Aravina Estate: Tony Howell’s new kitchen

I gladly accepted an invitation to dine at Aravina Estate in Margaret River, keen to try the food of one of my favourite chefs in his new kitchen. Aravina’s new executive chef Tony Howell made a name for himself winning a legion of fans and numerous awards overs 15 years at Cape Lodge, listed in Condé Nast’s 2012 Gold List and named Best Boutique Hotel in Australia.

The Grounds:

From the moment I arrived, I knew I’d be impressed with Aravina Estate. A red Ferrari in the car park, a cute wooden walkway leading to lush lawns lined with eucalyptus, pretty gardens with two dams beyond, vistas of the vineyard, and a magnificent cellar door and restaurant that would not look out of place in the Hamptoms or on the set of hit television show ‘Revenge’. Outside white wooden railings surround a large alfresco terrace dining area that takes advantage of the stunning view. The beautiful grounds have hosted many weddings, including that of winery owner Steve Tobin just a couple of weeks ago.Aravina Estate15

Families will love lunching at Aravina. Eat in peace while your kids run around climbing, swinging and playing.

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From the terrace, parents can easily keep one eye on the fenced children’s playground that would be the envy of many local councils I’m sure.

Aravina Estate13

My favourite part, the kitchen garden. Executive Chef Tony Howell was almost frothing at the mouth as he talked about the massive ten-bed garden growing seasonable produce including all manner of herbs, several types of lettuce, zucchini, cucumber, beetroot, chilli, capsicum and much more. More fruit trees have also been planted.Aravina Estate21

“That’s the great thing about working here, [owner] Steve [Tobin] is open to suggestions and when I said I’d love a kitchen garden, he made it happen. Check it out!” Tony said.

“Everything in the salmon dish, except the salmon, comes from this garden, freshly picked just hours before it is served.”

Inside:

Walking in, the classy white interior, large windows letting in an abundance of light, high ceilings, lantern-style light fittings, Italian tiled floor and French inspired decor is chic, elegant, and inviting.

Indoor dining

Indoor dining

The wine tasting counter takes centre stage, as it should.  Towards the back of the building is an opulent private dining room, perfect for a party of ten.

Private dining or wine tasting room

Private dining or wine tasting room

Shelves containing cookbooks, vases, photo frames, table ware, kitchen accessories and ornaments are gorgeously displayed around the wine tasting area and also in shop floor area beyond.Aravina_shop1

The restaurant and cafe is beautiful. White linen, fresh flowers, elegant glass ware, and quality cutlery and crockery instantly set the tone for the dining experience to come.

The surprise:

Enter the building, walk past the wine tasting area, past the cafe, through the stunning gift and home ware shop and you’ll find yourself in a sports car gallery. High school memories  raced through my head as I clocked a yellow S/LR 5000 Torana, a 1972 Valient Charger, and 1973 GT Ford Falcon.

Aravina Estate05

There’s also vintage Citroen, Aston Martin, and a Daytona Ferrari as well as several of sexy modern Italian makes. The rev-head in me was squealing with delight. Who would’ve thought a posh-looking winery would appeal to car lovers or those of us that keep our inner bogan suppressed?

Aravina Estate03

The wine:

Wine maker Jodie Opie joined Aravina in 2011 after gaining experience at Lenton Brae and Voyager Estate. I liked all the wines, having said that, tasting wine is so subjective.

The vintage sparkling was light and clean. The Vermintino, and Italian varietal, was clean with an acidic finish. My palate has gone off Sauvingnon Blanc Semillon in recent years, but I really enjoyed the citrus and fresh qualities of Aravina’s. The Chardonnay was my favourite.  

Of the reds, I was delighted to see an Italian varietal Nebbiolo on offer. The tannins were tight but with time it will open up to be a beautiful wine to enjoy with winter Italian dishes. The Cabernet Merlot was easy drinking, the Cabernet Sauvignon left a beautiful plummy taste in my mouth, and I really enjoyed the Shiraz Tempranillo blend. Aravina Estate23

“We’ve planted a special varietal of Tempranillo and Malbec – it’s good to have different varietals on offer, as well as the classic ones the region is known for. It makes us different to the other wineries,” Jodie said.

James Halliday named Aravina Estate as “one of the ten best new wineries” in the 2014 Australian Wine Companion.  The wines have also won a multitude of medals at wine shows across Australia.

The food:

I put my diet on hold and threw my gluten-free ways out the window when whipped truffle butter accompanied freshly baked bread arrived at the table. We shared a number of dishes so we could try as many things as we could possibly fit in.  Aravina Estate06

The pork terrine, mustard fruits, pickled walnuts and persian feta was fantastic. The terrine on its own was rich, but perfect when mixed with the mustard fruits and the phenomenal pickled walnuts.

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The seared Esperance scallops avocado tian, tomato and chorizo crumb were delicate, and cooked perfectly. Everything married beautifully.

Aravina Estate08The special of the day, ricotta stuffed zucchini flower and house smoked salmon – it was divine.

Aravina Estate07King fish sashimi, asian omelette and ginger jelly was sensational. The asian flavours were perfectly balanced, it was fresh, light, and I could eat that dish every day and not tire of it. It didn’t look as pretty as some other dishes, that look like art in comparison, but taste-wise, it was perfect in every sense.

Aravina Estate11Smoked goats cheese. Who smokes goat cheese? Chef Tony Howell, that’s who. And it was nothing short of amazing. I’m told he uses local off cut jarrah wood chips, not oak ones that are used in the wine marking process, to smoke things in-house. Teamed with beetroot carpaccio, sous vide celery, orange and some crunchy brioche, this dish is visually stunning. The smoked goats cheese was so delicious, this wins dish of the day for originality and presentation.

Aravina Estate17The Shark Bay king prawn, compressed pineapple, green papaya, herbs and won ton was crunchy, fresh, and perfect for a hot summer’s day. The Asian flavours were beautifully balanced with the sweetness of the pineapple. It felt healthy to eat.

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Time for a refreshing mouth cleanser. Lemon sorbet with lemon and lime sherbet and citrus peel.Aravina Estate16

Feeling absolutely full after sharing the above, we just had one main dish, steamed duck yellow curry, crispy skin, fried peanuts, pickled chilli and herb salad. It looked beautiful on the plate, and smelled fantastic too. One of my lovely dining companions, Sandra, loved this dish – for her, it was the dish of the day. For me, it was too spicy and hot for my chilli-intolerant palate. I don’t mind a bit of heat, but I’m a weakling in that department.

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How pretty is this dessert? Compressed watermelon, coconut sorbet, herb syrup, lychee foam, seasonal fruit and sesame crisp. Every element was fantastic and it was beautiful and light. The perfect ending to a decedant lunch.

Functions:

Aravina Estate just completed a new function room that can seat 160 comfortably. It features a bar at one end, crystal chandeliers, Italian travertine tiles, cathedral ceilings, and large bi-fold doors so the room can incorporate the outdoor terrace. Off the function room, past the guest toilets, is a bridal suite, complete with a lounge area, dressing area, and bathroom with plenty of mirrors and bench space for the all important hair and make up touch ups.  It’s a stunning space.

Verdict:

Add Aravina Estate to your Margaret River itinerary. Not only are there award winning wines to taste and buy, but you can shop, kids can play, you can wander amongst the vines, admire the vegetable garden, and best of all, have a meal you won’t forget.

Tony Howell is producing food as good as he ever has. Despite the increase in covers, the food comes from the same quality local suppliers, is treated with the same respect and attention to detail is evident in every dish. Do yourself a favour and book in now.

My score: 9.5/10 (just lost half a mark because the curry was too hot for my palate)

Disclosure: Dianne Bortoletto was a guest of Aravina Estate and all reviews are based on merit.

FACT FILE

Aravina Estate
61 Thornton Road, Yallingup WA 6282
Tel: 08 9235 4600

The Cellar Door and Cafe are open everyday 10am-5pm and the restaurant is open for lunch everyday 11.30am-3pm. Bookings recommended.

Aravina Estate Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen

Duck liver parfait

Duck liver parfait

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen, Margaret River’s newest bar and restaurant, is serving up good honest food made with fresh local produce. Dishes are designed to be shared and the menu is categorised into light, plates, pizzas, sides, sweets and cheese. There’s a good choice of dishes and the prices are very reasonable.

The corner location on the main road in Margaret River town is about three hours drive south of Perth, and worth the drive – for those familiar with Margs it’s where Winos used to be. It’s casual but not slack. The service is fantastic and the food and wine gets the thumbs up.

The fit out is original with tables in the back area set under old-school Hills Hoists clotheslines suspended from the ceiling to double as light fittings.  The front bar is a great place to sit and chat, and the veranda that overlooks the street is a very pleasant place to sit under its covering of vines.

Cool interior fit out complete with good ol'Aussie Hills Hoist clothes line light fitting

Cool interior fit out complete with good ol’Aussie Hills Hoist clothes line light fitting

The duck liver parfait ($13) was silky smooth, rich and creamy and came with delicious wood-fired bread and some pickled veg called picadilli. It was hard not to wolf it all down at once.

Owned by Swings & Roundabouts winery that’s nearby on Caves Road, Swings Taphouse & Kitchen offers the same legendary wood-fired pizzas that the winery has become famous for.

I had to try the pizza and opted for the traditional margarita ($20) – my favourite. If the kitchen can get that right, then it’s always a winner. Swings’ version is good, but if I’m being picky (and nearly always am) for my palate it needed a bit of salt and probably could’ve done with another half-minute in the oven to really crisp up the base. That’s my only criticism of the food served at Swings. Everything else was bang on.

Wood-fired margarita pizza

Wood-fired margarita pizza

The King Fish ceviche with chilli, lime, avocado and coconut ($16) was fresh, colourful, light, beautifully seasoned and delicious to eat. Like a mouthful of summertime, if you could eat summer. The Swings Chardonnay ($7 glass) went down a treat with the ceviche.

King fish ceviche

King fish ceviche

The bright and bubbly pint-sized manager Annie really made my visit to Swings memorable. She answered all my questions, suggested dishes to try, and explained their tap wine. Yes, wine on tap. Read about their wine on tap delivered through ‘sight glass fonts’ – a world first in my previous post. If you’re not hungry, just go and try their wines – they are worthy.

There’s also a selection of ‘guest backyards’ wines, cocktails and beers, and the menu is simple and rustic, designed for sharing, and with an emphasis on fresh, local and sustainable produce.

FACT FILE

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen
85 Bussell Highway, Margaret River, WA
Tel: 08 9758 7155
swings.com.au

Open from 10am daily, Swings Taphouse & Kitchen serves brunch, ‘brinks’, lunch and dinner
Swings Taphouse on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: Dianne Bortoletto was a guest of Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association and Swings Taphouse & Kitchen

World first in Margaret River – Swings Taphouse

Rosé wine on tap (and 30l keg in the fridge)

Rosé wine on tap (and 30l keg in the fridge)

In a world first, Swings Taphouse, Margaret River’s newest bar and restaurant, offers wine on tap delivered through ‘sight glass fonts’. That means customers can see the wine before it is poured. Wine buffs judge the colour of a wine as one criteria, and now every-day drinkers at Swings Taphouse can too, before committing to a glass or carafe.

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen is owned by the nearby Swings & Roundabouts winery on Caves Road, Margaret River, about a three-hour drive south of Perth, Western Australia. The wine offered on tap are the wines designed to ‘drink now’. These include Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Chardonnay, Rosé, Shiraz, and Cabernet Merlot. Swings & Roundabout wines are served by the glass $7, half carafe $15 or carafe $28.  Reasonable prices.

The wine is pushed through the tap with nitrogen, much the same as beer is with carbon dioxide. I asked Swings Taphouse & Kitchen manager, bubbly Annie Murphy, if the nitrogen compromises the taste of the wine.

“No, not at all. We had wine writer Ray Jordon in here a couple of weeks ago doing a tasting, and he was impressed – he said he could not tell the difference between tap poured and bottled wine,” Annie said.

In my own tasting, I thoroughly enjoyed my glass of chardonnay and was wishing I could sit there all day to sample every tap wine on offer.  The food is pretty good too – you can read about that in my next post.

What I love about it is that you can start with a glass of white and move on to a half or full carafe of red. It’s like drinking wine in Italy, ordering the house red or white, except at Swings, you can choose your varietal.

30 litre keg where the tap wine is stored

30 litre keg full of wine ready for tap-pouring

“We keep the wine in 30 litre kegs – the red wine is in a fridge set at 15 degrees, and the white wine is in the cool room with the beer kegs set at two or three degrees,” Annie said.

“When we make the wine at Swings & Roundabouts, we put some in bottles, and some into kegs for tap-pouring here. It is environmentally friendly because we use less bottles, labels, cartons, caps and the rest.”

Tap white wines with the see through fronts and carafes

Tap white wines with the see through fronts and carafes

There’s also a selection of ‘guest backyards’ wines, cocktails and beers, and the menu is simple and rustic, designed for sharing, and with an emphasis on fresh, local and sustainable produce. Read about the food in my next post.

FACT FILE

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen
85 Bussell Highway, Margaret River, WA
Tel: 08 9758 7155
swings.com.au

Open from 10am daily, the venue serves brunch, ‘brinks’, lunch and dinner

Disclosure: Dianne Bortoletto was a guest of Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association and Swings Taphouse & Kitchen

Margaret River Gourmet Escape

Margaret River Gourmet Escape is like no other food festival I’ve been to. To start with, the main Gourmet Village is set on the beautiful grounds of Leeuwin Estate. A line of tall timber karri and marri trees on either side of the long road past vineyards and pastures greet guests like a red carpet leading to the stone built cellar door. The pretty native bush garden attracts birds and bees and the lush expansive green lawn is crying out for well-dressed picnickers to throw out a rug and relax with a glass of wine. It’s that sort of place.

During the weekend of the Gourmet Escape, Leeuwen Estate is transformed into a food and wine lover’s playground.  In one weekend, 45 of the biggest names in international and Australian food and wine that included three in the world’s top 50, eight Michelin stars and over 20 Chefs Hats. The list of exhibitors is longer than an eight year old’s Christmas wish list, and the number of stages and pavilions would rival that of Splendour in the Grass or the Big Day Out. The stars of Gourmet Escape, Heston Blumenthal, Alex Atala, Rick Stein, Shane Osborn, and Adriano Zumbo just to name a few, are the rock stars of the food and wine world.Main stage and stalls

Rows of marquee stalls offering samples of this, tastings of that, information or just a friendly chat, shot off from the main stage that was catering for thousands with live camera feeds and a big screen. Demonstrations were not limited to the main stage; they also took place in a number of kitchens and appliance pop up showrooms across the grounds. Margaret River’s best eateries had tasting dishes on offer that cost 1 GEM, the currency of the day. 1 GEM equals $7. Many of Margaret River’s 130 odd wineries were offering tastings or glasses of wine for 1 or 2 GEMS, depending on the wine. The Gourmet Village was buzzing with activity but the vibe was relaxed with everybody out to have a good day.

Feeling a little foggy after too much good food and wine the night before at the Gourmet Beach BBQ at Castle Rock Beach cooked by George Colombaris and Luke Dale-Roberts, my first taste stop had to be coffee at Dimattina. The Western Australian coffee roasters import their beans from all over the world including Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Sumatra. They had a mini roaster on site that took between nine and 13 minutes to roast the green beans.  Caffeine hit the spot nicely.

As a Gourmet Escape seasoned veteran – well, I went to the inaugural event last year – I went straight to the Gourmet Traveller Wine theatre as soon as we arrived to book into a wine education tasting session. I liked the look of the chardonnay tasting and paid 1 GEM to reserve my place at 3pm. The panel of prominent Margaret River wine makers commented and shared their thoughts as we tasted five different but palatable chardonnays from Juniper Estate, Leeuwin Estate Art Series (crowd favourite), Flametree, Xanadu (wine maker Glenn Goodall is a finalist in the Gourmet Traveller Wine winemaker of the year awards), and Vasse Felix.Image

I tried the Swedish Rekonderlig apple cider, only because my husband had gone off with my wine tasting glass so I had to have something that came in bottle or plastic cup, as the case was. I’m not a cider fan, but on a hot day, the Rekonderlig cider was cold, refreshing and thankfully not sickly-sweet. I’m now a cider convert.

I had to have the Mount Barker chicken liver parfait with Manjimup truffles, chardonnay jelly served with crusty Jean-Pierre Sancho baguette from Muster Bar and Grill.  The pate was rich, smooth and creamy.  The Goanna Gallery and Bush Café’s beer braised ox cheek bun with truffle mustard was a hit and needed the pickled cabbage on top to cut through the richness of the meat.  Weaving between happy patrons, I was impressed with the variety of stall holders; oysters from South Australia, chocolate artisans and chocolate makers, bakers, macaroon specialists, gelati stall, green tea, organic coffee, kitchen gadgets, truffles, imported cheese, local cheese, organic butchers, farmers, cook books galore, healthy juices and treats, and cocktail making classes.

Muster Chicken Liver Parfair

Muster Chicken Liver Parfair

The Margaret River Gourmet Escape is much more than wine and food sampling over two days at Leeuwin Estate. There were 28 satellite events held across the region from long table winery lunches, to beach BBQs, to dinner with Heston Blumenthal, as well as educational sessions with chefs at the cutting edge of food trends.

I’ll be back next year. What’s not to love when the best of Margaret River is all in one place? And what a beautiful place it is.

FACT FILE

Margaret River Gourmet Escape
22-24 November 2013
Annual event held in the Margaret River region each November
Tickets start from $38

This story was also published on Escape Lounge

Margaret River named amongst world’s friendliest places

Margaret River has been named one of the world’s Top 10 friendliest places, according to a readers’ choice survey by acclaimed travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler.

It comes as no surprise to me – every single time I go to Margaret River, I fall more in love with it. One day I’ll live there or at least have a house there so I can spend more time there. It is one of my favourite places on the planet. There is a sense of calmness that washes over me every time I drive through the bushland that flanks Caves Road; it’s like stress instantaneiously leaves my body.

One of only two Australian destinations to make the Top 10 list, Margaret River – which has also been named Best Town in Australia by readers of Australian Traveller for the past two years – tied for sixth place and was praised for its stunning vineyards and beaches.

A Conde Nast Traveler spokesperson said, “It’s no wonder this small town, just south of Perth on Australia’s west coast, ranked high in the friendliest category: It’s known for excellent vineyards and plenty of surfing; who wouldn’t be happy? Our readers also praised the town’s ambience and restaurants.”

Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association CEO Simon Ambrose was delighted with the achievement and said he couldn’t agree more that Margaret River was a truly friendly place.

Photo credit: margaretriver.com

Photo credit: margaretriver.com

“Margaret River is certainly a relaxed, laid-back place, the locals are cheerful and helpful – there are always smiles on people’s faces around here,” said Mr Ambrose.

“To wake up each day in Margaret River is what people might refer to as ‘living the dream’ – which explains why it’s full of such friendly people! Margaret River is just a happy, beautiful place to live – and that sentiment really rubs off on the people who visit.”

The only other Australian destination to make the list was Hobart, which was named in second place, beaten to the top spot by the “Island of Magic”, Florianopolis in Brazil.

The survey also uncovered the world’s most unfriendly cities, with Newark, New Jersey voted the worst. For the full list of the Top 10 friendliest and unfriendliest places, click here.

My two favourite things: Chocolate and Wine

Thanks to the Margaret River Discovery Co. for this post.

Those who love fine chocolate and fine wine find key points of similarity. Both are made from fruit (the cocoa nibs from which chocolate is made are the seeds of the fruit of the cocoa tree, and fruit was eaten by early Americans long before they discovered how to make chocolate beverage from the seeds). The flavour and aroma yielded by both cacao pod and grape are a function of not only their rootstock, but of their soil, climate, and the weather conditions affecting any single harvest.

Both are made from a blend of beans or grapes, each with distinct flavour profiles; and when the product is made from a blend, it adds to the complexity of tastes.Bahen&Co02

The good news for those who love them both is that wine and chocolate complement each other. What might sound at first like an unlikely marriage is quite a harmonious one—with a bit of pre-marital counselling. As with foods, there are many kinds of chocolate preparations with different flavour profiles; so no one wine is a universal match. While that creates a challenge to find the perfect suitor for a box of assorted bonbons; it also makes it fun to seek your favourite pairings, and test on an ongoing basis which combinations you prefer.

In general, semisweet and bittersweet chocolates go best with stronger red wines while milk and white chocolates paired better with lighter reds and sweeter white wines. The perfect pairing balances sweetness, fruitiness, and acidity—and your own flavour preferences, of course.

The cocoa butter in the chocolate mellows out the tannins and astringency; and fine dark chocolate (semisweet and bittersweet) has enough complexity to hold its own with most reds.Bahen&Co1

Some say it can’t be done, pairing wine with chocolate, but if you have the right wine to complement the right chocolate it can be a match made in heaven! Whether you are pairing a delicate white chocolate or a lively dark chocolate with wine, there are a few pairing tips to keep in mind.

Rule #1, keep in mind that pairing wine and chocolate is not a straightforward pairing. It can take a bit of experimenting to find the best wine and chocolate combinations. Remember your palate impressions may be very different from those you are tasting and testing with. Try to keep the wine sweeter than the chocolate; otherwise the two can really clash raising up bitter notes instead of the smooth synergy of a well-paired union.

For example, a bittersweet chocolate tends to pair well with an intense, in-your-face California Zinfandel or even a tannin-driven Cabernet Sauvignon. The darker the chocolate the more tannins it will display. However when you pair this darker chocolate up with a wine that has stout tannins, the chocolate will often overshadow or cancel out the wine’s tannins on the palate and allow more fruit to show through.Bahen&Co06

As part of the Margaret River Best of the Best Wine Tour you will experience Bahen & Co House Blend with Cape Mentelle current release Cabernet Sauvignon .

Bahen & Co. founder, Josh Bahen, has a decade of experience in the making of fine wine and a wine-makers attention to craftsmanship. Together with his wife Jacq they operate the chocolate making facility from a family operated farm in Margaret River.

Here’s what Josh has to say about the match with the House Blend 70%:

A selection of single plantation cacao stone ground to produce a complex chocolate in a distinct house style. All of the beans we use in our chocolate are sourced directly from farmers we work with.

Blend Breakdown:

  • 45% Brazil – Heirloom Forestaro Variety – A very strong & chocolatey bean. High in tannin.
  • 45% Madagascar – This plantation is a mixture of both Criollo & Trinitario Variety – Very fruity, citrus & raison. Low in tannin.
  • 10% Papua New Guinea – Heirloom Trinitario Variety – fruit driven – raspberry – Low in tannin.

Pairings:
High quality wines pair very well with high quality/high cocoa content chocolates. As a general rule – the more powerful the wine, the more powerful the chocolate.

Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon – The House Blend goes really well this varietal.CapeMentelle1

Procedure:
Take a piece of the chocolate, begin to taste and allow the chocolate flavour to develop in the mouth. Once the chocolate has been swallowed, the wine can be tasted. The House Blend has some interesting berry fruity notes combined with roasted, earthen & chocolate flavours. The fruit/berry notes from the Cabernet gape together with the more savoury notes from the oak generally combine exceptionally well with this chocolate.MRDCo1

The Margaret River Discovery Co has just announced wine and chocolate tastings included in their Margaret River Best of the Best Wine Tour. Featuring chocolate from Bahen and Co. Chocolate matched with Cape Mentelle’s iconic Cabernet Sauvignon.

Travelletto addition:

The special thing to note is that there are just two ingredients in Bahen  & Co Chocolate:  cacoa (70%) and sugar (30%).  They use traditional methods to make chocolate, which is what makes it so good – and good for you.  Josh Bahen said, “Eating good dark chocolate regularly reduces body mass by five per cent.” So, where can I buy some? See below for more.

Bahen & Co is set to expand. It is no surprise – they have a fantastic product and admirable work ethos.  Watch this space.

FACT FILE

Margaret River Discovery Co runs wine and soft adventure tours in a luxury Range Rover 4WD:  Sean Blocksridge discover@margaretriverdiscovery.com.au or 0439 910 064 for more.

Buy Bahen & Co Chocolate from any good gourmet retailer or online direct.

Lunch at Cullen Winery, Margaret River, Western Australia

Cullen Winery has a reputation as producing some of Margaret River’s best wines. It claims to be the first winery in the region in 1971.  However, if you speak to their neighbours Vasse Felix Winery, they might tell you a similar story.

What I love about Cullen, besides the award winning wines, gorgeous setting with a cellar door made of stone and the adjoining restaurant that over looks the vines, is Vanya Cullen’s philosophy of biodynamics and the use of organic produce.

Cullen Winery has the kind of vegetable garden that my Italian grandparents would have approved of.  Crops are planted in rotation, some are left to go to seed so there are crops for next season, and it fertilised with nurtured with natural compost.  Head Chef Matt Egan can venture out to the garden and pick what will be featured on the menu that day. Edible flowers from chives that are going to seed, or the flowers from sugar snap peas and other such pretty edible flowers are often used to decorate dishes.

Sustainable seafood tasting plate

Sustainable seafood tasting plate

Zorba and I shared the sustainable seafood tasting plate for entree ($23); seared whiting with raw vegetable salad, smoked barramundi with apple, saffron and celery remoulade, and seared scallop with pickled ginger and wakami salad. Every element was divine. The scallop was my favourite, caramelised on the outside and perfectly cooked. The wakami salad has a delicious asian seaweed flavour and added a wonderful texture to the soft scallop.

For main, it was hard to look past the seared Cone Bay barramundi with herbed macadamia crust, potato puree and fennel cream ($39).  Crunchy nuts crusted skin on the fish, perfectly smooth potato paste, crunchy fennel shavings and the delicate fennel flavour.  I could have that dish once per week and not ever get sick of it. Really beautiful. And healthy.

Cone Bay Barramundi

Cone Bay Barramundi

Zorba had organic beef sirlion, rosemary potato gratin, vine roasted tomatoes and baked mushrooms with balsamic glaze ($38).  He finished every last mouthful in almost record time. He was absolutely satisfied with his lunch.

Organic sirloin

Organic sirloin

We washed our lunch down with a glass each of Cullen Chardonnay ($13.50)

I’ve had the pleasure of eating at Cullen several times and every mouthful is not only delicious, it actually feels like I’m eating nutritious food that is energising my body.  It feels good.

After lunch, we drove a short distance to Gabriel Chocolate for coffee – delicious mocha.

Cullen is a fantastic place to go for lunch. It is not cheap, but it is good and there’s the added bonus of knowing that you are going to have a lovely drop to go with your lunch – their wines are renowned around the world for good reason.

FACT FILE

Cullen Winery
4323 Caves Road, Wilyabrup (Margaret River Region) Western Australia 6280
(08) 9755 5277

Cullen Winery Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Margaret River Gourmet Escape

It’s about time that one of the best wine and food regions in the country had a festival fitting to celebrate all that is offers.  Hello Margaret River Gourmet Escape.

The inaugural event was held in November (2012) with the main Gourmet Village festival hosted at the renowned Leeuwin Estate winery on Saturday and Sunday. There were many satellite events that paid tribute to or showcased the culinary skills of some of the world’s best chefs and Australia’s leading chefs.

Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 6.10.45 PM

There were four big-name International chefs, 23 Australian chefs, three wine masters and writers, and one food critic.  Names such as Heston Blumenthal, René Redzepi, Alex Atala, and David Chang standing side-by-side with Australia’s Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore, Tetsuya Wakuda, Matt Moran, George Colombaris, and Tony Howell from the famed Cape Lodge, the Gourmet Escape was set to be every foodie’s dream event.

The Gourmet Escape had been heavily promoted, and we expected that it was going to get really busy, so we arrived early, about 30 minutes before doors opened at 11am. We weren’t the only ones there early, there was a crowd forming.  I don’t think the organisers expected this as we were ushered into queues like sheep three time before being allowed in. Queue to get wrist bands, queue to get GEMS (currency – I’ll explain that later) and queue to buy a $5 wine glass for tasting.  Parking onsite was easy and plentiful at that time of the morning.

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

The currency on site for wine and food tastings as well as entry into some of the events were known as GEMS – cardboard tokens that cost $7 each. Thankfully we had pre-purchased some with our tickets (four each). Later in the day it became a headache trying to buy more GEMS.  Purchases for some other items could be paid for by cash and / or card, depending on the vendor. I bought a vegetable peeler / shredder (3 for $20 – Merry Christmas Mum and Mother-in law!), a set of 3 vac seal plastic containers ($80 – yep, it was at the end of the day after a touch too much wine, but I have to say they are ace!), and some deliciously healthy green tea from Gano Vital (4 tins of 25 tea bags for $60).

Yummy pork slider

Yummy pork slider

Of the 100+ exhibitors / stall at Leeuwin Estate, there were 14 pop up restaurants, cooking demos, panel discussions, wine tasting, music including a quite bizarre lady playing the spoons to a crowd of captivated children, and merchants selling everything from sprout growing kits to stainless steel cookware to organic olive oil. Of course there were loads of wine tasting stalls and a small taste was free.  A glass of wine cost 1 GEM ($7).  A tapas size plate of food was 1 GEM.  The food did seem a little light on compared to the number of wine stalls.

Some of the events onsite cost GEMS to enter. Because we arrived super early, we paid and registered for the Riedel cheese and wine matching session at 2pm (45mins duration). That cost 1 GEM and we all agreed it was the best value for money of the day. We were given four half-glasses of wine, four cheeses to taste with the matching wine, and a copy of Gourmet Wine Magazine. I was interesting and the wines and cheeses were delicious.  Bargain for 1 GEM.

Wine and cheese matching in the Riedel wine theatre

Wine and cheese matching in the Riedel wine theatre

Because of our early arrival, we were able to secure a space – a little arm chair and some stools under the Little Creatures marquee.  There was a small group of us coming and going all day and it served as the perfect meeting patch and respite from the bleating sun for those with more sensitive skin.

Zorba relaxing on a Little Creatures arm chair

Zorba relaxing on a Little Creatures arm chair

Later in the afternoon, we listened to a talk by Rene Redzepi, head chef of Noma Restaurant in Denmark that has wine the San Pellegrino best restaurant of the year twice. Interesting.

The main stage

The main stage

Sadly, Heston didn’t make to Australia after a fatal car accident in Hong Kong involving two of his chefs a couple of days before.

The Satellite events included BBQs on the beach cooked by Matt Moran and George Colambaris ($150pp), a long table lunch at Fraser Gallop winery ($180pp), a tribute dinner to Heston Blumenthal at Vasse Felix ($300pp) just to name a few. They all sounded fantastic, but seriously expensive. So we just opted for the Gourmet Village ($37pp plus GEMS).

The general vibe of the Gourmet Village was relaxed, although is was packed for a few hours in the middle of the day. Thank goodness for our little patch we secured!  It was a really enjoyable day and I’ll definitely be back next year.  I would say from what everyone has been saying since it was held, that the Gourmet Escape has been a huge success.  Well done!

FACT FILE

Margaret River Gourmet Escape
23-25 November 22012
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..hic..!

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Cape Lodge, Margaret River, Western Australia

Conde Naste Traveller magazine voted Cape Lodge as one of the top ten boutique hotels in the world in 2011 and 2012 and it’s easy to see why.  It is fine dining done with understated elegance.  Tables are nicely spaced apart, the wait staff are well briefed and carry out their duties like European professionals, and the restaurant is beautifully appointed with views over a little lake (aka a dam).

Head Chef Tony Howell changes the menu daily to reflect the fresh produce he has been able to source that day.  It is magnificent for dinner and breakfast. This is a dining experience no foodie would want to miss.

This terrific clip, put together by Tourism Western Australia, showcases Cape Lodge’s restaurant and head chef Tony Howell.

I could eat here every day and never grow tired of it.  Never ever. Although I’m not sure I’d be a able to fund that – it is pricey, but for what you get, it is extremely good value. Especially breakfast.

It’s no surprise that world’s best chefs are all staying at Cape Lodge during the Margaret River Gourmet Escape that is coming up.

FACT FILE

Cape Lodge
3341 Caves Road, Yallingup Western Australia.
Tel: +61 8 9755 6311
Stay@CapeLodge.com.au

Restaurant is open every day for breakfast and dinner. Bookings essential.

 
Cape Lodge Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Yallingup, Margaret River Region, Western Australia

Beautiful scenic laid back Yallingup is a fantastic place to have a weekend break.  The name Yallingup is an Aboriginal word meaning “place of love” (the “up” part meaning “place of”).

Located about 3 hours drive south of Perth, 40-mintues north of Margaret River township, Yallingup is renowned for its great surf, award-winning wineries, spectacular coastline, ancient caves, and as an added bonus, the country side is dotted with unique art galleries.  Famous surfer Taj Burrow, current fifth in the men’s world ranking, lives in Yallingup.

The Margaret River Region is also a bio-diverse hot-spot, meaning that there are over 2500 species of flora in the area.   It’s stunning.

We stayed at the Seashells Yallingup Resort which is next to the iconic Caves House accommodation and pub.

The one bedroom apartment was beautifully refurbished, well appointed and spacious.  It exceeded my expectations. I was expecting much less for the special price of $110 per night.

It is easy walking distance to Yallingup Beach and surrounded by beautiful gardens and loads of trees.  Admittedly, I was apprehensive about staying so close to Caves House – a pub that has a reputation for big nights.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  The room was quiet and comfortable.  In the apartment we a washing machine and dryer, foxtel, leather sofa, kitchen with a dishwasher and a lovely balcony complete with BBQ.

Whilst there are so many beaches in the area worth noting – Yallingup, Canal Rocks, Smith’s Beach, it was Gracetown that we loved. Check out my photos in the slideshow below.

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FACT FILE

Seashells Yallingup
Yallingup Beach Road, Yallingup WA  6282
Tel: +61 8 9750 1500
Email: yallingup@seashells.com.au

Here’s an extract from the tourism website:

Located at the northern end of the region, Yallingup has bred some of the world’s greatest surfers. Home to a relaxed local community, Yallingup is a small town nestled amongst the trees along the coast, just south of Cape Naturaliste.  After its caves were discovered by European settlers in 1899, Yallingup became popular with tourists – today, tourism and viticulture are Yallingup’s primary industries. The beaches of Yallingup are well known surfing locations, and are also suitable for fishing. The Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park houses Canal Rocks, a coastal rock formation, and limestone caves.  The Cape to Cape Track runs across the beach to the west of the town and Yallingup is one of the few towns located along the track.