There’s nothing quite like starting a month off with a bang—especially with young 2023 dragging its heels. But March has really hit the ground at a pace and is making up for some time lost.
Even just two weeks in, we’ve hit a few great places in Sydney to eat and drink, celebrated Sydney WorldPride and Mardi Gras, International Women’s Day and our anniversary, and have even organised some travel plans.
Best of all, we’ve got news on the chance to win quite a lot of money—like a million bucks with thousands in secondary prizes.
So strap yourself in, we’ve got lots of good stuff to tell you about!
Cheers – Jim & Christina x
Brought to you by McGuigan Wines
To kick things off, let’s talk money. So we learnt that a favourite little Hunter Valley winery—you may have heard of it—has started an incredible competition.
McGuigan Wines (I told you you may have heard of them!) is offering a jackpot of $1,000,000 to one lucky winner with another $10,000 in secondary prizes. And all you have to do is buy a bottle.
Once you’ve bought your bottle of McGuigan wine (remember to keep the receipt) and have registered it here on their website, winners will be drawn on June 5th 2023.
The winner of the draw then has a 1-in-100 chance of picking the $1m card but is still guaranteed a $10k-minimum prize if they don’t pick the biggie.
There are also 10 $1000 runner-up prizes going.
The comp runs from March 1 to May 31 and is only available to Australian and New Zealand residents who are 18+. You can buy and register multiple bottles too, and bottles bought from Liquorland or First Choice Liquor earn you a double entry!
But all the Ts and Cs are laid out here.
McGuigan Wines is a fantastic winery with an incredible history going back over 100 years and four generations of winemakers, and is a leading light in the Hunter Valley and Australian wine industry.
It was one of the first wineries in the Hunter Valley we ever visited and we always make an effort to go back there whenever we’re in the region.
We’re ready to celebrate winning with a bottle of McGuigan Cuveé from their Shortlist range.
But when the wine’s this good, winning a cool million when you buy it is just a bonus.
But while we dream of winning a million, Christina and I make our way for drinks at the recently opened Spice Trader—the rooftop cocktail bar of the Porter House Hotel on Castlereagh Street in Sydney.
Part of the Accor brand, the Porter House and its component restaurants and bar are all as beautiful as you’d expect. Even the grand art deco facade of this 1876 building gives you a sense of the old world charm you feel when you enter the Spice Trader.
Spice Trader takes its name from the age of mercantile trade that swept Sydney along to wealth in the late 1800s. And the decor of the bar reflects that bygone era too.
Shiny brass notes, wood warm paneling and white marble surfaces, accents of turquoise against exposed brick and hurricane lamp-like fittings, and a feature wall of the exotic spices and herbs that were all but currency back in the day.
Drinks at Spice Trader are superbly made and the signature cocktail menu incorporates an element of spice too.
Christina’s Trade Wind Clover Club—a bright yet spicy interpretation of the classic gin cocktail. Using a Grenache-infused gin from Never Never Distilling in McLaren Vale, cassia bark extract and raspberry preserve, it’s a delicious riff.
My Penicillin—a whisky cocktail that has a punch of ginger to it—is divine. Spice Trader has swapped out the traditional blended whisky base for French cognac and then followed the rest of the recipe with ginger, lemon juice, honey and a peated scotch layered on top. The cube of candied ginger for garnish is a lovely touch.
Here you can also see the complimentary popcorn Spice Trader is famous for. They have a number of different flavours you can try.
Bar snacks at Spice Trader are also worth looking at. As well as our popcorn we try the spiced tuna tartare with salted cucumber served on crunchy puffed crackers, yellowtail kingfish sashimi with a deliciously rich soy sesame dressing and Korean chilli and what the menu simply calls ‘milk buns’.
In reality, the two sticky round rolls, covered in chives and crispy garlic, are magically filled with slow-cooked lamb shoulder with a teriyaki seasoning. Absolutely unbelievable.
This menu changes seasonally, so expect ever greater things each time you come here.
We finish our time here with a couple more cocktails: a Quickdraw made with tequila, jalapeño agave, lime, and cassia spiced salt and a Cascara Negroni—Australian-made amontillado sherry, Mancino Ambrato vermouth, fresh nectarine and cassia bark.
There’s also a secret menu you can access using a QR code. This brings up a list of smaller versions of many of the classic drinks they make here at Spice Trader. Pretty cool.
Tonight, Christina and I are out again, this time back to one of our old haunts in Surry Hills. Mille Vini Pasta and Wine Bar, just across from the Clock Hotel on Crown Street, has been a Sydney institution for years.
We came here with Christina’s mum and dad when Mille Vini first opened in the mid-noughts. It’s a wonderfully cosy spot, hiding you away from the busy Crown Street crowds behind its beautiful sandstone walls and under its exposed timber rafters.
We get things started with a couple of cocktails. Christina’s La Vie En Rose (with Four Pillars’ Shiraz gin, Peychaud’s bitters and lemon) is delicious, but my hugely elaborate negroni, made with a difficult-to find small-batch Italian gin, vermouth and house Campari is superb.
They use a smoker to infuse the drink at your table using wood chips from France (also hard to get) then place a huge cube of ice through the smoke into the drink followed by a sliver of orange peal. Perfection!
At our server’s suggestion, the two aperitivi (small bites) we try—crostini stracciatella with anchovies and zucchini flower—are excellent.
The almost brittle crostini, smothered in sumptuous stracciatella cheese, works with the tender salty anchovy fillets. You can also choose prosciutto or marinated capsicum if you’re not an anchovy fan.
As for the zucchini flower, the tempura-style batter is light and crunchy, while the flower is soft and delicate. Within the flower is fluffy ricotta that’s been mixed with truffle pecorino cheese and on the plate a honey that’s been mixed with pepper to give spice and sweetness to the dish.
Like I said: excellent.
Then with entrees next of a plump shiny burrata on soft ox heart tomatoes, olives and basil, and a plate of wagyu bresaola sliced so thin it’s almost transparent, artichokes and parmagiano reggiano, we’re worried about how we’ll get through our mains!
Mains soon arrive, along with our choices of wines: a saffron tagliatelle with prawns, zucchini for Christina and a rigatoni amatriciana with smoked pancetta and pecorino romano for me. Talk about comfort food, these dishes make me almost look forward to the colder coming months.
Our wines, both Italian reds from the very generous by-the-glass menu, are just the ticket for these rich, full-flavoured dishes.
Although we test the waters with a dessert–a tiramisu that re-establishes my confidence in the dish after too many bad ones–but it’s a bridge too far.
Delicious as this tiramisu is–a rich, full-flavoured example of a sweet that I mark hard against Christina’s Italian aunt’s–there’s just not enough room! We have a quick look round the mezzanine and admire Mille Vini’s cool decor before dragging ourselves to the street for a taxi home. What a meal!
This evening, Christina and I have made our way to Newtown to the vaunted walls of Bloodwood for a double celebration dinner.
Not only is it International Women’s Day today, it’s also our 14th wedding anniversary!
This is in fact a working dinner for Christina though: she’s the host for the IWD evening put on by Nip of Courage, a company that sells Australian craft spirits.
Nip of Courage is a huge advocate for women and has in fact set up the Women of Australian Distilling, a collective that promotes, encourages and supports women and gender diverse people within the Australian craft distilling industry.
Bloodwood has been the venue for Nip of Courage’s International Women’s Day celebrations for years now and it’s always a fun event.
This is Christina’s first time to MC the event and she (obviously) nails it.
The evening’s a huge success–the cocktails are all superb, made with the spirits from distilleries represented here tonight: martinis with North of Eden’s Oyster Shell Gin, vodka sodas with Mother of Pearl Vodka, gimlets with Ester’s Strong Gin and a taste of Black Snake’s Pechuga mezcal-style agave spirit and a welcome drink of an RTD gin and soda can with Four Pillars’ Yuzu Gin.
Food by the amazing Claire Von Vuuren, owner and head chef of Bloodwood, is spectacular and a really positive feeling around the room generally. What a lovely way to celebrate IWD and our anniversary.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of TWE. Chat to you again soon.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx