A harbour storm, Jim’s doppelganger and is this the best schnitzel in Sydney?

Crazy to think that Christmas is next week, isn’t it? After everything that’s gone on this year, it’s like Christmas is way too normal to be happening. 

I suppose it just goes to show that no matter what happens to us, time still troops on… but let’s not get too maudlin or philosophical. This time of year is about celebrating.

We’re lucky to have been able to have a few Christmas parties and get-togethers these last couple of weeks, which means we have some great little tips on places to eat and explore in Sydney.

And right when a massive storm front passed through Sydney, we were on a boat! So check out the photos from that. 

There’s a new wine and a spirit we want to tell you about and I finally got to meet my doppelganger, which was weird for both of us. 

Finally, we get to try what’s long been lauded as the best schnitzel in Sydney. Let’s see what you think about that!

We hope you enjoy this, the last Weekly Edition of 2020, and that you have a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year.

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx

Shila Kitchen Balmain

Our first catch-up for the Christmas period is with our mate Steph. She’s been dodging back and forth from the States, where her partner’s based, recently.

It’s good to see her back in Sydney and we’ve taken her to a favourite spot in Balmain – Shila Kitchen

This is a Persian cafe and diner, and does a delicious range of traditional Iranian dips and dishes.

Stuffed vine leaves, smoky eggplant, sumptuous hummus and creamy, zingy yoghurt dips with amazing crunchy breads… and that’s just to start.

Shila Kitchen Balmain

This is a Persian meatball! It’s made with of split peas, rice, minced beef and fresh herbs, slow-cooked in a traditional tomato sauce served with olives and fresh Afghan bread. 

It’s so good. 

There’s a whole range of remarkable dishes to try here and everyone’s so friendly. If you’re not sure about what something is, the staff are happy to help.

If you’re looking for delicious vegan and gluten-free food, Shila Kitchen is amazing. They have so many options here.

This evening, we’re out on Sydney Harbour for a Christmas cruise with our travel journo friends courtesy of TravMedia – the biggest and best communication hub for travel writers and publishers, travel PR and marketing, and travel brands.

We feel so lucky to be able to socialise at the moment, but to be on a yacht at one of the world’s most beautiful landmarks… it reminds us that pinch-me moments can happen right in your own back yard.

Jim Butcher & Ben Groundwater

From left to right: Ben Groundwater and Jim Butcher… I think.

Another pinch-me moment: when I finally get to hang out with a man who many people seem to confuse me with for some reason.

This is Ben Groundwater, a renowned travel writer and photographer. If you’ve ever read Traveller, Adventure.com, SMH, The Age or any in-flight mag, you’ve probably seen Ben’s work.

He’s also a magnificently good looking chap of course. 

I honestly do not mind being mistaken for Ben… I wonder if he feels the same!

Travmedia Christmas boat party

After the initial shock of seeing my twin, Christina and I (and Ben) settle into the important task of emptying the ship’s eskies. 

It’s not until we look up from our work that we notice an interesting weather pattern developing…

Within minutes, this enormous weather front has rolled in on us, threatening to spoil the party. 

Thankfully, we’re all having too much fun to be too worried – that’s the skipper’s job! So we reach for another beer and wait for the light show. 

It doesn’t take long:

Lightning Harbour Bridge

As the sun sets over the Bridge, the sky lights up again like it’s midday. I’m lucky enough to catch this amazing lightning strike literally as I’m reaching back into the esky. 

Our thanks again to Nick Wayland and the TravMedia crew for their generosity, hard work and friendship – especially in such difficult times for the travel industry.

Mitchelton Estate picnic

Today, we’re having a picnic! 

Mitchelton Estate – a Victorian winery near Bendigo – have kindly sent us two of their new wines from the Preece Collection and a selection of cheeses, meats and relishes. 

By coincidence, Christina has visited Mitchelton Estate on a trip to see her uncle in Bendigo a couple of years ago. It’s a stunning property and cellar door, which also has an Aboriginal art gallery, day spa and restaurant to explore.

Mitchelton Estate Preece wines picnic

These wines from Mitchelton’s Preece collection, named after Colin Preece, the winery’s founding winemaker, are excellent. 

The Preece King Valley Pinot Grigio is well-structured and fuller bodied than most of this variety. There’s a good fruitiness to it and crisp, nashi pear notes too.

But the Preece Grenache Rosé is real winner. I’m a big fan of Grenache anyway, and it suits the Rosé style perfectly. 

This Provençal style Rosé is crisp and dry, but with all the good bits from Grenache still intact. 

Sour cherry on the nose with a balanced sweetness and red currant sharpness on the palate. 

You can find the Mitchelton Estate Preece King Valley Pinot Grigio and the Nagambie Grenache Rosé from the Mitchelton website and from Dan Murphy’s – RRP $20 a bottle. 

ASTW Christmas lunch Boque by Tapavino Aperol spritz

Ahh! The first Aperol spritz of the season. 

We’re celebrating the coming of Christmas today with our digital publisher friends from the Australian Society of Travel Writers

Lunch today is at Boque by Tapavino in Darling Harbour – a Spanish restaurant that does one of the best set menus we’ve seen. Initially we talk through the a la carte, but for $55pp, this is a feast at a bargain.

ASTW Christmas lunch Boque by Tapavino food

Here are a few of the dishes we’re enjoying. The meal begins with jamon serrano, then a creamy cheesy croqueta, a spiced eggplant tostada (which is probably the best thing on the menu, drizzled with honey and chives), and exquisite garlicky grilled prawns.

Next is pollo asado – a huge amount of delicately spiced grilled chicken on the bone and a surprisingly tasty cabbage salad.

I think they probably need to rework the name of this one, because ‘cabbage salad’ does not inspire or describe how tasty this dish is.

Next is a bowl full of dense yet somehow delicate slow-cooked pork and veal meatballs in a rich tomato sauce and piled high with pecorino cheese, and another equally full bowl of patatas bravas. These delicious, crunchy roast spuds are covered in a peri peri mayo. Yum.

ASTW Christmas lunch Boque by Tapavino churros

Finally, we’re treated to some of the best churros we’ve had in Sydney with an incredibly sticky chocolate caramel dip.

We don’t finish all the food (the churros all disappear though!) but the staff are happy to give us have takeaway boxes. Nothing worse than seeing good food go to waste.

Jim Butcher Mr and Mrs Romance, Christina Butcher Hair Romance, Paula Morgan Sydney Expert, Seana Smith Hello Sydney Kids, Marianne Rogerson Mum on the Move

We stop in at another bar for a cheeky post-meal drink and a photo.

Left to right: Jim and Christina (you know us!), Paula Morgan from Sydney Expert, Seana Smith from Hello Sydney Kids, Marianne Rogerson from Mum on the Move.

Merry Christmas to our travel writer friends – especially those of us in the digital space. It’s been a tough year for everyone, but let’s hope the new year changes things.

Pampelle IGTV Negroni spritz

We have a new Cocktail Hour episode on IGTV! Today, we’re giving the French red grapefruit-based liqueur Pampelle a road test. 

Watch here as we ditch the Campari and switch up a classic with a negroni spritz. 

You’ll need Pampelle, red vermouth, Imbue Distillery’s The Journey gin and a splash of sparkling water to make this one, and it’s well worth it. This is the perfect Christmas drink and what I think will be the drink of the summer.

Bel & Brio Barangaroo

More tastes of summer – especially this year we hope – are the Campari spritz (like an Aperol spritz but switching out the liqueur), Seedlip mocktails, good beer but most importantly catching up with dear friends and family from interstate.

We’re out for lunch with our amazing friends Nikki and Kester from Queensland, down in Sydney for a few days.

Nikki runs the formidable fashion site Styling You and we’ve been mates for years. 

As for me and Kester, well, let’s just say the word ‘bromance’ has been banded around far too often for us to deny it. 

Bel & Brio Barangaroo charcuterie

We’ve met at Bel & Brio – a lovely little Italian place in Barangaroo in Sydney. The drinks come fast and the charcuterie board is unstoppable.

We get stuck in to the food, drinks and catching up while we await the rest of our food. 

Bel & Brio Barangaroo - lunch

It’s good eats at Bel & Brio, but come hungry. They do Italian servings!

Everyone has the house-made pasta, which is excellent, but I just can’t go past a calzone. It’s almost become legislation that if it’s on the menu, I have to order one. 

This time, the rules have paid off – this calzone is amazing. I also add a bit of fresh chilli, which makes me go bright pink but boosts the flavour even more!

Our excellent waiter helps us with the wine options too. She tells us about the secret Vermentino not on the list.

Bel & Brio Barangaroo - Jim & Kester deep in yarns

We’ve scored a pretty good table too. The ladies manage to sneak this photo of Kester and me while I’m mid-yarn. Very crafty of them!

Rivarena Gelato - Nikki Parkinson Styling You, Christina Butcher Hair Romance, Kester, Jim Butcher Mr and Mrs Romance

We skip dessert at Bel & Brio because Christina and I have the inside scoop on this area – pun intended.

Right across the road is Rivareno Gelato – quite possibly the best gelateria in the state if not the country and definitely the most authentic Italian gelato we’ve had in Australia. 

It’s so good to see our interstate friends again. Long may this freedom to travel last.

Austrian Club Frenchs Forest Sydney

Tonight, we’re not only going somewhere we’ve never been and never knew existed, but also somewhere that apparently does the best pork schnitzel in Sydney.

We’re at the Austrian Club in Frenchs Forest. 

It’s in a little part of this woody suburb that is also home to the Dutch Club and the Sokol Club, which is Czech- and Slovak-centric. 

The high pitched roof and wood cladding on the walls gives a real Bavarian beer hall feel to the place – as does the oompah music playing throughout the night.

Austrian Club Frenchs Forest Sydney - rogues' gallery

We’re here to catch up with some old family friends and wish everyone a merry Christmas. 

While I’m at the bar, which does some very good Austrian beer by the way, I find these two rogues making trouble.

Riccardo on the left has been a family friend for many years and was Christina’s dad’s best friend. If there’s a joke going around, it’s probably Riccardo telling it.

Next to him is John, Riccardo’s neighbour, partner in crime and bon vivant. It’s hard to imagine age having slowed John down as he’s razor sharp and incredibly funny. 

This old-time gold-panner is somehow 92 and more spry than me! 

It’s great to catch up with these guys and lots of others we haven’t seen for a while, but business beckons as the waitstaff carry the dinner plates from the kitchen…

Austrian Club Frenchs Forest Sydney - wiener schnitzel

Riccardo assures us that servings tonight are smaller than normal. I’m struggling to see how you’d get bigger pork schnitzels (yes, there are two!) on the plate. They’ve already sacrificed the salad.

The question is: is this the best schnitzel in Sydney?

I don’t know, but I can say this – it’s very very good. These plain pork or wiener schnitzels come with Austrian potato salad – a kind of crushed potato with a tart vinegar flavour. Delicious. 

I also order a side of their slow-cooked seven-hour gravy, because that’s the right thing to do. Christina also orders a side of the house’s secret cream and mushroom sauce… though I think they’re giving away most of the secret in its description.

Both sauces are highly recommended, but the sauerkraut is off the charts. It’s a must. Thankfully, Christina’s sister has ordered some, so we steal most of hers.

An incredibly filling and fulfilling night. We return home, our stomachs and souls now to the brim. Bring on Christmas.

Jim Butcher Mr and Mrs Romance Christina Butcher Hair Romance

We really hope you’ve enjoyed this Edition. Thank you so much for reading us. You are the only reason we do this job. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to or want to.

Have a wonderful Christmas, a relaxing, start to the new year and the most prosperous, romantic 2021.

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx


  • Reply December 14, 2020

    Seana Smith

    It was fab to see you, and great to see all the pix of a big week for you! I must and shall get to that Austrian Club. We lived in Frenchs Forest for 10 years but never got there – typical. Merry Christmas to you both and here’s to a restive as well as a festive season.

    • Reply December 14, 2020

      Mr Romance

      It was lovely to see you too Seana – thank you for your wonderful company. Yes, the Austrian Club is definitely something to experience. I forgot to mention the hilarious music videos of lederhosen-clad bands on the big screen. Very odd, but adds to the ambience. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Looking forward to catching up again in the new year. x

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