Distillery Bars, Japanese Dinners And USA’s East Coast Woos Us

It’s an Edition with all new temptations this time round!

Everything from new gins and new distillery bars to visit in Sydney to travel prospects to new places around the globe!

Check out what’s tickling our fancies!

Jim & Christina xx

Ester Distillery cellar door opening party

Tonight, we’re in Marrickville, home of more craft breweries than anywhere else in Sydney. And to add to this amazing bohemian suburb’s artillery is the new ‘cellar door’ of one of our all-time favourite gin distilleries!

Ester Spirits, which is owned and run by the excellent Felix and Corinna, turns out superb gins. Their aptly named Strong Gin is our house pour for martinis, so we’re so excited that they’re opening their own bar as well.

Ester’s bar and distillery are at 41 Chalder Street, Marrickville by the way.

Crazy food at Ester Distillery cellar door opening party

Felix and Corinna have really pulled out all the stops for tonight’s launch party. Check out this spread!

As expected though, nothing’s regulation at Ester’s table. Of course, there are cheeses and crackers, olives and some cut meats, but then the slightly insane vegetable-filled jelly, the enormous cartwheel bread and the retro prawn dishes take over!

Ester Distillery cellar door opening party

As well as their straight gins, Ester also make a range of excellent pre-mix cocktails that are really worth getting into.

The Ester negroni is perfectly balanced and the gimlet they’ve bottled, using mandarin rather than just lemon juice, is dangerously moreish.

Ester have also riffed slightly on the classic Bee’s Knees cocktail, which is usually a gin, honey and citrus drink. Rather than using citrus, they’ve gone for a yuzu sake, and to create a firmer yet oilier honey flavour, the guys have coated the inside of each (and every!) bottle with bee’s wax, which does amazing things to the cocktail.

Ester Distillery cellar door opening party and their new Old Tom gin

But most exciting of all, as well as opening the doors to their new cellar door, Ester have just released their newest addition to their spirits line: an old tom!

Ordinarily, old toms–somewhat a precursor to modern gin–is sweeter and less citrusy. But Felix has crafted a much more modern take on this excellent and somewhat undervalued gin style.

Get over the Marrickville and check it out!

Crazy people at Ester Distillery cellar door opening party

TL to BR: the crowd enjoying the new space Ester has created | Christina and I hanging out with Keeley and Kendel from Nip of Courage an Aussie craft spirits shop | Felix and Corinna having a moment during their speech to officially open the doors | things start getting wild when we’re dancing our way down the accessibility lift!

Jim at the still at Ester Distillery cellar door opening party

Don’t know why I’m looking so pleased with myself; it’s not my beautiful copper still and I didn’t make the delicious negroni I’m holding!

Death by Demolition by Helen Carter talk

This evening, I’m out with my excellent mates Frenchie, Brett and MP to get some edumacation! After a couple of beers at a nearby pub, we’ve come to Balmain Town Hall to hear local history researcher and archivist Helen Carter talk about her new book Death by Demolition.

Death by Demolition by Helen Carter talk

It’s a book that looks back at all the architecture of the Balmain area in Sydney that’s been torn down over the years, but whose records tell of the lives that were lived here over the 19th and 20th Centuries.

The room’s full, and the refreshments of wine, cheese and crackers are as well-received as the wealth of information shared in this talk.

But once it’s over, the lads and I retire to another pinnacle of Balmain history to digest both the cheese and the knowledge we’ve consumed: the Unity Hall pub, where we stay probably a couple too long!

Kuro restaurant hosts Fukuoka Prefecture dinner

Tonight, I’m in the city to meet with a delegation from the southern Japanese prefecture of Fukuoka. We’re being hosted at Kuro Bar and Dining, a high-end Japanese restaurant on Kent Street.

Kuro restaurant hosts Fukuoka Prefecture dinner

It’s a fascinating evening, learning about the island prefecture south of Honshu. Fukuoka is the second southernmost prefecture of Japan, with Okinawa more southerly.

And although we’ve been to both Okinawa and other parts of Japan on the mainland of Honshu, Fukuoka seems completely different to any of them.

Its main city, also Fukuoka, is both a friendly local town and a busy hub too.

We hear from an amazing range of people, including several dignitaries from the prefecture’s government and tourism board. Before dinner, I even have a chat with a representative from the Australian Consulate-General’s office.

Also presenting is the excellent Jane Lawson. A fellow travel writer, Jane also runs a company called Zenbu Travel that offers superb tours and itineraries around Japan, including to Fukuoka. Jane’s knowledge of Japan and its culture is profound, which is evident from her presentation.

But whatever the speakers are talking to us about with the prefecture and its towns, it all seems to return to one thing: the food!

Kuro restaurant hosts Fukuoka Prefecture dinner - bresaola in choux & pork kakuni

Not only incorporating ingredients and styles of food from Fukuoka in their dishes, Kuro Dining have paired different sake from the prefecture to the dishes too. The result is absolutely spectacular. Here are some highlights.

Left: bresaola and cheese in choux pastry | Right: pork kakuni (braised pork belly to the point where it’s barely holding its own shape) blanched greens and smoked carrot

Kuro restaurant hosts Fukuoka Prefecture dinner - mizutaki chicken & scallop tartare

Left: mizutaki chicken meatball cooked in a hotpot until it’s incredibly tender and served in the umami-rich kombu dashi soup | Right: scallop tartare – slices of high-grade raw scallop served in a lemon myrtle infused foam with red finger lime caviar for an extra shot of citrus

Kuro restaurant hosts Fukuoka Prefecture dinner - chicken yakatori in beurre blanc & kingfish sashimi

Left: saikyo miso (white miso) marinated chicken and chicken thigh yakatori – the marinated chicken is so tender it’s more like salmon belly in texture and the yakatori (essentially Japanese satay) is delicate yet satisfyingly chewy. This is served in a beurre blanc sauce for extra decadence | Right: kingfish sashimi served in a ponzu sauce with enoki mushrooms

Kuro restaurant hosts Fukuoka Prefecture dinner - mentaiko udon

But the highlight for me is this noodle dish. The server described it as a kind of Japanese carbonara, but it’s way more than that.

The udon noodles are thick, dense and delightfully chewy, and the sauce is somehow frothy, creamy, and fine at the same time. Also featuring in this dish is mentaiko – pollock roe.

I think I’ve found my death row meal!

Jim and Christina at the Sydney Opera House

This afternoon, Christina and I are out in the city again – this time by the water. We’re on our way to lunch with some friends and colleagues, but also to chat with a few folks from the States.

It’s been a little while since we’ve been to the USA and even longer since we’ve been to the east coast, where these guys are all from, so we’re excited.

Women's World Cup 2023 TV stage

On our way to lunch, we find a TV stage has been set up for pundits talking about the amazing Women’s Fifa World Cup that’s happening in Australia and NZ at the moment.

Excitement’s building with Australia through to the quarter finals and their next game coming up soon*.

* Spoiler alert – Australia beat France in this game and are going on to the semi-final to face England – should be an interesting evening in our house!

East Coast USA media marketplace at Watersedge Sydney

Lunch today is at the stunning Watersedge at Campbell’s Stores event space. This heritage building has the most amazing views out over the harbour and Circular Quay, but we hardly have time to admire the vistas.

As well as our friends from the travel industry, we’re meeting with such interesting people representing three parts of the easter States we’ve never been to: Washington DC, Philadelphia and Boston.

East Coast USA media marketplace at Watersedge Sydney - Boston cocktail

To get things going, we’re handed a Boston sour–a whisky cocktail with lemon juice, sugar syrup, grenadine and egg white.

It’s the perfect mix of boozy, sweet and fruity acid, and the egg white (or maybe its aqua faber) gives the drink a rich texture and foam on top.

East Coast USA media marketplace at Watersedge Sydney - Phili cheesesteak

Lunch is excellent and, in true American hospitality, very filling! Before any entrees or mains are served, our table is laden with these magnificent Philly cheesesteak rolls. I manage to stop myself after two but I want to eat more.

If nothing else convinces us that we need to go the USA East Coast today, this has done the job!

Jim & Christina at East Coast USA media marketplace at Watersedge Sydney

After lunch, we sit down with over a dozen different stakeholders–hotels, tourism boards, airlines and tour companies.

It doesn’t take long for us to start making surprisingly solid plans for an upcoming trip to see these places. In the past, we’ve been guilty, like so many, of hitting New York City and stopping there. But there’s just so much more to see.

Watch this space, America. We’ve almost finished packing!

Martinis at Hickson House Distillery and Bar

After lunch, we leave Watersedge through the back doors away from the water to discover in front of us none other than Hickson House Distillery.

Of course there’s no chance of us walking past and we duck in for a quick martini, and decompress from the meetings we’ve just had.

We haven’t managed to make it back here since we had dinner amongst the stills a last month. It’s such a beautiful bar and the drinks are absolutely on point.

If you’re ever in the Rocks, make sure you have at least one martini here.

Jim & Christina - Mr and Mrs Romance

What’s going on here? Well, Christina wanted a photo of herself against this wall, but she wanted to check where I needed to be to take it. I modelled for her, crouching down to be a similar height.

I think we all know who looks better here! ?

Hope you enjoyed this Edition.

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx

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