Western Australia (Margaret River & Perth)
We spent the last week of our three-week trip to Australia relaxing in WA, a spot of decadence after the whirlwind of Sydney and Melbourne catching up with friends and family. The first 6 days in Margaret River followed by a couple of days in Perth.
First Margaret River, one of Australia’s premier wine regions with some very high quality estates. The area really takes advantage of wine tourism, with lots of cellar doors and many, many winery restaurants (many more than The Hunter and Barossa?):
Gnarabar – great food, gutsy, hearty portions. What is on the plate is far better than pub food, but he room is formula “pub in a box" décor that could be anywhere.
Leeuwin Estate – an iconic winery with a very nice terraced outside restaurant. The cooking is good, albeit quite simple, with nice fresh flavours. Wine is sold at retail prices in the restaurant, which is good, so you can drink some really high-end wines for less than average ones in a city centre restaurant. Note: not all wineries did this with some adding a mark up over the retail price, usually a small amount but annoying.
Must Wine Bar – recently opened in Margaret River (with a branch in Perth). It is a slick urban wine bar sitting in the middle of a country town. A nice place for a drink (we didn’t eat there), but we couldn’t understand why most of the wines by the glass were not from the area - from memory 2/12 on the list are from WA . Aren’t most of their customers visiting the area to try the local wines?
Voyager Estate – good food in a weird setting, the owner has a Cape Dutch fetish (no other word sums it up as well). It is a big room set up for coach parties so felt a bit like a canteen. The tasting plates are good, but the place lacked atmosphere, good for refueling rather than a relaxing lunch.
Ze Arc of Iris – the worst meal of the trip, the landlady of our B&B told us the FOH was eccentric, led by the French owner, but he always employed great chefs so it was worthwhile. We loved the atmosphere and thought FOH was really good, but the food was dire. It was sub-standard British pub food at high prices (even high for the UK). My salt and pepper squid was overcooked and tough, my partner’s pork belly as undercooked with none of the fat rendered, and my duck was well cooked and smothered in an industrial strength sweet and sour sauce. Gourmet Traveler recommends it, but on this showing I can’t see why.
Vasse Felix – a good setting, and a fine French inspired lunch. We enjoyed it but it didn’t stand out.
Cullen – is biodynamic for both wines and food. One chef id French the other Indian, so there is quite an interesting mix on the menu. We were not going to eat but the smell of curry gently wafting into the tasting room changed our minds. Good food in a low-key rustic setting. Nicely informal.
The Food Farmacy – another of our top meals, the food was outstanding, and very generous. Simon Beaton is a very good chef and has the ability to produce strong east/west fusion food. It isn’t the usual Asian spicing in a western dish but a real melding of dishes and techniques. The standout dish was the tuna entrée, tuna in a broth with nori rolls and wasabi ice cream. Quite brilliant.
Knee Deep – was the highlight of our three weeks in Australia. The cooking at this low-key winery is simply fantastic. Bradley Hornby is a very talented chef; he has a deft touch with vegetables with interesting salads and dressings and a vegetable tasting plate that has echoes of Alain Passard at L’Arpege in Paris. His meat cooking is equally as good with very well judged belly pork and a very fine pot roast chicken. Kneed Deep wines are also good, classic Australian styles rather than the more French styles seem at a lot of the other Margaret River wineries.
We then headed to Perth for the last few days of our trip, lots of choice so difficult to narrow it down:
Little Creatures Brewery – I am a long-term fan of their beers so I looked forward to visiting the brewery. It is a vast modern space on the waterfront, with lots of bars and tables for food. Four good beers on tap, and a choice of modern Australian food, pizzas and burgers. For dinner we had pizza, with the prawn pizza a real star, expensive but lots of prawns and really well cooked. For lunch the next day we had burgers, fresh and well cooked. An all round excellent place to eat with a great soundtrack (is Don Letts their resident mixer?)
Nahm Thai – the last meal of our trip and thankfully a really great Thai. It reminded us of the Darley Street Thai in its heyday, really good cooking with first class spicing and flavours. A good menu with lots of interesting choices.
A visit to WA isn’t complete without a comment on the wineries. There are obviously lots and lots of them, over 100 I believe in Margaret River alone. We tended to focus on tasting in the smaller ones and our favorites where: Brown Hill, Rockfield, Windrush, Eagle View, and Woodlands. Our rule is to always buy a bottle after tasting (unless it is poor quality) and this worked well with some wine for BYO restaurants and for the BBQ in our apartment. Beware of Eagle View, Guy the winemaker is a feisty Frenchman who is wonderful with serious tasters but hates freeloaders with a passion and throws them out – a great spectator sport.
Interestingly Margaret River seems to be trying to be a French region. Most wineries have a Bordeaux style blend, some Cabernet based like the Medoc region, other more Merlot based like St Emilion. The Shiraz also tends to be quite soft in a Rhone valley style and the Chardonnay is often reminiscent of Chablis. As I said earlier the Knee Deep winery was quite refreshing because the wines tasted Australia!
Thank you so much for your beautiful blog! We really appreciate all the great things you said about us! We love our little tin shed and Brad's food is just AMAZING! We also think you hit the nail on the head with Food Farmacy (I hate dropping the restaurant dry cleaning off as the smells coming from Simon's kitchen smell so so so so so good!) and Gnarabar is just great... nothing fancy or pretentious just good food! Those are the two restaurants we send people to religiously!
Have an awesome Easter and keep the blogs coming!
Lots of love and appreciation
Liz and the Knee Deep team!
Knee Deep in Margaret River
Margaret River, WA, Margaret River, WA