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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.