A golden rule: new beginnings should always be marked with a truly magical moment. Turns out Johnnie Walker feels the same way because to celebrate the beginning of the Lunar New Year, the storied scotch whisky maker hosted an intimate dinner at ELE by Federico and Karl at The Star Sydney.
In recent years Johnnie Walker has launched a limited edition to celebrate Lunar New Year. For 2023, the Year of the Rabbit, the Johnnie Walker team partnered with Shanghai-based artist Angel Chen to create two limited edition and unique artworks for two very special bottles of Johnnie Walker: a Chinese zodiac-inspired rabbit for Johnnie Walker Blue Label and a fiery riot of colour featuring a regal bird in flight for the John Walker & Sons King George V. A graduate from the prestigious Central Saint Martins school in London, Chen has become one of fashion’s most talked about rising stars, even making the Forbes China “30 Under 30” shortlist.
According to host for the evening Johnnie Walker Brand Ambassador, Kate McGraw, Angel Chen was chosen for her work that “takes fashion, gender and cultural ideas and mashes them up and creates something amazing and vibrant. That’s just like Johnnie Walker. Johnnie Walker takes so many different whisky styles and techniques and blends them together to create something special.”
The immersive event was a sparkling, delicious affair that seamlessly combined the traditional cultural elements with modern touches. The modern manifesting in the drinks that were served, built around the rich and complex palette of Johnnie Walker Label Scotch whiskies and in the collaboration with Chen. Tradition balanced by the fine details – a dress code consisting of a hint of red or gold or Johnnie Walker-inspired blue. Lining the entry walls, stunning red blooms brought the room to life, a charming further nod to New Year customs as flowers represent good luck and fresh beginnings.
Upon arrival, guests were greeted with large-scale renditions of Chen’s artwork: a leaping rabbit symbolising the Chinese zodiac sign for 2023 that also appeared on a special edition bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. The illustration was also replicated on the delicate fringing on the dining room walls and large panels surrounding the bar, creating a delightful trompe l’oeil effect of the rabbit running through the air.
To whet the appetite ahead of the evening, a Lunar New Year inspired cocktail dubbed ‘Sparkling Moon’ was served made using Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch Whisky, Italian sparkling lemon and grapefruit served alongside mouth-watering canapés of Pork Crackling with oyster cream, Puffed Cabbage with ham cream and Yellowfin Tuna with whipped almond and bottarga.
This grand beginning was all a precursor to the main event: a private whisky tasting hosted by Kate McGraw and a two-step, multi-course dining experience exclusively created for the evening by ELE founders Federico Zanellato and Karl Furla.
But first, the whisky…
If anyone was to take you through the journey of whisky, it should be Kate McGraw. Before joining the Johnnie Walker team, McGraw was a multi-award-winning bartender whose had her work appear in publications globally. In 2017, she was recognised as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Bar Personalities in Australia by Australian Bartender Magazine, as well as one of the Top 100 Bartenders in Australia by World Class.
According to McGraw, while there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky “there are ways that can help you unpack the layers of flavour thoughtfully.” This includes sipping iced water before you take your first sip of whisky, a trick to cool the palette and ready it for the flavour profile of your chosen dram.
For the rare Johnnie Walker Blue Label, for example, this opens up with a warming kaleidoscope that includes hazelnut, tropical fruits, caramels, sweet rose petals followed by the bite of dark chocolate and a rich smokiness with a silky finish at the end.
The balance of these flavours, their range and mouthfeel, says McGraw, are all the work of Johnnie Walker’s Master Blender, Dr Emma Walker. “Emma Walker understands chemical engineering better than anyone I know,” McGraw told guests. “She brings a wonderful balance to the whisky. Blending is about finding styles and ages and techniques of whisky that blend together in a symphony. Emma is brilliant at what she does.”
Providing the evenings nourishment, Federico and Karl balanced the flavours of the harbour with local produce: Raw Abalone and gooseberry, fermented apricot, golden ossetra followed by Kipfler Potatoes, trout roe, desert lime and beurre blanc and finishing (this round, at least) with Southern Calamari, shiitake, citrus kosho and pork broth. To complement the food, another new cocktail was revealed: the ‘Roses and Rabbits’, made with Johnnie Walker Blue Label, orgeat, lemon and rose.
But all good things come in threes and after dinner guests were invited further down the rabbit hole to the ‘Chef’s Table’ – a New York-style bar experience. The open-style kitchen allowed patrons to see up close the skill and precision of the chefs as they prepared the remaining courses of the night: Coral Trout, mussels nage and baby carrots followed by Mayura Station Wagyu Beef, black garlic and calçot onion. Complementing this was the ‘Golden Afterglow’ cocktail, made using Johnnie Walker Blue Label, coffee-laced sherry, vermouth and orange.
Finally guests were presented with ELE’s current signature dessert of peach and raspberry, served by spooning over a brandy sabayon.
According to legend, the Year of the Rabbit is one associated with longevity, peace and prosperity. This year, 2023, is supposed to be one full of hope. The final stop of the night gave attendees all a chance to share their own hope for the year: a calligrapher visited each person and then wrote their hopes and dreams for 2023 on a piece of paper that was then placed within a red envelope to take home.
A little extra magic to end an already magical evening.
Always drink Johnnie Walker responsibly.