A smorgasbord of gastronomic delights awaits visitors to the Margaret River region, where gourmet travellers and epicureans will be charmed by a delectable assortment of local artisanal produce. It has been said that just about any thing you plant will grow well with the local soil here; hence it is no surprise that the province has a cheerful cottage industry of local food producers, such as Margaret River Providore.
There is a wonderful ever-changing showcase of farm-gate produce housed in a contemporary rammed-earth retail gallery, offering a delicious range of fresh products from their own backyard and surrounding growers. Their collection of jams, relishes and chutneys are all made passionately in their own kitchen by hand under the watchful eyes of Kendra, their restaurant manager. All these produce; alongside with their much-loved infusion olive oils are available for you to taste. But please, for the love of God, do not double dip! And if you ever make your way here in the early mornings, an easy stroll to its café counter in the back will have you lock lips with a warm voluptuous strawberry & chocolate chips muffin, as well as a much-deserved morning caffeine fix. It is no surprised that they have been voted by a team of internationally renowned experts as one of Australia’s Top 100 Gourmet Experience in the prestigious Australian Traveler Magazine, putting them on par with culinary heavyweights like Tetsuya’s, Mo Vida and Rockpool
Speaking of breakfast, the White Elephant Café offers a splendid dose of morning pick-me-upper with a fantastic view of the world-famous Surfers Point. Surfers and gawkers alike start their day off at this beachfront shelter with the ridiculously wholesome and fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes topped with berry compote, vanilla yoghurt and maple syrup before heading out to carve up waves at one of the world’s best known surf breaks.
Now, it goes without saying that Margaret River reigns regally over the Western Australian’s gourmet scene. And at the heart of her culinary crown, the Knee Deep Winery Restaurant is perhaps its shiniest jewel. Since its opening in late 2008, the restaurant has been awarded Two Chefs Hats by the Australian Good Food and a Gourmet Traveller star (both in 2012 and 2011), as well as critically ranked the best restaurant in regional Western Australia. Their artisanal dishes have quickly become a staple for fine food lovers who cannot be bothered with the la-di-da of a posh setting.
Executive Chef Michelle Babb whose work here can be compared to that of Napa Valley’s French Laundry for single handedly revolutionizing the fine dining experience, leads the award-winning kitchen team. Born and raised in Busselton, her giggles have been described by our maîtres d’, mademoiselle Marie Eve of Quebec, to brighten up the most stressful of scenarios and her “no worries” positivity to whatever the day brings is most contagious. “Food tourism isn’t about just what you put on the plate, but creating special moments in people’s lives,” the bubbly chef said as she came in to meet us up on her day off. Now that’s what I call a true professional. A five-course “Trust-the-Chef” degustation menu with a view overlooking the winery’s young property is an unforgettable experience.
Her menu, focuses on fresh seasonal ingredients, sourced from local producers and suppliers wherever possible started off with an artful display of house-cured salmon gravalax, lemon and herb sour cream, rosé pearls and micro greens, and accompanied by the young, vibrant and crisp 2011 Rosé. Quickly, the course was followed by a savoury and velvety confit pork belly, with pearls of Israeli cous cous, and a fig and pine nut salad. We let sensual sighs escape as the pork belly gently disintegrated in our mouths leaving beads of cous cous for a nice biting sensation. This was brilliantly paired with the sweet yet the well-rounded melon and honey flavoured 2009 Chardonay. Up next was the beautifully curated pink snapper and salmon tortellini, along with slow cooked fennel, local asparagus and coconut foam. As pretty as it was, I had trouble chewing the undercooked pasta dumplings. The MSA beef tenderloin, potato galette, zucchini, eggplants and balsamic reduction course was nothing short of amazing. The capsicum pearls were a vibrant touch, reflecting the intense ruby red glass of 2008 Kelsea’s Reserved Cabernet Sauvignon that just oozes with fresh aromas of summer cherries and plums, integrated French oak and hints of eucalyptus. Then for dessert, we were presented air airy raspberry bavarios, illawarra plum puree and decorated with a translucent shaving of air-dried nashi pear, braised saffron apple and slices of peppermint.
By now, we would have already enjoyed the company of our friendly maîtres’ d and her quirky sense of humour (thanks to her French heritage she reckons) for over two hours. Before parting ways, she poured us our final tasting glass for the afternoon, the syrupy 2010 Knee Deep Sweets created by none other than world-renowned winemaker Bob Cartwright. He is also responsible for making the the rest of the vinery’s range. It was a bittersweet end to a fabulous afternoon as we found it hard to bid “Au Revoir” to our new friend.
Just kilometers away, off the cape of Augusta marks the confluence of the Indian and Southern Oceans. This far-reached location has been a favourite spot of mine. I’ve been to the majestic limestone Cape Leeuwin lighthouse and walked up its swirly cast iron staircase for over five times in the last decade now, yet my heart still pulsates excitedly when we stepped outside into its windy platform and gaze into the curved horizon in the far distance knowing well that the next landfall is the Antarctica.
We were rendered rich chartreuse by the mid-afternoon sun, as the Leeuwin Lighthouse Café was busy serving people who had come to enjoy this remarkable landmark. After going up and down the 39m lighthouse, we too wanted our share of flat whites and afternoon snacks. Ducking under a white interior, we followed a narrow wooden pathway that wounded its way through a charming corner with a spectacular view of the century old tower and the surrounding coastline. There, our tired muscles were revived with hearty bowls of pumpkin soup and toasty sandwiches prepared by the lovely Karen and her daughter.
Back in the heart of Margaret River, passing quaint farms interspersed with vineyards, we drove over to another character-laden establishment. The slogan at Colonial Brewing Co. is “Margaret River, once famous for Wine” is not far from the truth. Since its humble beginnings, this microbrewer has been offering an alternative to those flapping in a sea of shiraz. Known for its carefree family-friendly environment and perhaps the best playground area in the region, parents can relax and enjoy the brewer’s unique award-winning ales, wood-fire pizzas and fiery wings.
The Brewers Paddle is perhaps the best way to try their entire range and finding the one you like best without the embarrassment of tripping over. Start from the lightly golden Kolsch Ale with refreshing hints of lemon sorbet and complimented by a subtle background of passionfruit and green herb; all the way to the end of the line with the opaque black Porter. The complex and intense flavor of the Porter closely resembles a Chinese medicinal herbal drink. Each brew, according to its General Manager, Richard Moroney, was created according to the company’s philosophy, festina lente – latin for hasten slowly. While the beers are brewed with skill and innovation, it is the care and passion given that elevates their brewing process from a simple science experiment to an art form. The winner of numerous national and international awards, this craft brewery is founded with the vision of “making the world a better place, one beer at a time”. This commitment may not be bulletproof, yet has guided them to nurture a sense of community to bring people together – through laughter, selfless community projects, world-class beer and lip-smacking dishes.
And these are only a handful of reasons why I keep returning to the region whenever I get a chance to, despite the lure of more alluring destinations around on the globe. I often dread the day when we finally have to make the drive back to the city, because holiday dreams colliding with reality can equal disappointment. But with so much to see, do and taste, the Margaret River region has definitely become an all-consuming passion of mine. It is no reason to be sad. After all, this food paradise is just a short 5-hour flight away from home. It is only a matter of time before I have to quench my thirst for another dose of Margaret River’s fine wine, mouth-watering dishes, stunning landscape, casual atmosphere and lovely town-folks.
MARGARET RIVER WINE & DINE DIRECTORYMargaret River Providore 448 Tom Cullity Drive (formerly Harmans South Road) Wilyabrup, WA, 6285 Tel: +61 8 9755 6355 Website: www.providore.com.au The store opens from 9.00am to 5.00pm, 7 days a week (closed Christmas Day, Boxing day and New years Day) The café is open for lunch daily from 12.00 noon to 3.00pm The White Elephant Cafe Gnarabup Beach, Margaret River, WA, 6285 Tel: +61 8 9757 1990 Website: www.whiteelephantcafe.com.au The beach café opens daily from 7.30am until around 3pm Knee Deep Wines [Cellar door & Restaurant] 61 Johnson Road Wilyabrup WA 6285 Tel: +61 8 9755 6776 Website: www.kneedeepwines.com.au Open 7-days. Cellar Door, 10 – 5pm; Lunch service 12 – 3pm. Seasonal dinner 6 – 9pm. Leeuwin Lighthouse Cafe Leeuwin Road Augusta, WA, 6290 Tel: +61 8 9758 0905 Website: www.margaretriver.com Opens every day of the year (except Christmas Day) from 8.45 am to 5 pm Colonial Brewery Co. Osmington Road Margaret River, WA, 6285 Tel: +61 8 9758 8177 Website: www.colonialbrewingco.com.au Tasty bites are served from 11am to 4pm daily
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