A jaunt around the Margaret River region — spanning Cape Naturaliste in the north, to Cape Leeuwin in the south — brings not just top drops from over 150 winemakers, but a culinary pilgrimage. By Koh Yuen Lin
One of the most lauded dining establishments in the region, the restaurant at this award-winning boutique hotel, which sits on 100 hectares of parkland, gardens and lakes, is a serene stage for gourmet indulgences. Getting to the dining halls takes a short meander through the immaculately manicured gardens of the enchantingly classic estate — and the short stroll puts one in just the perfect frame of mind to enjoy the slow evening of epicurean delights to come. The best seats in the house are those right by the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the pond and lush greenery yonder, and reservations are absolutely essential if you want to snag one of those prime spots.
Currently helmed by head chef Tony Howell — a gregarious character who has been with the restaurant since 1999 — the restaurant presents fine examples of modern Australian cuisine. Made using the region's abundance of fresh produce — including premium ingredients such as local venison, wagyu and the highly sought-after marron, a freshwater crustacean – the dishes are often given an unexpected Asian twist be it from a curl of pickled ginger or a dash of ponzu dressing. Matching the light cuisine which highlights the natural flavours of the ingredients from this pristine natural environment of Margaret River are a selection of top drops from the region's best wine estates.
We have gotten wind that Howell will be moving on to new adventures in early 2014, but have also been tipped that a Swiss-born chef currently based in a luxury hotel in Kuala Lumpur will be taking over the reigns. Whichever the case, given its unrivalled setting, the impeccable service and the owners' high standards, we are certain Cape Lodge will continue to keep its status as one of Margaret River's most prestigious dining venue.
3341 Caves Road
Yallingup, Western Australia
Tel: +61 8 9755 6311
Opening hours: Mon – Sun
from 6.30pm until late (dinner)
Family owned and operated Wills Domain Winery calls itself “one amongst the most dynamic and innovative wineries in Australia”, and the cuisine served at its cellar door restaurant is equally progressive to match.
Chef Seth James, previously from Melbourne's dining hotspot Cutler & Co., is a young star to watch. His modernist plates are put together thoughtfully – so that classically executed elements sit alongside plain, raw ingredients and maybe a squid ink tuille or a crisp of dehydrated fish skin. The restaurant might be tucked away in nature, facing a sprawl of vineyard within the Gunyulgup Valley, but James' presentation of simple, clean flavours with a slight progressive edge can easily rival the cuisine served at glitzy city restaurants. Little wonder that the venue was recently awarded Best Regional Restaurant award by The West Australian Good Food Guide.
The menu is planned according to the seasonal produce available, and a recent meal in November had us lunching on confit of organic carrots served with puffed grains, red quinoa, seeds and smoked yoghurt; a course of tender house-cured trout lifted by dill mayonnaise and given a touch of delicate crunch though slivers of puffed, dehydrated trout skin; and main course of seared line-caught dhu fish simply accompanied by plump mussels, a squid ink crisp and fennel greens. With course after course showcasing pure flavours, flawless execution and sophisticated combinations, a meal at Wills Domain alone is well-worth the drive out to Margaret River.
Corner Abbey Farm & Brash Roads
Yallingup, Western Australia
Tel: +61 8 9755 2327
Opening hours: Mon – Sun
(except Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day and Good Friday) 12pm – 3pm (lunch)
Every F&B scene has its own wunderkind, and Margaret River's is the dashing Anthony Janssen. The surfer dude-turned restaurateur started Gnarabar in 2006, and went on to create White Elephant Beach Café in 2009. Morries Anytime — started in 2012 — is the latest baby of this award-winning restaurateur, and it has everything that makes an excellent chill-out location.
The space, decked out like a mod bistro with brick-tiled bar and naked bulbs dangling from the ceiling, is constantly packed out with locals and travellers alike. And they can come here seeking just about anything — from a satisfying breakfast burger with fried egg, bacon, Swiss cheese, aioli and smoky tomato relish to start the day, to tapas and tipples to end the night. The welcoming space is positively abuzz almost anytime of day.
The different menus available through the day are simple and the dishes boast hearty, moreish flavours. A highlight is definitely their tapas menu which offers a departure from the usual three-course restaurant dinners. Start off with briny fresh oysters topped with a refreshing cucumber and gin sorbet, before moving on to other small bites that all tend to pack big flavours. A platter of mini burgers sandwiching unctuous pulled pork, salted cucumber, pickled vegetables, coriander and given a smear of sweet Japanese mayonnaise will certainly have you asking for seconds. Even the vegetarian options are no less robust: Think grilled haloumi cheese on locally-baked woodfired bread served with hazelnut pesto, parsley and lemon; and a “pasta” of zucchini ribbons, peas, parsley and chives tossed in creamy truffle sauce.
Wrap a meal here with one of their most popular desserts: A tangy baked lemon tart served with a stack of poached rhubarb and a scoop raspberry sorbet. Or if you wish, the Santa Maria from their mixologists — a concoction of rich dark chocolate liqueur, 1800 Anejo tequila, nutty Herredura Reposado and a dash of Campari — serves just as well as a liquid dessert!
2/149 Bussell Highway
Margaret River, Western Australia
Tel: +61 8 9758 8280
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 7:30am-late, Sunday 7:30am-10pm
MIKI'S OPEN KITCHEN
One of the most exciting developments in the Margaret River restaurant scene is the launch of Miki's Open Kitchen. Opened in late 2013, it is the first Japanese restaurant to burst into a scene previously dominated by Western cuisine. And judging from the way the restaurant is packed night after night, the people of the region are extremely thankful for this new addition.
Chef-proprietor Mikihito Nagai — previously from Six Senses Resort in Maldives and most recently Wills Domain — is commander-in-chief of the bustling open kitchen where diners seat right at the counter, in front of the action. This is where West Australian seafood is transformed into delectable morsels with a distinct Japanese flavour. Think the simple dish of tender Shark Bay whiting rolled in nori with piquant umeboshi plum and shiso leaves — clean, well-paired favours guaranteed to pique your appetite for more. Further into the meal, you might be rewarded with plump Esperance scallops encased in delicately crunchy panko crumbs, or a dish of succulent Augusta snapper served with creamy aioli punctuated by the pop of mentaiko. It is not all seafood either; other deliciousness come in the form of meltingly-tender pork belly braised in soy sauce and sake, and an unctuous beef tataki lifted by wasabi ponzu.
A meal at this dinner-service-only restaurant is not only a delicious break from the usual options available within the region — Nagai's attention to detail and the personal touch from his wife Mou, who attends to the floor, makes a meal here ever so special.
Reservations are absolutely necessary. If you are visiting the region for a short time and have only a few days open, opt for an earlier timing, which might improve your chances of getting a seat.
Shop 2/3 Landa Lane, 131 Bussell Highway Margaret River, Western Australia
Tel: +61 8 97587673
Opening hours: Wed – Sun 6pm-late
Absolutely worth the two-hour drive from the Margaret River region is Forager's — a restaurant, cooking studio, farm and resort all rolled into a dream destination for the gourmet traveller
A departure from the usual farm stay is an experience at Foragers, run by husband-and-wife team Chris and Sophie Zaloka. The luxury eco chalets — built by Switzerland-born Chris — are rustic yet sleek, simple yet elegant. They might not boast designer furnishing, but certainly feature fine craftsmanship in building and are thoughtfully planned out for maximum comfort and ease of living. The kitchen, helmed by Sophie Zaloka is, however, its raison de etre — for those seeking culinary discoveries, at least. Originally from the Barossa Valley in South Australia where she worked alongside Australian food icon Maggie Beer at the Pheasant Farm Restaurant, Sophie's passion for seasonal, local ingredients and the people behind these artisanal produce is apparent in her food. The dining room, or Field Kitchen as they call it, is open for wood-fired dinners on Fridays during school holidays and long weekends, and weekly Saturday dinners, and these are sell-out sessions featuring four-courses of seasonal dishes such as coddled egg with celery salt and asparagus, pot-roasted lamb with pearl barley, broad beans and watercress and Seville orange and rhubarb trifle. The cooking is homestyle as the dishes are meant to be easily replicated by the home cook, but the flavours are bright and sophisticated as Sophie always has a trick or two up her sleeve.
1 Roberts Road (corner of Pemberton Northcliffe Road)
Pemberton, Western Australia
Tel: +61 8 9776 1580
Opening hours: Fri wood-fired dinner (on school holidays & long weekends)
7- 11.30pm, Sat seasonal dinner 7- 11.30pm