As a Brisbane local, I wasn’t spoiled for choice when it came to fine dining (short of gems like Gauge). Part of the appeal of Sydney is its status as a ‘world city’ and with that connotation comes world-class food. Therefore my excitement could hardly be contained when on Tuesday night, I was fortunate enough to experience the six-hat flavour of Peter Gilmore’s superb Bennelong delicacies, along with Johnnie Walker’s most prestigious new whisky – the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen is the second in a series of special Blue releases that resurrect a myriad of Scotland’s finest distilleries from days gone by to create the best of the company – from then, and now. Port Ellen was a distillery that closed its doors in 1983 (hence the term ‘ghost’) and this whisky is at the heart of the new release. The Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen also includes blends from Mortlach, Dailuaine, Cragganmore, Blair Athol, and Oban. To consider that The Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen comes from the same company that makes the entry-level Johnnie Walker Red is bordering on preposterous.
It might have been the massive flavours executive chef Peter Gilmore brought to the table with each new dish, but The Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and its two accompaniments were truly enchanting. Our evening at Bennelong began with chef Peter Gilmore discussing the influence of his flavours, as well as his love and understanding of Scottish whisky. It’s clear Gilmore had a natural connection to his food, talking on his love for ‘heirloom vegetables’ – vegetables that have been forgotten yet maintained throughout time by single villages and communities around the world. The story of these vegetables was symbolic in comparison to Johnnie Walker’s Ghost range; both reached back in history to preserve the best and mix it with modernity. Soon, the first whisky was laid before us and the first course was served.
Slow braised pig belly, shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms, shaved squid, sea cucumber crackling.
A careful combination of tender, juicy pork and a seafood medley that sprung with crunch and flavour, our first course was wonderfully offset by the initial release of Johnnie Walker’s Ghost series – Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Brora.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Brora, like the main player in the evening’s presentations, finds its excellence of the past. This was done by re-opening the doors of once-defunct distilleries of Cambus, Pittyvaich, and Brora. The fruity pineapple opened the palate to experience the first course, while humble notes of hazelnut and dark chocolate rested nicely with a smoky finish.
David Blackmore wagyu, roasted onion Yorkshire, horseradish emulsion.
Though all the dishes of the evening were arguably impeccable, my love for steak reached new heights with this David Blackmore wagyu. There was also a subtle touch of British influence from the Yorkshire which paved way for the star of the night to take centre stage.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Port Ellen was a welcome addition to this dining dichotomy that combined the earthy and grounded heartiness of the food with a lively and tropical taste of the dram. The vanilla tone of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Port Ellen opens on the tongue before citrus yet not acidic flavours fill the mouth. A smooth, traditionally Johnnie Walker smoky finish holds well long after the final sip.
Crème caramel vs mille-feuille.
Rarely do I get the pleasure to sample such a sweet delicacy as the crème caramel vs mille-feuille. Each bite was an incredibly dense and flavoursome venture that had me eyeing off the waiter for a second serve, despite the portion being considerably generous.
The original Johnnie Walker Blue Label was an appropriate conclusion to an excellent evening, recalling the taste origins of the two aforementioned variations. Blue Label’s natural zestiness and sweet notes accompanied the crème caramel vs mille-feuille perfectly.
After discussing some of the finer origins of the Port Ellen story with national whisky ambassador, Simon McGoram, I left Bennelong with a sense of fulfilment that extended across all senses, with a hint of that Johnnie Walker smokiness still lingering on my tongue. I couldn’t help but look up at the full moon rising over the Harbour Bridge and smile.
“Port Ellen has been silent for 35 years and in this time its Scotch has become some of the most sought-after on the planet. The release of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen is the first step towards bringing Port Ellen back to life, and we aspire to begin crafting whiskies from this iconic Scottish shoreline once again in the near future.”
–Diageo’s Australian National Whisky Ambassador, Simon McGoram