustrade so you can have a view when you’re sitting down to lunch.

Woolwich Pier Hotel

The refurbishments to the pub go all the way through it. From the balcony roof and decking down to the garden, which we’ll come to in a minute. First though, the food!

Woolwich Pier Hotel entrees

The menu has been designed to fit an interesting fusion concept. Part French bistro, part Japanese izakaya. And of course a healthy layer of creative licence for classic pub fair, Italian flair and modern Australian laissez faire cuisines to add influence.

There’s always a risk with fusion menus where the venue doesn’t know what it wants to be. But Head Chef Glenn Tabudlo has kept the reins right and guided the food in exactly the direction he’s aiming for, taking the best from each cuisine.

Our entrees, which could easily be share plates or even a light meal on their own, are delicious. My burrata with roast vegetable mille feuille and an exultantly rich pesto hits the spot.

Woolwich Pier Hotel entrees

Christina’s tuna tartare has much more of the Japanese influence we were keen to try. The ponzu and wasabi with the perfectly cut fish give a salty zing to the dish, while the rice crackers, sesame and shishu dressing put a finish on the Japanese edge. And to nod in the direction of France, the crispy potato frits give the tuna another medium to your mouth!

Woolwich Pier Hotel mains

Mains, which we took recommendations for, are plentiful and pretty. The kitchen has hit the sweet spot combining the generosity of pub food with the finesse and complexity of cuisine of a good-level restaurant.

My surf and turf – a dish I haven’t ordered in ages – is a feast. The fillet mignon steak is thick and clearly a high quality meat. It’s cooked very much on the medium side of medium-rare, which is a bit of a shame. I usually prefer my steaks rare, but the steak is good enough that it’s still tender, juicy and flavourful.

The giant Yamba prawns are almost as meaty as the steak, but delicately flavoured, and the lobster bisque sauce is excellent. The dish also comes with huge, chunky ‘pont neuf’ chips and braised kale and beet leaves.

Woolwich Pier Hotel mains

Christina’s main though is something else. Three giant house-made ravioli stuffed full with prawn and salmon come with roasted Spanish peppers, chives, sourdough crumbs and smoked cheddar. And the rich shellfish and vanilla butter broth makes for a superior dish.

Woolwich Pier Hotel dessert

Woolwich Pier Hotel desserts

Our rubber arms twist to point at the dessert menu. The deconstructed cheesecake looks the part, with its bright red dome, sweet crumbs and blue chocolate shard, but the house sorbet is crisp and refreshing on such a hot day – and after all that food before it.

Woolwich Pier Hotel stairs

After lunch, we explore the pub and its extensive renovations a bit more.

In a nod to the hotel’s various incarnations and eras, design architects Alexander & Co. have done well to combine The Pier’s 1800s ancestry and its family vibe while still modernising and making  it a romantic dinner spot. The grand staircase with its dramatic mural, Art Deco lights and exposed brick really set the stage.

Woolwich Pier Hotel bar and lounge

Every room – apart from the old bar, which they left as it was – has been done up. Through the bar, the modern-looking diner-style part of the pub is light and bright, perfect for families.

Woolwich Pier Hotel garden

Outside, the beer garden is spacious and has plenty of shade, ideal for family get-togethers or an evening meal date night.

Woolwich Pier Hotel stairs

Woolwich Pier Hotel upstairs

Woolwich Pier Hotel upstairs

We love the extra little touches like the signage on the walls, the details in the furnishings, the gentle lighting and of course the views, which almost every room now makes the most of.

This wasn’t a bad pub before, but now it’s one that we’ll be recommending for everyone. It’s a great spot for a romantic meal, for friends to catch up or – as owner Justine Laundy point out – perfect for big family parties: “It’s not uncommon for four generations to meet in this hotel.”

Gallery of NSW - Judy Watson exhibit

With only a day or two left of 2018, there’s still time for us to catch up with a few friends before the end of the year.

We’ve popped into town to spend the day with our mate Tori, who’s over from the UK. It’s always good to see her and we have a lot of fun.

No doubt in an attempt to bring some culture to our often rather abstract chats, she’s organised to meet us in the Art Gallery of NSW. There’s an exhibit by Aboriginal artist Judy Watson at the moment with some very poignant pieces on display.

If you get the chance, you should check it out.

This evening, we have a visitor! Our friend Rohan has made the journey all the way from the beach. To recognise his efforts, we’ve met him at the ferry wharf with a glass of champagne. It’s the least we could do.

Rohan’s actually one of our oldest friends, which Christina meeting him just a week before she met me!

Pizza at Capello's Balmain East

Tonight, we have another visitor! Our mate James – who’s up from Melbourne. By proxy, he’s Christina’s oldest friend being the partner of her friend Julia, who she’s known since Year 7.

We’ve come to our local pizzeria – it was James’ idea (‘lifestyle choices, Jim’) but we like the way he thinks. The pizzas at Capello Ristorante on Darling Street, Balmain are excellent and the restaurant, set in an old colonial sandstone townhouse, is quintessentially Sydney.

Euforia Cafe, Balmain East - Buddha bowl

To complete James’ Balmain experience, we’ve brought him to another local spot: Euforia Cafe, which is just up the road from Balmain East ferry wharf. While James and I have gone for toasted sandwiches, Christina has decided to try one of their new Buddha bowls.

With a base of fresh beans, tomatoes, carrot, quinoa, corn and cabbage, you get a choice of three extras to add. Christina’s gone for avocado, felafel and hummus. Very wise. You can also chuck in halloumi, bacon, egg… pretty much anything, but I don’t think it makes quite the health kick the bowl should be.

Right on time, December 31st happens. And with it, storms!

We had every intention of seeing the new year in at a street party down the road… but I think that’s now off the cards. Christina and I have been struck by lightning before, and I don’t really want that to happen again!

New Year's Eve Sydney fireworks

NYE Sydney fireworks

3… 2… 1! Happy new year! The fireworks on Sydney Harbour this year are incredible. Well worth standing in the seemingly choreographed rain shower that started up at the same time. At times the sky is so bright, it’s almost like daylight. What a way to see the new year in.

Pool time - Christina

Pool time - Jim

We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s (and this year’s first) Edition. We’re off to cool down in the pool – and I might work on my style too. Christina’s form is making me look bad!

Happy 2019 – Jim & Christina xx

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