Here in Australia, we always say (at the risk of sounding cliché) that we are indeed a blessed country. I am certainly no expert, but I personally find Australian cuisine really quite difficult to define because it’s such an intricate fusion of all the cultures that have called this wonderful country home since day dot. These days, we have the opportunity to take our pick from an endless array of cuisines when dining out, or looking for something different to whip up at home for dinner.
For me personally, the ultimate Australian food experience is enjoying a really delicious meal that is made from locally-sourced produce that comes with a stunning view of the local countryside.
One of my favourite places in the world is right here in the south west corner of WA – Margaret River. Boasting of a stunning location nestled between jarrah and karri forests and a beautiful coastline, it’s one of Australia’s premium wine producing regions. And where there’s good wine, there is bound to be good food!
I’ve lost count of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had in Margaret River – or “Margs”, as it’s more affectionately known – so it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to just one or two; as a result, I’ve put together my Top Five, in no particular order (because that would be almost as cruel as forcing a parent to single out their favourite child). While these highlights are inspired by my own treasured experiences in Margaret River, I’m sure they can easily represent many of Australia’s other amazing wine and ‘food bowl’ regions, too. In a perfect world, I would love the opportunity to travel through all of them Paddock to Plate or Destination Flavour-style. Unfortunately though, I don’t have the credibility of a celebrity chef like Matt Moran or Adam Liaw. Nonetheless, here’s my list of Top Five Margs Foodie Faves:
1. The Classic “Tasting Plate”
This option is a blessing for an indecisive Gemini like me, who often finds it very hard to choose just one dish when there are an abundance of tempting items on the menu. When done correctly, tasting plates are also an ideal way to sample the best of the region’s seasonal harvest and locally-crafted products: from olive oil, cheese, fruit and veg to meat and seafood. Beer drinkers can even opt for a tasting paddle at the local craft and micro-breweries!
I have enjoyed many fabulous tasting plates in Margs – in my opinion, the best ones are shared with a friend or loved one (to avoid any possible food envy), and served with a glass (or two) of local wine.
2. Indulgent 3-course Local Winery Lunch
About five or so years ago for a ‘significant’ birthday gift, a group of friends pitched in to buy me a voucher for a private chauffeur-driven wine tour in Margaret River (they know me SO well). While being chauffeured to several good winery cellar doors for tastings (and a “bit” of purchasing), the tour included lunch at Flutes Restaurant at the Brookland Valley winery estate. I wasn’t sure what I should be expecting. A tasting plate with a glass of wine perhaps? That of course would have been perfectly acceptable, but what transpired was actually more breathtaking.
The setting was simply spectacular. We were on an open deck overlooking a large lake surrounded by vineyards in one direction, and forest in the other. Being a weekday, the restaurant wasn’t particularly busy (either that or I was so involved in what was going on at our table to notice we may have been the only ones there), so all you could hear were birds singing, and the occasional quack from the ducks swimming on the lake.
Yes, we had a tasting plate – but this was just the entrée: a charcuterie platter of delicious morsels such as pork rillettes, chorizo, duck and pâté.
Up next was the main course – a tender lamb shank served on a bed of couscous infused with exotic spices, capers, olives and tomatoes. One look at the sheer size of the dish made my stomach shrink in fear; however, my tastebuds managed to convince it to take on the hefty task of devouring the lamb (the velvety Cabernet Merlot helped as well). I’ll admit, I couldn’t finish it, but I gave it a good ol’ Aussie go!
Before you could say “I couldn’t possibly eat another crumb”, it was time for dessert – a trio of petite sweet treats. This time it wasn’t a shared platter (although that would have been the safest/most logical option) – we were given one each. The groans of borderline discomfort quickly turned to sighs of pleasure when we battled all resistance and bravely picked up our spoons to try the tiramisu, vanilla bean panna cotta with berries, and a chocolaty slab of chocolaty chocolate mud cake drizzled with chocolaty chocolate syrup and double cream. Did I mention the chocolate?
All that was left to do was be practically carried back to our hotel (through one more winery just because we could), lie back and digest what had just happened (physically and metaphorically).
3. Self-contained Domestic Bliss
The great thing about a place like Margaret River is the sheer variety of accommodation choices – you can choose to stay in a hotel right in the centre of town, or venture further out to anything from a quaint Bed & Breakfast or farm-stay, to an all-inclusive luxury resort. Alternatively, you can select from an endless array of self-contained apartments and cabins either close to town, by the beach, or nestled within a forest setting. Anything goes.
Having travelled to Margs a number of times, I’ve been lucky enough to have tried a bit of everything. Personally, I find that self-contained accommodation is the way to go as it generally allows for more space, more privacy, and more freedom of choice. For example, if you want to drive into town for a meal, you can; if you’re too tired (or squiffy*) from a full day of wine tasting, you can choose to have a quiet night in and whip something up in the kitchen, even if it’s just a languidly-constructed board of cheese, crackers and dip! Or – as my friends and I did on an indulgent girls’ weekend a couple of years ago – start the day with a bang and fuel up on a hearty homemade breakfast…before a full day of wine tasting (is anyone noticing a pattern here?)
There is something so much more pleasurable about cooking while you’re on holidays than doing so at home, although my Other Half and I tend to stick to the same basic formula on a short break – barbeque one night, and if there happens to be any leftovers, use them as topping for a home-made pizza another night.
As an added bonus, a lot of self-contained accommodation in Margaret River makes the most of either one of its settings: its idyllic forest, vineyard, gently sloping countryside or the beach. Some of my favourite moments in life have been relaxing on a deck with my morning coffee enjoying the tranquillity of the natural habitat with nothing but the sound of birdsong and a gentle breeze to keep me company. The super lucky ones may even spot a kangaroo (or two)!
*squiffy – tipsy/warm and fuzzy/not quite there yet, but definitely on the way to getting a little drunkity-drunk
4. The Cellar Door
The best part about staying in a memorable place is having the opportunity to take a small piece of it home with you so you can continue to enjoy it long after the journey itself has ended.
A cellar door offers much more than just the opportunity to sample a few wines – they add to the overall experience. Many wineries have a country-style charm about them, or are simply jaw-droppingly beautiful, begging to be explored. And in most cases, there’ll be an infinitely interesting history behind them.
I’m by no means a connoisseur of wine (in fact, very far from it), but I do enjoy the explanations and recommendations provided by the cellar door staff as you boldly make your way from sparkling through white and rose to red, and – if you dare – heady fortified wines (I’m one of the fortunate ones who aren’t particularly fussy when it comes to wine – possibly my trade-off for not being able to drink beer, if only by choice). The secret is to take your time and enjoy the moment. And if the obnoxious wine tour groups sharing the space start getting a little too demanding and raucous, step back and browse through the assortment of wine accessories, books and giftware on offer; or explore the picturesque grounds until it’s time for them to depart for their next stop (all the while secretly hoping it isn’t where you were planning on visiting afterwards). If the winery has a café…bonus!
Although my Other Half begs to differ, I am certainly not the souvenir-junkie I was in my late teens and early twenties. These days I rely on my camera to help capture and preserve my memories (that, and thanks to my former addiction, I couldn’t possibly fit another branded shot glass into my cabinet, or magnet on my fridge if I tried); if anything, I may pick up an inspiring recipe or coffee-table-style photography book capturing the essence of the region. Oh, and maybe just a few bottles of vino… 😉
Cellar doors are not just restricted to wines – in Margaret River there are all kinds of options for exploring tastes of the region: beer, cheese and yoghurt, chocolate, coffee, fudge, olive oil, venison, nougat, fruit, jams and preserves, cider, lollies/candies, and ice cream just to name a few!
What a treat it is to take a little piece of Margs heaven back home – each time you fill a glass, break off a piece, or top a cracker or piece of bread, you’re instantly transported back (if only for a moment), allowing you to enjoy “the trip that was” just a little bit longer.
It’s a bittersweet day in my house though, when we get to the end of our bounty (‘cellaring’ is not something we do very well). It’s almost as if we’re bidding our blissful break farewell all over again. On the other hand, it can only mean it’s time to start planning the next trip!
5. The Berry Farm
Located about fifteen minutes’ drive from the town centre, The Berry Farm is the one place I never fail to revisit every time I stay in Margaret River. After a pleasant drive winding through tree-lined roads, vineyards and lush green pastures, the first stop must be the Cottage Café and Gardens. Whether it’s for a quick cuppa to start the day, something sweet for morning tea (they are particularly renowned for their Boysenberry Pie and Scones with jam and cream), or perhaps a more substantial meal for lunch, you are in for an absolute treat!
Not only is everything on their seasonal menu fresh and delicious, the historic building with its jarrah interior and wide patio oozes comfort and country hospitality. The surrounding picturesque cottage gardens teeming with local birdlife add a magical touch no matter what time of year you choose to visit. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing your pots of jam and cream with New Holland honeyeaters and silvereyes.
(By the way, if I appear to be gushing, I make no apologies – this place deserves to be gushed about!)
The next step is to take a stroll through the lovely cottage gardens that surround the café – there is always something pretty in bloom, regardless of the season. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a Splendid Fairy-wren (the name says it all)! On the way in (or out), you may notice the interesting array of ‘lawnmowers’ that graze below the vines and fruit bushes near the property’s entrance – geese, chickens, emus, I’ve even spotted a peacock!
Of course, no visit to the Berry Farm is complete without checking out their amazing Cellar Door to sample (and purchase) from their extensive range of gourmet products including homemade jams, preserves, pickles, sauces, fruit wines, liqueurs, and – my personal favourite – their Club House Series of fortified wines. I never leave without at least two bottles of Boysenberry Port (No. 3) to take home and enjoy as a perfect nightcap with a square or two of dark chocolate…or warm brownies.
I’ve been fortunate to visit the Berry Farm at different times of year. While the menu and gardens change with the seasons, the eternal charm, beauty and indulgent treats on offer ensure I always leave with a big smile and happy tummy. And that goes for all of Margaret River as well!
I must extend my sincere gratitude to the lovely Care for this exciting opportunity to be a guest ‘juicer’ on her beautiful blog. I’ve been a big fan of Flavored Lemons since we ‘met’ at the beginning of the year via a Blogging101 course, and I have to admit I’m a bit nervous that my rather bombastic, impulsive style of writing may seem a little out of place here. In any case, this really was a fun, challenging experience. Thank you, Care!