Botanic Britain, wine from the West and South Africa here we come

As the departures gate makes its last call on September, we ready ourselves for an October so full of travel it’s kind of crazy.

In a good way!

With travel to Africa and the USA coming up, by the time October comes to an end, we’ll have taken almost 20 flights in just one month. And we can’t wait!

But this week, we’re prepping for this incredible trip to South Africa, we’re checking out a new release on some wine from WA and we visit Luke Nguyen’s restaurant in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens to learn more about Visit Britain’s latest travel trends.

Olympus M.Zuiko Lenses

It’s hard to believe we’re getting ready for our first ever trip to the African continent. Christina and I are so excited – we’ve tried a number of times to get to Africa, but plans never seemed to work out.

Now, thanks to South Africa Tourism, we and three other Australian travel journalists are travelling to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to begin our epic trip through South Africa.

Olympus M.Zuiko Lenses

It’s hard to know what to pack on a trip like this, but one thing’s for certain: our photography kit is complete! Olympus is very generously lending us these two incredible lenses to take on safari, which is going to make all the difference.

The M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-200mm F3.5-6.3 on the right is a new lens from Olympus and is so versatile. It’s also really light compared to other lenses that give the same amount of zoom (this thing can basically double in length) so it’ll be perfect for wide landscape shots of the Kalahari Desert while also getting in close when the wildlife shows up.

We’re also taking with us the impressive M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO from Olympus, which has so many features like 5-axis internal stabilisation, it’s dust and splash-proof and mind-blowing resolution it’s going to take our wildlife photography to a different level.

El Loco at Slip Inn burger specials

Before we head into the wilderness of the Kalahari, we’re making the most of one of our favourite Sydney specials I’ve got a feeling many locals don’t know about.

It might come as a surprise to learn that El Loco – the Mexican-themed restaurant at the Slip Inn in Sydney does a really amazing burger. We were certainly shocked the first time we had one.

Even better than that, every Monday, you can get a burger for $15, and pints are $6 too. Hard to beat.

Houghton Estate Reserve wines

Now that the sun’s back out here in Sydney, we’ve taken a break from packing and are enjoying a glass of wine this afternoon.

Houghton, which has been making wine since 1836, is one of Australia’s most awarded wineries, and their new Reserve range looks like it’s going to carry on that trend.

The Reserve Chardonnay is wonderfully drinkable, finding that tricky balance of fruit-driven freshness and creamy oaked richness, and there’s plenty of length on the finish too.

As for the Reserve Shiraz, it’s also a beautifully balanced wine. The careful play between elegant tannins and the umami sweetness of cocoa create a perfect medium-bodied example of a modern Shiraz.

Both these wines will react well to cellaring – if you have the willpower. As for pricing, they’re both $14.95RRP from major and independent retailers across Australia.

Houghton Estate Wisdom Chardonnay

It’s been a while since we enjoyed a wine from Western Australia. It’s a much-overlooked wine region with some superb wines, and the Houghton Wisdom range really represents.

The Wisdom Chardonnay 2018 is quite a wine. superbly full-bodied, this is what a WA Chardonnay (and I wish other regions would take note) should taste.

This is without a doubt a well-crafted wine, barrel-fermented and left on its lees for nine months has given this wonderful Chardonnay plenty of cereal notes and smooth texture.

And I even like the label!

Find your bottle from Dan Murphy’s or from Houghton’s direct here – $40 RRP.

Botanic Gardens, Sydney with kookaburra

A kookaburra on a sign to the Opera House – this should probably be an add for Sydney city, which is ironic as we’re off to lunch in the Botanic Gardens to meet with Visit Britain tourism board when we spot this guy!

Botanic House with Luke Nguyen, Sydney Botanic Gardens

Lunch is in Botanic House, right in the middle of the Botanic Gardens overlooking the bay.

Of course, we’re excited about chatting the the Visit Britain team, but with Chef Luke Nguyen running the show here, we know the food is going to be something special.

Botanic House with Luke Nguyen

We’re welcomed with a Hendricks gin and tonic, and a table covered with different garnishes – from rosemary to raspberries – to add to our drinks.

Combinations of flavours give our G&Ts a taste of England, Wales and Scotland – strawberries and basil, raspberries and mint, and cucumber and rosemary respectively. And while we decide, a Beetles tribute band entertains us.

Botanic House with Luke Nguyen

VisitBritain lunch menu Botanic House with Luke Nguyen

VisitBritain lunch at Botanic House with Luke Nguyen - fish and chips

We’ve seen from our menus that there’s an English tone to the food, but as lunch is served, the humble fish and chips with mushy peas is a little more than that.

This crispy-skinned seared barramundi, its house-made tartare and dense mushy peas is a bit further down the road than your average chippy back home.

Botanic House with Luke Nguyen - striploin steak

As for the beef option, this thick-cut striploin is tender and tasty, the roasted beetroot and confit eschallots is excellent.

While we eat, the Visit Britain team talk us through a number of different projects in place at the moment in the UK to continue the steady flow of visitors to their shores.

In spite of all the political nonsense happening there at the moment, the UK is still hugely popular in the tourism sector, and an important part of the GDP (around 40% in fact).

Although London is the obvious drawcard for the nation, Visit Britain is working hard to encourage visitors to explore further afield, to see life beyond London.

In England’s northeast, the building of a parkland is underway that will be four times the size of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, while our last trip to the UK certainly highlighted the depth of the culture goes much deeper than just the capital.

Here’s a perfect example of that from our trip to the beautiful town of Lavenham, Suffolk.

Botanic House with Luke Nguyen - Eton mess

Dessert comes in the form of either cheese (a wonderfully savoury brie, a crumbly cheddar and an unctuous stilton) or this Eton mess.

For some reason, the cheese isn’t popular, so I swap my ice cream, Pimm’s marinated strawberries and meringue for all the dairy goodness I can reach!

Tonight, we’re at a party for our awesome friends Ken and Heidi’s birthdays. We’ve mentioned these guys before when Heidi launched her book Her Middle Name Is Courage.

Their epic soiree tonight is in Balmain and has the theme of ‘reincarnation’ – either someone you think you were in a previous life or someone you want to come back as.

Obviously, I’ve gone for a Guru look, while Christina’s come as an Italian contessa, which fits as she bought that dress from a little vintage store on the shores of Lake Iseo in Italy.

It’s an epic party with lots and lots of Scarborough Chardonnay – Heidi’s and our favourite.

Everyone’s really put in the effort for the party with so many great outfits. Heidi’s come as a Spanish gypsy and Ken to her left is the most amazing ’60s throwback you’ve ever seen. He’s even got the goldfish platform shoes!

In the background of Heidi’s speech you can see Marilyn Monroe and a Roman soldier. There are also a couple of Einsteins here, a rugby player and his WAG, Mother Teresa and even a Princess Leia.

It’s the perfect evening and the perfect venue. The Balmain Rowers’ Club sits right on the water looking out to the west. A memorable night with some wonderful people.

Gumshara Ramen

It’s a slow start this morning, the plentiful pourings of Chardonnay got the better of us last night.

But we’ve moved far enough to work out lunch.

Knowing that we’ll be away from home for most of next month, we’re getting a super-charged bowl of Japanese goodness at Gumshara Ramen in the city.

Gumshara Ramen spicy tonkotsu

The ramen bowls here are quite extraordinary, made with a bone broth that is out of control.

Christina’s got a Hakata ramen that has a light soup, but I’ve gone whole hog with a spicy tonkotsu ramen thick soup and a soft-boiled egg on top.

The ramen here is so delicious and feels quite wholesome too. The pork is tender and the noodles perfectly cooked. So good.

If you haven’t been here before, this is now your priority. It’s in the Eating World food court at the back of Chinatown, and it’s cash only.

Botanic House with Luke Nguyen

We hope you’ve enjoyed this Weekly Edition – the next one will be coming to you from South Africa!

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx

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