It feels like it’s been ages since we’ve been out in the city and that there are just so many places and things to do that we haven’t heard of.
So it was with an odd feeling of being a bit out of touch that we ventured into Sydney to check out a few things that have started up in the past few weeks.
We’re talking a new bottle shop and bar, an old bar we feel like we should’ve been to a lot more often, a brand new whisky bar and even a bit of culture.
So here are some of our new top tips for Sydney – click these links to take you to each section:
We hope you enjoy this Weekly Edition – Jim & Christina xx
Our first stop in this Sydney odyssey of entertainment is in the Rocks down by Circular Quay. This beautiful historic area—the oldest part of post-colonial Sydney in fact—used to be a hotspot for tourists, which meant you’d rarely see a local.
This all changed with Covid, which stopped the tourist flow. But where businesses can now have more outdoor seating, it’s meant locals are now coming to places like the Rocks more often.
The number of excellent little bars and restaurants in the Rocks has really boomed, and it feels like part of the city once again.
One such place is Barrelhouse Cellars on George Street, taking over what was once a pub. Built to house the King’s Tavern in 1842, this place is packed with history.
This superbly stocked independent bottle shop not only stocks a tonne of Australian craft spirits and excellent domestic wines, it also offers tastings here too.
Owned by the same guys who have the Barber Shop gin bar and the Duke of Clarence—an English pub straight from Dickensian London—in the city, and the resplendent Hickson House Distillery and Bar just round the corner, Barrelhouse Cellars is a brilliant idea.
Of course, you can just run in for a bottle before you go to dinner, but why not stay and have a tasting too?
We’re here try three of Hickson House’s own gins to really follow company lines, but you can also have Tasmanian whisky flights (three whiskies for just $15) or a bit of peat with three Islay whiskies for $14.
There are also rum flights, gin flights and wine to taste all within similar price ranges ($11-$15). And if you taste something you love – the bottle is right on hand to purchase. Such a great idea. There’s even a deli where you can pick up some nibbles on your way through.
It really makes the area feel like a neighbourhood again. Love it!
After our tasting, we decide to kick on for one more with our mate Ben. All the way along this terrace are great little bars worth exploring. We stop in at Frank Mac’s of a cheeky martini.
We take advantage of the ‘meal deal’ here: a cocktail from the menu and cheese toasty. Can’t say fairer. We even score great seats downstairs in the lounge, which is decked out like an old-school drawing room, with a stone fireplace, full bookcases and various ornaments and oddments around the room.
Also in the Rocks is one of Sydney’s finest hotels, the Langham. Although we’ve never stayed here (marketing guys at the Langham, I hope you picked up on this little hint) but we’ve been to the bar here—Observatory Bar—a few times.
It’s as beautifully designed and decorated as the rest of this exquisite hotel, and the drinks are at the same very high standard.
But we’re not here just for the cocktails and wine. This afternoon our dear friend Arrnott Olssen is holding a special event here called Men Let’s Talk, where a panel of men share their stories and challenges with a room of like-minded friends.
With mental health taking an ever-bigger section of the VIP area of society, it’s awesome Arrnott’s giving guys this space to explore and talk about their emotions and hardships openly.
Of course, once the hard bit’s done with and we’ve all regained some composure after some pretty raw conversations, we kick back and enjoy the generous hospitality of the Langham.
As the Observatory Bar’s first (and finest) ambassador, Arrnott has made sure there are plenty of delicious things for us to enjoy.
Drinks are drunk, canapés are… canaped, and new friends chat with old. What a wonderful, positive way to spend an afternoon.
This afternoon, we’re in the Rocks once again, but this time we’re here for some serious culture. Down one of the finger wharfs of Walsh Bay is the illustrious Bangarra Dance Theatre Company.
For more than 30 years, Bangarra’s contemporary First Nations dancers have drawn on 65,000 years of culture in performances that preserve Australia’s Indigenous cultures through theatre, music and movement, as well as stories inspired by the customs and Songlines of Elders.
These remarkable performers somehow meld traditional dance techniques passed down through these songlines with contemporary and classical styles into a beautiful tapestry that everyone ought to see.
But what we’re here to experience today takes things up several notches. Cultural Attractions of Australia has experiences that take you multiple levels of back-stage so you really get to learn about what you’re seeing. And the behind-the-scenes tour of Bangarra is transformative.
The experience begins with the excellent Matthew Doyle, who is a descendent of the Muruwari people of the Lightning Ridge region of NSW, and who grew up on Dharawal land in southern Sydney.
Matthew welcomes us to Country and then performs a smoking ceremony, which is somehow humbling and empowering at the same time. Matthew is closely aligned with the Bangarra Dance Company and has performed as part of the troupe too.
Next, we meet the impressive Frances Rings, Bangarra’s artistic director. She shows us round the theatre, explaining some of the art and photos on the wall and telling us her story.
She also introduces us to the story that’s being told in the current production called Yuldea, which tells the savage history of the building of the Trans-Australian Railway in the early 1900s and its impact.
Next we’re allowed into the rehearsal studio to watch the dancers practise their routines. It’s amazing to be so close to these amazing artists and to watch them work. Seeing them out of costume but still creating this fascinating story makes everything so much more real and personal.
This is part of the Cultural Attractions of Australia’s experience, though if there is a performance on at the time, guests will go to that instead.
After being allowed to watch almost an entire act, we quietly leave the studio and visit the wardrobe, the workshop where the costumes are crafted, kept and—essentially—mended ready for the next performance.
Finally, we make our way to the theatre’s waterside event space Dangarra O Badu (Dancing on Waters) for a bite to eat.
We’re treated to lunch by Plate Events and Catering—a 100% owned and operated commercial kitchen that uses bush tucker ingredients to make canapés and cocktails. https://plateevents.com.au/
The food is all superb, ranging from delicate finger lime and sweet chilli yabbie tartlets to substantial kangaroo skewers with saltbush aioli. And cocktails using Aussie craft spirits, including Seven Seasons Green Ant gin, which has real green ants in it.
This whole Cultural Attractions of Australia experience has been so interesting, and they have a number of other similarly impressive itineraries to look at, from tours of Fremantle Prison’s convict art to a foodie tour of Sydney Opera House.
This evening, we’re in the newly developed entertainment precinct Sydney Place near Circular Quay. Down the narrow confines of Underwood Street is a doorway that leads to a cosy yet chic subterranean Tokyo-style bar.
Taking the concept of omakase and its intimate dining experience to his ultimate passion of Japanese whisky, Joel has created an atmospheric space that matches his dining experiences.
You can choose the whisky you’d like to drink, but Joel and his cohorts behind the bar can also create whisky flights for you. To be honest, it’s probably the best call, as there are so many whiskies here—most of which you’ll have never heard of.
With a laser focus on Japanese whisky generally, and high-end and extremely rare bottles specifically, Bar Besuto is a haven for likeminded connoisseurs.
We start the evening with a beautifully refreshing whisky highball (the perfect way to start a romantic evening out by the way) using Ichiro Distillery’s Malt and Grain whisky, before Joel moves us on to the serious business of the whisky flight he has planned for us.
The flight is made of 7.5ml tasters of five different whiskies from Kanosuke Distillery in the southern island of Kyushu.
The first glass is a clear new-make whisky. This is a real whisky fan’s drink as it’s the pure spirit the distiller’s made. It hasn’t aged in oak barrels, it’s fresh from the still. I personally love tasting new make as it shows what the spirit really has under the hood, but it’s an acquired taste.
We move through the next few whiskies, all from the same tiny distillery in Japan. Joel tells us in incredible detail about each one as well as some of the other whiskies he has behind the bar. To give you an idea, Hibiki and Yamazaki, two of the most popular Japanese whiskies, are real entry-level drams here.
In fact some of the bottles are so limited-edition with a tiny number ever made, and collected by Joel over the years, they don’t exist anywhere else in the world anymore.
Alongside this magical tour that’s opening a whole new realm of Japanese whisky up to us, the hidden kitchen next door delivers little omakase-style plates to us.
Just as it was when we had dinner at Besuto recently, so the food here is incredible. Bite-size dishes of pure genius.
At one point, Joel even serves a whisky with a bump of superb N25 caviar, bringing out a whole new level of flavour with its integral umami and adding a whole new layer of luxury to the experience.
Bar Besuto is a bar of two sides. In the same way you can have a nip of superb Japanese whisky for $7, there are also ones you can buy that are $800 each. You can buy a whole bottle here (the most expensive of which is $35,000) and they’ll hold it for you in the bar in your own special locker.
And a flight of five 7.5ml Ichiro’s Malt and Grain whiskies is $3,000.
At the same time, you can sit down to a cocktail here for the same price you’d pay for one anywhere else in the city, but these will all have a Japanese whisky twist to them. Whether it’s a boulevardier with Suntori whisky, a white lady with Roku gin or a vodka martini with Haku vodka.
Bar Besuto is the place you can come and sit at the bar to have a passionate chat with your bartender about the most interesting assortment of Japanese whisky in Australia. And probably a better selection than many Japanese bars.
Tonight, we’re out with our excellent friends Kath and Jarrod. We’ve come for dinner to MuMu in the city, a vast, open-plan restaurant serving Asian street food with a modern twist.
Our top picks here are the crispy eggplant (even if you don’t like eggplant, you’ll still love this dish), the beef tartare with curry leaf murukku, mint, coriander and pickled daikon on a pappadum, and the grilled baby black-lipped abalone with chilli, garlic and coriander, brown butter and vermicelli.
But so many of the other things we’ve tried here are excellent.
And with the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant (I have to sit with my back to it or I’ll end up ignoring everyone and watching the chefs), and the bar with its retro fridges banked up to one side, this restaurant is really all about the food.
Finally, for a cheeky nightcap, we head skyward to Dean and Nancy, a very cool bar up above of the A by Adina in Australia Square. It’s one of those places in Sydney where the amazing aerial views of the city are eclipsed by the interior.
The mid-century vibe of this cocktail bar fits perfectly with our perfectly made martinis. An excellent finish to a lovely evening.