WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT MAR­GARET

Mar­garet River has long been a place where fine wine meets coast­line, but the lat­est wave of op­er­a­tors brings new breadth to the pop­u­lar Western Aus­tralian re­gion, writes MAX VEENHUYZEN.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Travel - Pho­tog­ra­phy JES­SICA WYLD

Three hours’ drive south of one of the world’s most re­mote cap­i­tals, Mar­garet River is blessed with surf, sun­shine, world-class wines and an edge-of-the-Earth fresh­ness. Add in­creas­ingly good food, and the deal is sealed. Canny wine­mak­ers have long un­der­stood the value a good cel­lar-door restau­rant brings to their busi­ness, but a batch of new eater­ies is rais­ing the bar across the re­gion, bol­stered by an in­flux of sea-chang­ing young fam­i­lies, more in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers, and the con­tin­ued suc­cess of Mar­garet River Gourmet Es­cape, the re­gion’s an­nual Novem­ber long week­end of food and cel­e­bra­tion.

Some lament the grow­ing num­ber of fast-food out­lets on Bus­sell High­way, the town’s main drag, but fam­ily-run, owner-op­er­ated busi­nesses still out­num­ber the chains. The di­ver­sity of op­tions avail­able is en­cour­ag­ing, with Korean, Ja­panese and mod­ern Chi­nese in the mix – there’s even a food truck serv­ing Chi­nese dumplings through­out the re­gion. In short, eat­ing in and around Mar­garet River has never been more ex­cit­ing, whether you’re here for an in­ter­na­tional food fes­ti­val or plot­ting a week­end get­away dur­ing the off-sea­son. We hope you’re hun­gry – there’s some ex­plor­ing to be done.

ARIMIA

Evan Hayter might well be Mar­garet River’s most in­flu­en­tial chef. With the sup­port of es­tate owner Ann Spencer, he leads the re­gion in sus­tain­able, self-suf­fi­cient think­ing, rais­ing his own pigs, breed­ing trout in creeks, and over­see­ing Arimia’s bio­dy­namic prac­tices. Best of all, Hayter has the kitchen smarts to make all this virtue taste good, whether cur­ing his own small­go­ods, trans­form­ing pork shoul­der into an in­tensely rich ragù, or serv­ing a tofu-like gin­ger milk pud­ding with es­tate honey. 242 Quin­inup Rd, Wilyabrup, (08) 9755 2528, arimia.com.au

VOY­AGER ES­TATE

This show­piece es­tate has metic­u­lously man­i­cured grounds, a Cape Dutch-in­spired cel­lar door, and an am­bi­tious, well-re­sourced wine­mak­ing pro­gram. More is more at Voy­ager, dou­bly so when it comes to the cook­ing of Span­ish-born chef Santi Fer­nan­dez. Whether you pro­gram your own four-course menu or sur­ren­der to the dé­gus­ta­tion, lunch is a leisurely af­ter­noon star­ring welldrilled som­me­liers, wine post­cards and tech­nique-driven dishes such as mar­ron, chicken skin and XO sauce in su­quet, the Cata­lan seafood stew. Pol­ished, and then some. 41 Stevens Rd, Mar­garet River, (08) 9757 6354, voy­ager­estate.com.au

GLENARTY ROAD

William “Aussie” McDon­ald had a farm; grand­son Ben and his wife Sasha opened it to the pub­lic. Es­tab­lished in the 1930s, the fam­ily’s 83-hectare mixed-used prop­erty com­prises vine­yards, veg­etable gar­dens, or­chards, sheep and – as of last year – a cel­lar door. As well as pro­vid­ing the McDon­alds with an out­let for their wine, pro­duce and grass-fed lamb, the ex­pan­sion gave a voice to chef Ricky Man­dozzi, a MoVida alum­nus who ar­rived in Mar­garet River via the Fre­man­tle small bar, Strange Com­pany. His menus re­flect the day’s pickings and might in­clude imag­i­na­tive house-made pasta – red Rus­sian kale gnoc­chi, say – along­side roast lamb, wood-fired cab­bage and other mod­els of farm­house com­fort. 70 Glenarty Rd, Kar­ri­dale, 0475 085 305, gle­nar­ty­road.com.au

AMELIA PARK

Af­ter suc­cess at Piari & Co and Stu­dio Bistro in the re­gion, hus­band-and-wife team Blair and Re­nee Allen (he’s in the kitchen, she’s front of house) are ap­ply­ing their en­ergy to this con­tem­po­rary, anvil­shaped restau­rant ad­ja­cent to the Amelia Park cel­lar door (not to be con­fused with the Amelia Park Lodge on Bus­sell High­way). The menu is big on wood-grilled meat – Amelia Park pro­duces beef and lamb, as well as wine – and strong on seafood. Start with crisp king­fish wings spiked with chilli salsa. Con­tinue with pink snap­per served with Jerusalem ar­ti­choke cream and cur­ried car­rots.

3857A Caves Rd, Wilyabrup, (08) 9755 6747, ameli­a­parkrestau­rant.com.au

MIKI’S OPEN KITCHEN

“Spe­cial­ist tem­pura restau­rant in a for­mer beauty sa­lon at the back of an ar­cade.” There could only be one place fit­ting such a de­scrip­tion. Book ahead at this bi­jou Ja­panese eatery to nab one of the counter seats ring­ing Mik­i­hito Na­gai’s kitchen and be re­warded with close-up views of chefs giv­ing Western Aus­tralian seafood the royal treat­ment. Crisp Shark Bay whit­ing ac­cented with shiso salt, per­haps, or Ex­mouth rankin cod coated with crisp rice-cracker peb­bles. Bar­gain-priced sake and Mar­garet River wines fur­ther un­der­score Na­gai’s mis­sion to unify East and West. Shop 2, 131 Bus­sell Hwy, Mar­garet River, (08) 9758 7673.

CHOW’S TA­BLE

The scent of fry­ing gar­lic fills the air at this six-month-old restau­rant. Mod­ern Chi­nese has long been pop­u­lar with lo­cal din­ers; Mal­colm Chow (ex-Tet­suya’s, Vue de Monde and, lo­cally, Stu­dio Bistro) takes it up a notch in this airy, spa­cious din­ing room. While the ter­razzo floor, blond tim­ber fur­ni­ture and bush­land views are clas­sic south-west, the menu cel­e­brates Chow’s Chi­nese-Malay her­itage. Gingery cut­tle­fish emerges

from the wok ten­der and smoky, siu mai en­riched with pork as­pic are a mas­ter­class in juici­ness, and star anise and man­darin peel lend a Sino ac­cent to roast duck. A range of Asian beers suits the re­laxed, all-in vibe. 12/5 Quin­inup Rd, Yallingup,

(08) 9755 2681, chow­stable.com.au

BUNKERS BEACH HOUSE

“The view’s pretty good.” This used to be the sim­plest way to sum up this beach­front café, but fol­low­ing the ap­point­ment of chef Ben Day in Jan­uary, pa­trons are now talk­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about what’s on the plate. Kombu soy and chips of fried gar­lic en­liven rags of kale, char-grilled quail and sweet beet­root are a win­ning com­bi­na­tion, and a crab and cele­riac ré­moulade demon­strates a pro­fi­ciency with seafood. The ser­vice and set­ting are beach­side breezy, and well-priced wine (and the of­fer of steamed golden-syrup pud­ding) en­cour­age longer lunch­ing. Farm Break La, Nat­u­ral­iste, (08) 9756 8284, bunkers­beach­house.com.au

VASSE FE­LIX

De­spite the de­par­ture of long-serv­ing chef Aaron Carr (see Yarri, right), it’s busi­ness as usual at this pi­o­neer­ing Mar­garet River es­tate. The ser­vice re­mains pol­ished, the din­ing world­class, and Carr’s suc­ces­sor, Bren­dan Pratt (The Fat Duck, The Led­bury), is a young go-get­ter who brings both hu­mil­ity and se­ri­ous kitchen ex­pe­ri­ence to the role. Af­ter a year in the hot seat, Pratt has made the menu his own. Grilled mar­ron is paired with bonito cream and crunchy farro, puréed corn with mush­room XO sauce demon­strates re­spect for veg­e­tar­i­ans, and bigoli with hazel­nut, pecorino and shav­ings of truf­fle ex­em­pli­fies the kitchen’s broad reach. Cnr Caves Rd & Tom Cul­lity Dr, Cowaramup,

(08) 9756 5000, vasse­fe­lix.com.au

WILLS DO­MAIN

Since ar­riv­ing at this scenic cel­lar-door restau­rant in 2013, Mel­bourne ex­pat and Cu­mu­lus Inc alum­nus Seth James has been con­fi­dently re­fin­ing his mod­ern Aus­tralian style. The share-friendly carte (house char­cu­terie, larger cuts of meat) suits drop-in din­ing, but book­ing ahead for the chef’s tast­ing menu is the way to go. Pick­led abalone sheathed in chicken skin is typ­i­cal of a strong snack menu and a dainty tart­let of strac­ciatella and ripe ze­bra toma­toes shows off the kitchen gar­den’s grow­ing in­flu­ence. Cnr Abbey Farm & Brash Rds, Yallingup, (08) 9755 2327, wills­do­main.com.au

YARRI

It’s a restau­rant. It’s a bar. It’s a cel­lar door. It’s a ca­sual all-day eatery by vet­eran south-west chef Aaron Carr. But don’t mis­take ca­sual for slap­dash: Carr’s stan­dards are as high as those he set dur­ing his 21 years at Vasse Fe­lix, whether he’s wood-roast­ing prawns and dress­ing them with burnt miso but­ter, or team­ing torched scal­lop with discs of crisp Jerusalem ar­ti­choke. The pasta is hand­made, the ser­vice is switched-on, and the wine list of­fers re­gional and in­ter­na­tional bench­marks along­side wines from Snake + Her­ring, Carr’s part­ner in this fresh-faced ven­ture. 6/16 Cyril­lean Way, Duns­bor­ough, (08) 9786 5030, yarri.com.au

Left: snacks at Voy­ager Es­tate, in­clud­ing crisp chicken skin with duck-liver par­fait, smoked duck breast and quince (right), potato chur­ros with shal­lot purée, Manchego and smoked pa­prika (bot­tom left), and kombu crisps with mar­ron ré­moulade, pick­led daikon and trout roe(top left).

Clock­wise from top: Chow’sTa­ble; Glenarty Road co-own­ers Ben and Sasha McDon­ald with their dog, Bob, and lambs Gnoc­chi and Rose­mary; Miki’s Open Kitchen chef Mik­i­hito Na­gai.

From left: corn with mush­room XO sauce, daikon and dried seaweed at Vasse Fe­lix; Su­gar­loaf Rock at Cape Nat­u­ral­iste. Op­po­site, clock­wise from top: whipped mar­ron mousse tart­let with pick­led mar­ron, fried gai lan and gai lan petals (top), and mar­ron grilled in kombu with bone-mar­row emul­sion and fried beef jerky at Wills Do­main; Bunkers Beach House;Wills Do­main.

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