I have to admit I am one of those people that tend to get a bit starry eyed with fancy restaurants that get into the big halls of fame. I am always hinting to the Boy that the holiday of my lifetime would be one where we travel around the world business class eating at the top ten restaurants in the San Pelligrino World’s Best. Focusing more locally than globally, the West Australian Good Food Guide is a highly esteemed annual publication where top restaurants around the state can be awarded one, two or three stars.
For the awards this year, there were five Perth venues and four regional venues that received a two star rating. This award is considered to identify “the best of the best: that small band of restaurateurs who are at the very apex of professional cooking and service”. As yet no Western Australian restaurant has ever achieved a three star rating.
In the weeks preceding our recent trip down to Margaret River I booked a table at Wills Domain, the winner of two stars in addition to the best WA regional restaurant of the year. I wanted fancy and was certain this would fit the bill perfectly.
The restaurant faces out onto the winery boasting 180 degree views of the sweeping vineyards. It had been a very wet weekend and we were blessed with some of the first rays of sunshine we had seen for days. A nippy breeze remained in the air to remind us that summer was still a few weeks away. We started off at Wills Domain’s cellar door to try a few of their wines and walked away appreciating why they hold a number of accolades for their collection. Suffice to say we didn’t walk away empty handed, in fact we had to pick up a full case on the way out!
Once seated at our table, we asked for some spice roasted almonds and marinated olives to be brought out while we perused the menu. I had forced the Boy to go on a short but rather hilly jog earlier in the morning and both our tummies were rumbling as loud as the thunderstorm the night before. The nuts were roasted with smoked paprika, cumin, coriander seeds and honey and packed a decent punch of flavour.
We both ordered the gin cured trout for entrée. Many of you may know about my gin obsession so for me this was a logical choice. Bright colours of locally grown heirloom beetroots, nasturtium flowers and pickles wound elegantly around the plate like a Spring garden bed. I found the “prawn crackers” quite curious. They were actually made from trout skins that are dried and puffed. You could even see the tiny little scales in them. They dissolved on the tongue satisfyingly.
After a considerable wait for our next dish whilst surrounded by very vocal young babies, our mains finally arrived. I was craving beef which is unusual for me so I ordered the Wagyu brisket despite getting a low brow from my dear husband.
I haven’t had red meat in some time, not necessarily because I don’t want it but more so because the Boy no longer eats it and we usually share our food! Three solid chunks of Ningaloo Wagyu brisket were served plank style with fresh kale, parsnip puree and fresh orange.
This was a very simple dish with each element done perfectly but I couldn’t help but feel that this was a very safe menu choice and lacked the creativity and imagination I would have expected for a two starred restaurant. The meat shredded with no effort under my fork and oozed that characteristic smooth, buttery flavour that one can only expect from Wagyu.
The Boy ordered the line caught snapper served with mussels, cuttlefish, fennel and nettles. His fish was also tenderlicious and flakable using only the freshest ingredients and served with a relaxed level of simplicity. We ordered a couple of sides to accompany our mains; roasted pumpkin with seeds and pomegranate and the radicchio and baby cos with buttermilk dressing.
Now as I have told you before, the bar has been set for the most amazing roast pumpkin in all the land by Rockpool. I have now eaten their version of this side dish at more than one Rockpool location, and, on half a dozen occasions. It never fails to woo me every time. If you are going to make a basic dish like this, then make sure you make it really really well! Wills Domain is first place I can confidently say serves roasted pumpkin that is AS GOOD AS ROCKPOOL’S!
Yes, I called it!
There was another fairly extended delay until our plates were cleared and another again before our smiley waitress finally brought the dessert menus out for us. Not quite the polished service I was expecting. As is often the case I couldn’t decide between cheese and sweets so the Boy and I agreed to share one of each. However, in a rare moment of contradiction, we found that we couldn’t agree on which cheese. Accustomed to usually ordering them all, it is a difficult task picking just one! We solved things the old fashioned way and flipped a coin. To my delight I won and selected the Vigneron cheese, or “winemaker’s cheese”.
This cheese is sourced from Woodside Cheese Wrights in South Australia and was created to “showcase the vine leaves and wines” from their vineyards in McLaren Vale. The young cheeses are wrapped in specially selected vine leaves and then washed in white wine. The end result is a fairly complex tasting cheese with a pleasant sweet, slightly earthy flavour ending with a nutty after-taste.
The Boy’s choice of dessert to share was the bitter sweet chocolate slab served with coconut ice cream, passionfruit gel and fresh fruit. The full gluteny version also has a macadamia crumb but the chef was happy to serve the crumb in a little bowl on the side so the Boy could enjoy this component without me.
Overall, our meal at Wills Domain was very enjoyable however I cannot deny I walked away a little disappointed. We have been fortunate enough to dine at a decent number of starred restaurants around Australia and I expected their service to be as polished as their food. Whilst our wait staff were dynamic and friendly, there was long waits between courses, empty plates remained on tables for prolonged times, and even though I made my booking a few weeks in advance, we were seated down the end of the balcony between two families with young children rather than in the body of the restaurant. If I hadn’t built up my expectations due to their rating, we would have actually had a fabulous day and will have to go back again to see if this was a once off.Wills Domain Lot 341 Brash Road (Corner of Abbey Farm Road & Brash Road), Yallingup WA | (08) 9755 2327 | www.willsdomain.com.au Price: $$$ (Entrees $19-21, Mains $29-39) Food: 4/5 (simple, executed precisely without fanfare or extravagance) Service: 3/5 (friendly but inattentive & slow) Ambience: 3.5/5 (placed between two noisy families it was hard to appreciate potential) Drinks: 4.5/5 (the wines are superb, our fav was the 2009 Reserve Bitza) Total: 15/20