There's a collection of Japanese whisky bottles that lines the back upstairs wall of Banchō Bar on Thomas Lane in Sydney's Chinatown. And if you ask the staff and they're not too busy they're happy to tell you about them all. Banchō (pronounced barn-chor) is Japanese for "the leader of a group of delinquents" (and also happens to be the name of a customer's dog).
Here at Banchō Bar, if you're a whisky aficionado you can buy your own bottle or rare whisky and keep it under lock and key in one of their 30 lockers. Or if whisky isn't your favour, there's a Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac whose Baccarat bottle is a reproduction of a metal flask found at the Battle of Jarnac. And then there's a rare Hibiki 30 year old at $598 per shot or ultra rare Hibiki 35 in a hand made Arita Kutani porcelain decanter - there were only 150 produced in the world. That is $2,500 per shot.
The staff here at Banchō bar are whisky enthusiasts. At sister bar Tokyo Bird in Surry Hills, there are 400 whiskies, mostly Japanese and while Banchō Bar currently has 200 they are aiming to double that of Tokyo Bird and stock 800 whiskies.
The focus here is on Japanese whiskies with some made in Scottish style some to suit the Japanese palates. Some are aged in rum wood that imparts a treacle sweetness. Others are in ex bourbon and sherry barrels.
Many are made in small batches and blended by master distillers that sign a contract that they will not smoke, drink heavily or eat spicy food so as to preserve the palate as every year they must reproduce the whisky using just their noses. One master blender has followed the same diet for 24 years.
Yamazaki 12 year old malt $28
The leather bound drinks list is extensive. Mr NQN tries the Yamazaki 12 year old single malt whisky served with the bar's own hand carved sphere of ice. It takes them 3 days to make the ice from beginning to end and it's important here to ensure that the ice doesn't melt very quickly. However Ryan does notice that the whisky was made first before the cocktails and had too much water in it as a result and should have been poured last.
Dragon's Breath (front right) $19 Passionflower $17 (back right)
My Dragon's Breath is a sweet, fruity cocktail made with dragonfruit infused gin, shochu, raspberry, lemon and basil seeds. It comes from the "Market Store" section which is inspired by trips to the nearby Paddy's Markets and each selection is available for about a month. This is made using the pink fleshed dragonfruit and should have a single cube of ice studded with basil seeds but they hadn't made the ice so it comes with chipped ice and basil seeds. Still it's a very good drink and it's a trade-off as I like the texture from the basil seeds but the chipped ice does melt quickly.
Ivy's drink is a Passionflower selected because she loves Aperol. This is a twist on the Aperol spritz with Aperol, passionfruit, lemon, egg white and soda with a fluffy top. I love the sweet intensity and bitterness of this drink. I'd happily order this one next time. Ryan orders a beer because he deems it too early to drink whisky (5pm).
Crunchy noodles $4, pork crackling $7
Like Tokyo Bird the food selection is small but tasty. We start with crunchy noodles which are deep fried dried spaghetti stands seasoned with a moreish house seasoning that makes you want to keep crunching on these sticks. The pork crackling is crunchy and puffy and comes with a soy vinegar dipping sauce. They're both great salty drinking snacks.
Tonkatsu pork $10 for 2
There's also a selection of two types of baos and French fries as well as some Kushiage or Kushikatsu which are basically morsels crumbed in panko crumbs and deep fried and served on sticks. We try the pork tonkatsu skewers which are juicy and crunchy on the outside. The scallops are also good and come two to a serve and two per stick. It's just enough to get us started for a night out!
Hotate scallops $10 for 2
So tell me Dear Reader, are you a whisky aficionado? Do you have a favourite type of whisky? Do you always order food when you drink?
This meal was independently paid for.
10 Thomas Lane, Haymarket NSW 2000
Monday to Saturday, 4pm till late (2am on Fridays and Saturdays)