Walking through a light-filled art gallery into the cellar door of Wills Domain, I’m not looking at the the gorgeous installations because the view has captured my full attention. Undulating hills with rows and rows of vines that seemingly lead to a Manor-style house on a far-away hill opposite.
Just off Abbey Farm Road in the Gunyulup Valley, Wills Domain was established 14 years ago on 60 hectares of prime grape-growing land.
I’m here for the food, and some wine (I’m driving), but mainly food. People have been raving about Wills Domain of late. I ate here about two years ago and it was, well, non-descript really. Nice enough but it didn’t blow my mind. How things have changed.
If you haven’t eaten at Wills Domain in the last 18 months, then book a table and go there now. Chef Seth James is ex Cutler & Co (Melb) and has a strong food philosophy and has been working to make his mark in the region.
In his effort to further develop his focus on seasonal, local and fresh produce, he has created his own vegetable and herb garden behind the restaurant using its bounty daily . Under his leadership, Wills Domain for the second year in a row proudly won the West Australian Good Food Guide’s Best Regional restaurant 2015.
Unusual ingredients feature in his dishes – many of them foraged and / or native – and the poor wait staff were so patient with my bombardment of questions, and impressively, knew all the answers:
Q: What’s bunya bunya? (in the entree Marron, quandong, jamón and bunya bunya)
A: It’s a type of pine nut, an indigenous ingredient. It’s a little bit sweet
Q: And quandong? That’s a fruit isn’t it?
A: Yes, it’s a bush tucker fruit, sometimes called a bush peach.
Q: What’s fat hen? (in the main Flinders Island Wallaby, celeriac, Illawarra plum, fat hen).
A: It’s a weed, the chefs went foraging this morning and got it from over there (it’s also related to quinoa)
Q: And nettle? (in the main Market Fish, Jerusalem artichoke, smoked nettle and nashi)
A: It grows wild, a bit like a weed, the chef foraged for that this morning from over there [waiter points to yonder]
After a refreshing glass of sparking wine, our entrees came out. Spectacular plating made each dish seem more like a work of art than something to chow into.
My Marron, quandong, jamón and bunya bunya ($26) was magnificent. The marron was perfectly cooked and the unusual flavours of quandong and bunya bunya has my taste buds delicately dancing. All the flavours worked together.
Out comes the gorgeous Single Vineyard Chardonnay to accompany my main of Market Fish, Jerusalem artichoke, smoked nettle and nashi (MP, $40). The elegant chardonnay was golden in colour with hues of straw, a toasty bouquet of stone fruit and cashews and a light buttery mouthfeel. Hints of subtle oak lingered after each sip. It was a stunning testament to Margaret River chardonnays ($36 bottle from cellar door).
My main meal was as impressive as my entree. Beautiful snapper that was mixed with surprising flavours that simply made every mouthful a delight. All elements were perfectly executed and the dish beautifully plated.
Dessert was next. The maitre de warned me that today was not a day to give up sugar. So for one course only, I strayed from the paleo way to indulge in all three desserts offerings that our table shared: fresh figs, salted caramel and fennel ($17); orange & poppy seed, blackberry, fromage blanc and green olive ($19); and also chocolate, beetroot and caraway ($18). I love that the chef uses savoury ingredients in the dessert.
My mind hasn’t be blown by a meal for a long time (besides Guy Grossi’s tiramisu which I’m still dreaming about).
The day we dined, chef Seth James was on a day off, so I didn’t have the opportunity to shake the talented man’s hand. His team did a truly excellent job and I can’t wait to go back to eat there again and try some different dishes.
Verdict: 9.5 / 10.
Perfectly executed food, plated beautifully, featuring unusual flavours that all married well together, friendly yet professional service, a stunning winery setting with vistas of rolling hills and vines, and really gorgeous wine. The upper end of the scale as far as price point goes, but worth it. A winner.
Lot 341 Brash Road, Yallingup (off Abbey Farm Road)
Tel: 08 9755 2327
Open 12pm – 3pm, seven days per week. Bookings recommended.