It is no secret that this little blog has been on “sabbatical” and whilst I have continued to explore eating our city’s gluten free options, I haven’t had the gumption to write about it. Some may say this is a little selfish and I cannot deny I have been racked with guilt from neglecting this much loved creation. For those of you who know me, you will understand why. I have been somewhat preoccupied with the realisation of a long-term dream that is totally unrelated to food. I have pursued keenly for the past eight years of my life the ambition of opening the first cat-only hospital in Perth and finally this year after much hard work my dream has come true. Opening a hospital from scratch is no mean feat and consequently blogging had to take a back seat for fear of it becoming a chore rather than a hobby. Trust me, no one wants to read what I write when I’m bored, it’s total snoozeville.
This year Valentine’s Day fell on the day before our big opening and the Boy knew he had to do something to calm my rattling nerves. After heading into the hospital with me in the morning to put some final touches including hanging up the gorgeous cat art that I had bought over the years in my travels, we headed out to Jarrahdale to Millbrook Winery.
It is impossible not to fall in love with this winery, and within seconds of arriving I immediately felt my pulsing veins in my head relax, my breath deepen and my stress wash away. I was thankful that my obsession with organising had taken a back seat and that I had let the Boy choose our venue. We were warmly greeted and shown to a perfect table overlooking the water, with lots of beautiful natural light cascading onto us. After a run of stinking hot days in Perth we were blessed with a day of cool breezes and gentle sun.
Millbrook’s Valentine’s Day menu consisted of a three course menu with a glass of 2010 Blanc de Blanc sparkling for $99 per person. Whilst the Boy and I thought at first that there wouldn’t be enough food for our inflated appetites, I can guarantee the meal sizes are substantial. There were plenty of gluten free options and the kitchen and wait staff were very aware of avoiding cross contamination.
Staying true with it being a day to celebrate being a couple, we decided to order everything gluten free so we could share each other’s dishes. We even shared the matching wines as they were different for each dish. We have our cute moments and this was one of them. Our first dish of blood plums and duck hearts was so pretty it was a shame to deconstruct it to eat.
Utilising colourful seasonal vegetables and leaves from the vineyard’s own gardens, this dish was an abundance of sweet crunch and juicy heartiness, if you pardon the pun. I haven’t tried duck hearts before, and probably wouldn’t have ordered this dish if the Boy hadn’t wanted to. The hearts were a lot more gentle in flavour than I expected, and their texture was so soft and delicate.
Our second entrée also showcased some produce from the chef’s pride and joy country garden. Some flavourful preserved vegetables accompanied barbecued Fremantle octopus with house-made safflower mayonnaise. I am a bit particular about my octopus, if it is as tough as old boots I just can’t be bothered eating it. I figure there is no point eating food that uses more calories to eat it than it provides you. Suffice to say there was no food wastage with this dish and in fact when no one was looking the Boy would intermittently sweep his finger over the plate to get every last morsel of flavour before licking his finger clean. My mother would be horrified. I simply smiled.
For our two mains we shared the viognier braised rabbit risotto and the beef brisket. The risotto was creamy, with big chunks of tender local rabbit and topped with crispy pancetta and fine shavings of parmigiano reggiano.
Fears of being underfed quickly left us as we gazed across the full table packed with colourful greens, potatoes and our mains. The beef brisket was served with a bean salad, white anchovies and healthy dollop of mustard. I so rarely eat beef these days but again I was glad I followed the Boy’s wishes and ordered this dish. The meat was so lovingly prepared it fell apart with the most gentlest nudge of the fork.
As the Boy and I had our commonplace discussion of whether we would order cheese versus dessert for our final courses, we were given some fresh fruit as a simple and mouth watering palate cleanser. As I cannot tolerate watermelon due to the high fructose content, they were happy to offer me some beautiful grapes plucked from the vines.
We ended up ordering both cheese and dessert with the continuous plan of sharing each others dishes. The chef created a special gluten free dessert for us using beautiful, seasonal fresh and dried stone fruits with chocolate chunks and sorbet.
Our cheese course was just as decadent. The highlight of the plate was a round of vine-wrapped sheep cheese from Cambray Cheese. These local cheese makers are based in the south west in Nannup and make a selected range of artisans sheep cheese. I love the distinctive tang of cheese made with sheep milk, and it is lower in lactose meaning I have less of an aftermath!
A little heady and carefree from all the wine, I joined in with the Boy in a rare moment of mannerless enjoyment of food and simultaneously swept my own finger across the plate before licking my finger with a smirk on my face. If you can’t beat them, join them. After spending months and months of none stop talk about every tiny detail of the cat hospital, we both realised we had actually gone through the whole lunch without even mentioning it once! He had truly fulfilled my need to switch off and relax for just a short while. Or perhaps it was a need for us both! 😉
Chompchomp dined at Millbrook Winery at her (and the Boy’s) own expense. Millbrook Winery Old Chestnut Lane, Jarrahdale 6124 | (08) 9525 5796 | www.millbrookwinery.com.au Bookings recommended especially on weekends.
They say weddings bring out the best and the worst in people. It has been two years since I married my long-time love in Thailand and this saying rang true right down to the last minute. Staying on a positive note, it was the best side of my family and friends that remain closest to my heart. One of the most supportive and loving people among these heroes was my Dad.
Prior to our wedding, I confess that I could sometimes go for longer than a year without seeing his face. Now in my post-wedding enlightenment somewhat exacerbated by the knowledge we are not getting any younger, I am determined to change my ways. I will no longer think it acceptable to go for greater than six months without seeing either of my parents. Looks like I will be making more trips to Adelaide and Melbourne!
I am always a woman of my word and following with this pledge the Boy and I whizzed over for a whirlwind weekender in Melbourne to celebrate my father’s birthday. The first night we celebrated at home with a party that ran well into the wee hours of the night. Early next day we were enthusiastically prompted by Dad to piled into the car to visit their new venture; a beautiful character property in the Yarra Valley. The Boy and I were seriously hungover and sleep deprived, and we were followed by a convoy of guests in similar states from the night before.
To introduce us to the Healesville area, lunch was booked at Coombe Farm Winery’s Melba Estate. The restaurant is located in a restored building that was once the home of Dame Nellie Melba, one of our most famous Australian opera singers from the early 1900s. The building is surrounded by formal gardens that were landscaped over 100 years ago. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side with blustering wind and rain preventing us from exploring the gardens so we all bundled quickly into the restaurant where we were shown to our private dining area.
Being a large group booking we were provided a set menu for three courses at $59 per head with three choices for each course. There was a gluten free option for each course although some dishes required a little adaptation. It took quite some time for our order to be taken which was extended by further delays because our drink order was forgotten and subsequently reordered.
For entrée I chose the roasted beetroot salad with Yarra Valley white savourine, candied walnuts and mixed leaves. Savourine is a locally made semi matured goats cheese and it paired well with the sweeter flavours from the beetroot and candied nuts. I was also able to get some toasted gluten free bread on request which helped greatly to soak up the previous night’s residual champagne in my stomach.
Other options included the Boy’s choice of crab filled crisp zucchini flowers with lemon yoghurt. Upon dissecting out his zucchini flowers there was very little crab inside which left him disappointed. Other guests at our table ordered the duck liver pâté with Merlot poached figs and Melba toast. The pâté was smooth and velvety and could be served with gluten free toast on request.
Conversation flowed easily across the table as we were among family and close friends so it took us a while to realise that once again our table had been forgotten. Our wine glasses were bone dry, empty plates remained on our tables and our mains were nowhere to be seen. Frustrated with the lack of service, Dad got up from the table and marched off to find a waitress.
Shortly after that, our main meals arrived along with another couple of bottles of wine. It was so cold outside that nearly everyone had opted for the winter warming dish of dry aged Porterhouse steak. It was served with smooth kohlrabi rémoulade, hand cut chips and anchovy butter. I was sold on the mere mention of anchovy butter as for me it is nearly up there with truffle butter. Now hold onto your horses, I did say nearly!
Our mains were accompanied by two side dishes: triple cooked Sebago potatoes chunks with rosemary and garlic confit, and garden leaves with radish, goats cheese and a verjuice dressing. The potatoes were bland in comparison to my hand cut chips and needed liberal addition of more seasoning.
For our last course there was a choice of two desserts or a cheese platter. None of the dessert options were gluten free however the chef was happy to adapt the Peach Melba to be suitable.
Poached peaches, scoops of vanilla ice cream and peach sorbet were served with lashings of syrupy raspberry sauce. Tumbled amongst the peaches were freeze dried raspberries and raspberry jelly and the dish was topped with thin, chewy straps of dehydrated peach and raspberry. It was truly the best dish of the day. The words “happy birthday” written on my dad’s plate was a lovely personalised touch.
Being one of my family’s new local eating options, we couldn’t hide our disappointment in the level of inattentive service we received. While we were mostly happy with our food and I’m sure we will return, it just might take a while for us to work our way through the rest of the local venues first.
Coombe the Melba Estate
675 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream VIC 3770 | (03) 9739 0173 | www.coombeyarravalley.com.au
Gourmet Escape is a three day food and wine festival held each year in the Margaret River wine region. It has become a yearly favourite for locals and a huge drawcard for people interstate and internationally. Last year the festival clashed with some dates we had booked for a close friend’s birthday celebration in Lombok, so I thought we were only going to be able to make it down for the Friday. My usual plan of attack when attending a food festival is a crazed I-must-eat-all-the-things caper. I hate the thought that I might miss out on something delicious and end up booking back to back events like a lunatic. This approach often comes at a significant cost and thus our budget for these weekends is usually quite substantial.
When it dawned upon me that I only had a single day for Gourmet Escape, I thought I would push the boat out and chose one of the most expensive events: The International Cabernet Tasting at Cape Mentelle with James Halliday as a guest speaker and matched food by highly acclaimed chefs Jacques Reymond and Hadleigh Troy.
I should have known that it is impossible to try and plan your social life six months in advance. As it drew closer to the month of Gourmet Escape our travel plans fell through and subsequently the whole weekend opened up for us. One door closed and another door opened. I preceded to book a flurry of events and are yet to look at the damage it made on my credit card. I even bought tickets to a Fervor degustation for the evening after the Cabernet Celebration! This proved to be a learning lesson that I can no longer do two big food events in one day.
I have never been to an official wine tasting event before and whilst I am very experienced at drinking wine, I am a total amateur when it comes to tasting and describing wines. Cape Mentelle’s International Cabernet tasting is an event that has been running for over thirty years and at each event they select international wines from vintages from a specific year.
There were twenty wines selected for blind tasting from the vintage 2011. Cameron Murphy, the Estate Director at Cape Mentelle advised us that 2011 was a challenging year for many wine growing regions around the world resulting in some top labels not releasing a Cabernet or requesting that their wines were not to be included in the line-up for this event.
The wines were divided into three “brackets” and after tasting each bracket, we would congregate outside under the vines and listen to some top wine critics from around the country analyse and give their opinions. It was a very serious affair and once the tasting got under way the only noise I could hear were clinks of glasses hitting together and the occasional slurp from professional tasters spotted around the room.
We were given note books and pencils to take our own notes and with the ban on talking this gave me an opportunity to actually think about what I was tasting from each glass.
It took a couple of hours to get through the three brackets of wine accompanied by the wine critic’s discussions by which point I was desperate for something to eat. There was some plain bread and pear slices available to cleanse the palate between each bracket which I obviously couldn’t eat. After the tasting were completed, the list of wines were revealed for us to see. It was a proud moment to see that most of the critic’s best wine choices were from local WA wineries. Where the world had a bad vintage, our state seemed to come out with flying colours. Go WA!
Wines in order of tasting:
- Ridge Montebello (Napa Valley, USA)
- Woodlands (Margaret River, Australia)
- Houghton ‘Jack Mann’ (Frankland River, Australia)
- Mount Mary (Yarra Valley, Australia)
- Château Pichon – Longueville Baron, (Paulliac, Bordeaux)
- Domaine A (Tasmania, Australia)
- Sassicaia (Bolgheri, Italy)
- Wendouree (Claire, Australia)
- Spottswoode (Napa Valley, USA)
- Cloudburst (Margaret River, Australia)
- Cape Mentelle (Margaret River, Australia)
- Hentley Farm von Kasper Cabernet (Barossa, Australia)
- Château Palmer (Margaux, Bordeaux)
- Moss Wood (Margaret River, Australia)
- Cullen ‘Diana Madeline’ (Margaret River, Australia)
- Château Haut Brion (Graves, Bordeaux)
- Xanadu ‘Stevens Road’ (Margaret River, Australia)
- Far Niente (Napa Valley, USA)
- Château Léoville-Las Cases (Saint-Julien, Bordeaux)
- Ornellaia (Bolgheri, Italy)
With the formalities of the event over, we relaxed outside under the trees. There was free flowing Verve on pour coupled with some canapés to get us into the mood before lunch. For those first few brief minutes there was no gluten free option on offer and I watched the Boy devour his obscenely amazing smelling marron roll to himself. I was so hungry I nearly had shoestrings of saliva dripping down my face. Working my way through twenty wines has a way of doing that to my appetite! Thankfully I wasn’t kept waiting long and my own gluten free adapted marron roll made its way out of the kitchen before the Boy even had a chance to finish his.
The most popular canapé served was by far the Arkady lamb breast. Hardly an elegant morsel to eat at the best of times, I was lucky not to be wearing most of what I ate. Or maybe that was just the drool. After skipping breakfast followed by downing all those wines, I am assuring you I ate quite a few of these babies! 😉
After multiple rounds of lamb and marron, we made our way down onto the lawn where a beautiful white marquee was erected for lunch. We had live entertainment and the atmosphere was relaxed and jovial compared to the intense concentration and silence during the tastings.
Our first course was a velvety textured, slow cooked ocean trout served with a tomato and basil dressing, lemon celeriac remoulade and spiced marinated cucumber. After a morning of heavy reds, it was a nice interlude to lighten up the palate. The trout was matched with Cape Mentelle Wallcliffe Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2012.
For the main course we received a tender Butterfield beef short rib alongside some charred carrots and pine nut cream. To pair with this dish all twenty of the 2011 Cabernets that we tasted earlier were brought out and poured liberally until the late afternoon. I appreciated why this event cost so much as they were very generous with the serves.
We ended our incredible day with a cheese board containing some of my favourite French cheeses; Marcel Petite Gruyere de Comte, Fourme d’Ambert and Jouvence Brie Fermier. I was even given gluten free crackers on the side which was thoughtful of the chefs.
The Cape Mentelle International Cabernet Tasting was an incredibly unique experience and something quite unlike anything I have done before. It is a long day of drinking with the event starting at 10am and running into the late afternoon. It attracted both serious wine buffs and amateurs like me and had a non-pretentious and relaxed vibe…provided you do not talk during the tasting (note to self).
Disclaimer: Chompchomp paid in full for her ticket to the Gourmet Escape International Cabernet Celebration 2014. And, for those enquiring….no, she did not fall on her head at this event. She did however discover that Jacques Reymond is her father’s dopplerganger and consequently filled by Cabernet she MAY have waltzed over to the famous chef with the Boy armed with a photo of her father on her phone to enlighten Jacques of this fact. Suffice to say Jacques had swilled his own substantial quantity of Cabernet that afternoon and was left somewhat confused by our excitement. She will let you decided for yourselves.
Mandoon Estate have been producing boutique wines in the Swan Valley since 2010, and this year marks the opening of their incredible restaurant and beer garden. To celebrate this achievement, last week they held an invitation only Grand Opening launch party to introduce Perthites to this new kid on the block.
The venue is huge with a classy fine dining restaurant offering a degustation menu, a large beer hall facing out onto the vineyards serving shared tapas styled food, a casual beer garden where you can purchase “picnics” from the deli, private dining rooms, function rooms and more.
It is quite unlike anything in the Valley and sets a new standard for the region. Within minutes of our arrival I was already imagining the next event I could plan here! 😉
For the launch party, guests were treated to a number of bite size samples from the kitchen including plum coated slow roasted pork and the most tender Buffalo wings that slid off the bone in one gulp.
The service staff were very friendly and knowledgeable about the food that they were serving. After requesting what I could eat that was gluten free, one kind waitress came back minutes later with a plate of gluten free starters just for me.
Dotted around the vast venue were also some food stations. Our favourite was the sashimi and oyster bar which was set up inside the beer hall. Over the course of the evening the Boy nearly ate his whole body weight in sashimi and amidst a few groans was feeling a little overindulged for our drive homeward later that night.
Over in the beer garden were more food stations. The Peking Duck station was popular enough to accrue a queue of hungry guests however it was sadly not gluten free. I loved the colourful dessert station and was mesmerised by the chef torching the brulée as quickly as they were being whisked away by guests.
Mandoon Estate is a very impressive venue and would be a wonderful place to hire out for a large function or wedding party. I am hoping to return soon to check out their degustation menu which at a glance looked very focused on local produce from the region. Stay tuned for more….Disclaimer: Chompchomp was an invited guest of Mandoon Estate and would like to extend her appreciation for the invitation. Mandoon Estate 10 Harris Road, Caversham, WA 6055 | (08) 6279 0500 | www.mandoonestate.com.au
Unlike me, the Boy is lucky enough to have his parents living in the same city as we do. This is a luxury I have missed out enjoying on since my late teens and I cannot deny I am a little bit jealous. While I know both Mum and Dad are a quick phone call away, it would be wonderful to be able to just drop in and say hi, or pop out for a casual lunch together. The Boy doesn’t tend to organise regular catch ups with his family and sometimes it takes a special occasion to be able to bring us all together. With his parents celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year, we all agreed to meet in the Swan Valley for lunch. As per usual the booking was left up to me so I chose RiverBank Estate in Caversham.
The Boy and I arrived a bit early, it is easy to forget how close this part of the Valley is to the city. It only took us twenty minutes to get there from our house in Vic Park. There aren’t many cities around the world that boast being this close to a vineyard region! We ordered some bread and Lescure butter while we waited for his family to arrive. The Boy’s dinner roll was so shiny it glimmered in the sun. My gluten free bread was also quite a treat; it was toasted in a sandwich press giving it a satisfying crunchy exterior yet the inside of the bread still remained soft.
There were a number of dishes on the menu that were either gluten free or able to be adapted. The chefs at RiverBank make all their meals fresh to order so changing or altering ingredients to accommodate for dietary requirements was not an issue for them. The Boy and I started with sharing two entrées together.
The house cured salmon was prepared using high quality fish topped with horseradish cream and beetroot jelly. The salmon had a luscious melt in the mouth texture without leaving any strong fishy aftertaste.
Our second entrée was the seared scallops served on a bed of roasted sweet potato and garlic purée. It was topped with some shards of crispy pancetta. The scallops were much more substantial sized than those I had recently with my Dad in Melbourne and left a wonderful creamy texture on the palate.
Both my mother-in-law and I ordered the fish of the day; a Gold Band snapper served with a summery celeriac and caper coleslaw. Our plates were an array of colour garnished with vibrant spring flowers that were nearly too pretty to eat.
The snapper was topped with a Japanese squid salad along with a spoonful of fresh Moreton Bay bug salsa. After all my recent excessive overeating this dish was just the perfect, light meal that I was looking for.
My father in law and sister both ordered the pork belly which I didn’t get a chance to grab a photo of but they were both very happy with their choices. The Boy and his brother both ordered the more hearty braised duck leg which was served with a polenta and rabbit terrine and sautéed wild mushrooms. This dish was also gluten free which allowed me to have a little nibble.
The duck was slightly overcooked making some of the meat a little dry. There was plenty of juiciness from the rich mushrooms to balance this out to a degree. The Boy also felt the polenta was a little bland in flavour.
The Boy’s family are big eaters and so I made sure to order some sides to make sure that they were all full by the end of the afternoon. Our waitress advised me that their chips cannot be guaranteed gluten free as the deep fryer may contain traces of gluten. However the duck fat potatoes were fried in the pan making them gluten free. I couldn’t help but reach over and grab a couple before they all vanished.
For our desserts the most popular dish across the table was the soft meringue which luckily was also the gluten free dessert option on the menu. It was served with poached pear slices, bright pink raspberry sorbet and Persian fairy floss, or “hair” as the Boy likes to call it. The meringue was fluffy, squishy and delicious all in one mouthful. A winner all around the table.
The Boy being his usual self opted for feeding his addiction and ordered a selection of ice cream and sorbet. No surprises there! It is hard not to please him with a bowl of ice cream and there were certainly no complaints.
RiverBank Estate proved to be the perfect spot for us to meet up with my in-laws for Sunday lunch. The meals were big enough to feed their Dutch appetites and the atmosphere was relaxed enough for us to while away the afternoon laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I look forward to finding another family occasion to bring them back!Disclaimer: As much as Chompchomp and the Boy would loved to be wealthy enough to say “lunch is on us” sadly they are still waiting to win first division lotto and hope that this will be happening in the near future. It’s only a matter of time really. Instead they opted to use their Entertainment card for a discount off the total bill. RiverBank Estate 126 Hamersley Road, Caversham WA 6055 | (08) 9377 1805 | riverbankestate.com.au
Since leaving the East coast as a fresh faced teenager to pursue a career in veterinary science, I quickly learnt to depend on only myself. While I already had an innate level of independence at that age, being separated from my parents by thousands of kilometres had a way of perfecting this skill. Nearly two decades have passed since then and I’m now at a point in my life now where I realise being fiercely self reliant isn’t always a good thing. Recognising that I need and am needed by my close family members seems much more relevant, especially given the distance that separates some of us. I haven’t lived in the same city as either of my parents since I departed long ago and can sometimes go for over twelve months before I cast eyes on their lovable faces. As we all get older, I am realising that I need to make more effort to spend quality time with each of them individually.
It has been years since Mum has come over to visit us in Perth and even longer since she came over with her other half, Jack. They both adore our South West region and requested that we take them down to “The Margaret’s River” as Mum loves to call it. No amount of convincing can get her to call it otherwise.
It is rare for us to be able to relax together so to celebrate this occasion I booked us in at Vasse Felix winery for a long lazy lunch. On our way to Vasse Felix we stopped off at Bettenay’s Margaret River Nougat Company.
Neither Mum nor Jack are big wine drinkers so the Boy and I tried to avoid boring them to pieces with winery after winery. Bettenay’s do have some wines on offer in addition to some luscious liqueurs and, of course, loads of nougat. Their nougat is all handcrafted with gorgeous flavours including cherry and coconut, and my favourite chocolate mint.
After each purchasing a bundle of nougat we headed off to one of Margaret River’s most popular caves; Lake Cave. It has been ages since the Boy and I have gone down into the caves yet every time we do we are reminded what a natural beauty it is.
Lake Cave has one of the only “suspended tables” in the world which weighs several tonnes and forms a breathtaking sight floating in the air casting its refection in the ripples of water below. This cave is one of the deepest in the region so be prepared to walk down and then back up a fair number of steep stairs. There are rest points along the way for those less fit and able.
There were enough stairs to work up anyone’s appetite and after the Caves we headed straight to Vasse Felix for lunch. It was a long weekend and I was grateful that I had pre-booked because every winery that we passed along the way looked packed with cars.
Vasse Felix have an à la carte menu or alternatively if you select dishes marked on the menu with a star you can enjoy three courses for a set price of $65.
There were a handful of gluten free options and one vegetarian dish for each course. Upon arrival our waitress brought out some fresh bread and cultured butter. There was no gluten free bread available so they kindly brought out some marinated olives for me to nibble on while my family hungrily feasted on the bread.
The marinated olives are sourced from a local olive farm called 34 Degrees South and were served warm. I loved how the olive flesh slithered off the pit easily and consequently I downed most of the bowl before I realised that I should probably share.
Mum and Jack both ordered the omelette for entrée. Cooked sous-vide with mirin, it was served with new season asparagus and locally foraged mushrooms. The egg was browned to a glowing caramel colour and garnished with chilli threads, tiny crumbles of popcorn and togarashi. Togarashi is a type of Japanese chilli pepper and thankfully it wasn’t too hot for my Mum’s palate. The omelette was a gluten free dish however to avoid all three of us having the same dish, I ordered the other gluten free option which was the quail.
I struggled somewhat get a good photo of my entrée due to the sun coming in at an angle on my deep bowled dish. Maybe I need to bring a reflector with me when I’m out dining? Is that too crazy? My quail breast was cooked sous-vide with a confit leg and served on a bed of quinoa, zucchini and olives. It was topped with what I first thought was shaved parmesan but soon found out was feta shaved in liquid nitrogen. It had an unexpected creaminess that dissolved on contact with my tongue. To enhance the delicateness of this light dish some caper puree added some punch into the flavours.
For his entrée, the Boy decided to pop his ramen cherry. Ramen hasn’t really taken off in Perth to the extent it has over in Sydney and therefore neither of us have tried it before. Using house made ramen noodles, this dish was given a South-west twist using Manjimup marron and local fresh water crustaceans. A soft gooey quail egg and some fried nori finished it off and as the aromas wafted to my side of the table I was so envious that I couldn’t even taste one mouthful. Damn you gluten!
For those of you who have yet to try Cone Bay barramundi, you really don’t know what you’re missing out on. These fish are farmed in unique environmental conditions in the north west of Australia that imparts a very clean, and sweet taste.
The fish came with a potato fondant and shards of translucent potato glass topped with luxurious drizzles of smoked oyster butter. It was nearly as good as truffle butter. Nearly I said! There was also a little bit of fructose naughtiness with locally foraged charred leeks and leek foam.
Mum and Jack both ordered the lamb shank for their main, such peas in a pod those two! The locally sourced lamb was cooked sous-vide over 48 hours making it uber-soft in texture however sadly it was served lukewarm. I offered to get the waitress to take it back to the kitchen but my Mum didn’t want to make a fuss. The lamb was accompanied with a black barley risotto and ratatouille made of smoked tomato petal, tomato fondue, picked red onion and eggplant purée.
Although the Boy predominantly will stick to his vegetarian diet at home, like me he can on occasions crave meat. Ordering himself the kangaroo loin today was one of these days.
The loin was served rare and was as lean can be without an ounce of detectable fat present. It was served with textures of beetroot, wattleseed crackers and oil made from dandelions foraged on the property.
Our mains were decent sized meals so after stuffing our faces with the addictive duck fat potatoes there was only a small amount of room left for dessert. We agreed to share a couple of petit fours plates between the four of us however the only gluten free element on the plate was the passionfruit macaron. There was only one macaron on each platter but the waitress was kind enough to put an extra one on there for me.
The Boy was absolutely smitten by the bite size ice cream sandwich made with cinnamon ice cream. Many of us food bloggers claim to have a second stomach for dessert and whilst I was reasonably full, one macaron was not going to cut it even if it was one of my favourite flavours.
Consequently I ordered the gluten free dessert option to share with the Boy. I love abstract desserts, plates of multiple elements that you can mix and match on your tastebuds at your leisure. Fluffy portions of cardamom chiffon cake and silky chocolate cremeaux were paired with Jerusalem artichoke ice cream. Passionfruit caramel and gel added a tart sweetness with chocolate soil and dehydrated mouse contrasting with velvety cocoa bitterness. Heavenly to say the least. My claims for being full surpassed me as I competed with the Boy for every spoonful.
The weekend went by all too quickly, time honestly does fly when you’re having fun. There is no one in the world that can make me laugh the way my Mum can and I realise that I need to stop running the rat race of life and take time out to giggle with her more often.Disclaimer: Despite Mum and Jack insisting on trying to pay for everything, the Boy and I managed to sneak in paying our own way for lunch. Blame it on that independent streak of mine. I want to thank Mum, Jack and my beloved for sharing such a wondrous weekend away. Our times together are always cherished xxxx Bettenay’s Margaret River Nougat Co Corner of Tom Cullity Drive & Miamup Road, Cowaramup, WA 6284 | (08) 9755 5539 | www.margaretrivernougat.com.au Lake Cave Caves Road, Forest Grove WA 6284 | (08) 9757 7411 | www.margaretriver.com/operators/7706 Vasse Felix Corner of Tom Cullity Drive & Caves Road, Margaret River WA 6284 | (08) 9756 5050 | www.vassefelix.com.au
Many of you know that my day job is totally unrelated to food. I am a vet, and this means a career of long hours, late nights and a roller-coaster of emotional highs and lows. Attaining a work life balance has always been a battle for me and the Boy plays a huge role in making me see the bigger picture. Whilst I would never neglect to care for a patient that needs me, to be at my best I need to stay fit and well rested otherwise, like many of my colleagues, I face burn out.
Depression is rife among veterinarians, in our profession we are four times more likely to attempt suicide than the average person. A frightening fact, yet, one that most people in our industry have had to face one way or another.
Having been together for nearly seventeen years, the Boy and I know each other too well and he can sniff out the beginnings of me getting close to my breaking point from miles out. As I reached the end of working nine consecutive long days he suggested we take time out from our weekend chores and plan a weekend long lunch.
Normally I am the one that will select where we eat out due to the ever hungry thirst for content this blog can create. Conversely, the Boy is not interested in hitting the hot spots but would rather take any opportunity for a drive into the countryside. He proposed we head back to the Bickley Valley so I promptly booked us a table at the Vineyard Kitchen located at Brookside Winery.
I recall visiting this beautiful winery during the Bickley Valley Harvest Festival however on that day they were fully booked and so we only got to taste and purchase their wines. Over a year had passed and I was very keen to return.
We started off at the cellar door where we were warmly greeted by the owners Peter and Fay Fels. Their smiles were so infectious that before we knew it we were working our way through tasting all of their wines. Our favourites were the 2012 Methode Champenoise and the 2012 ‘One Acre Reserve’ Cabernet Sauvignon.
There are a number of gluten free and vegetarian options on the restaurant menu with a strong focus on local produce some of which is grown on their property themselves. I started with the roast beetroot and goats cheese brulée.
A whole roasted beetroot had been cored in the centre, filled with goats cheese and served warm. There was a thin layer of crackable toffee over the top but it wasn’t overpoweringly sweet. It was an interesting dish and totally worked as a creative but hearty vegetarian entrée.
The Boy ordered the pan-fried sardines which were crumbed and served with a light salad. A random choice for him as although I love sardines, I cannot say I ever would have considered him to be a fan. Regardless of this he still enjoyed them but admitted it wasn’t really his thing.
For my main dish I ordered the twice cooked duck leg. The duck meat slithered of the bone without any encouragement and was served on a generous bed of creamy porcini and mascarpone risotto. The skin had a thin crispiness to it such that I temporarily cast away all my recent concerns about weight gain and ate the lot. You only live once right?
On our recent trip to Esperance the Boy fell in love with things wrapped in filo, sampling baked Camembert cheese and a fish and prawn curry both wrapped in this flaky treat. Upon seeing the slow cooked lamb shoulder parcel on the menu he caved into a rare moment of meat eating.
Unlike me, the Boy is a man of few words, and my best way at measuring a dish’s awesomeness factor is by the amount of head nods and moans. The lamb shoulder scored high in both of these important measurements!
As we ordered dessert I was told by our jovial waiter that the gluten free mixed berry clafoutis would be a twenty minute wait. This was actually a small blessing in disguise as I was nearly bursting at the seams with all the food we had eaten so far.
Clafoutis is one of those French desserts that makes me feel a little nostalgic for my ancestry and upbringing. Traditionally made with cherries, this dish works well with any slightly zingy, juicy fruit.
The Vineyard Kitchen’s clafoutis was worth the wait. The balance of tart and sweet flavours was executed perfectly with plump berries embedded in the thick, slightly wobbly baked almond batter. I get so excited when my gluten free dessert is interesting!
The Boy ordered the dark chocolate peanut butter pie with vanilla ice cream, presumably in part because it came with ice cream. Whilst the two of us have an enormous amount of compatibilities, one of our few differences is our palate for desserts. He can really take or leave them and will always be satisfied with a simple bowl of ice cream.
Having wanted to visit the Vineyard Kitchen for such a long time there was a risk that it wouldn’t live up to the hype I created in my mind. But despite the long wait to return back for lunch, it was impossible not to fall in love with this place. The quaint gardens, the warm welcome at the cellar door, the prompt and relaxed service and most importantly the award-winning wines accompanied with sumptuous food were all key ingredients in teleporting me from a state of frazzled burn out to total relaxation.
Disclaimer: Chompchomp was an invited guest of her husband, otherwise know as “The Boy” and was lucky enough to also score a case of wine from him to continue to drink once she arrived home. Vineyard Kitchen 5 Loaring Road, Bickley WA 6076 | (08) 6162 2070 | www.thevineyardkitchen.net.au
The Swan Valley have recently been awarded the accolade of becoming Australia’s first Humane Food Region. Earlier last month I attended their launch party held at Sandalford Winery where I learnt all about this RSPCA driven initiative.
The Humane Food movement is aimed giving recognition to businesses that are dedicated to improving the lives of food production animals to allow them to live a more natural and a happy life. To become involved businesses must undergo an accreditation process and those that meet the high standards set by the RSPCA are identified on the Choose Wisely website.
Entwined in the Valley was the first official public event hosted in the Valley since it was declared a Humane Food Region. It was an elaborate evening of seven stunning courses matched with individually selected wines held on the grounds of Houghton Winery.
The indulgent degustation was prepared by Masterchef judge George Calombaris and one of my favourite Perth-based chefs Kiren Mainwaring. The world-famous Ch’ng Poh Tiong was our smiling sommelier for the evening. With Anna Gare as the MC, she successfully managed to maintain lively banter with the chefs and sommelier on stage and kept the feel of the night humorous and light hearted.
Lucky for me the majority of the dishes were already gluten free and therefore required minimal if any adaptations. Our evening started with canapés to share around the table; some Mt Barker humane farmed chicken liver parfait served on a crisp onion skin with pickled celery, and West Australian wild prawn crackers topped with fresh prawn meat and fennel.
Our first entrée was a decadently soft slab of bark smoked West Australian Rainbow Trout with wattle seed and the tiniest shavings of white chocolate. White chocolate with trout you say? Well, as strange as the combination sounds it definitely worked. The chocolate particles were so small that they dissolved on contact with my tongue leaving a subtlety sweet after-taste. I MAY have run my finger across my empty plate a couple of times to smear up the last chocolate fragments but there is no proof I actually did this at such a premium event.
For those of you familiar with Kiren’s amazing repertoire of dishes, you will know his slow cooked eggs are out of this world. The second entrée reminded me of one of his creations that we loved at the Farmer’s Long Table lunch at Truffle Kerfuffle.
A silky smooth cylinder of slow cooked hen’s yolk was served with shards of savoury meringue, cauliflower purée, green olive and shaved Moorish pistachios.
The first main dish was George’s dish. A buttery soft confit duck leg topped with germinated lentils and drizzled with a spiced plum purée. A single sake compressed cucumber added some Japanese styled acidity and tang to the dish. The germinated lentils gave an interesting crunchy element without being too bitter. The sprouting process also has the added benefit of raising the nutrient level of these legumes making this dish somewhat healthy! 😉
The second main course was a slow cooked kangaroo tail with Jerusalem artichoke crisps and purée, fresh apple and crisp salt bush. I was a bit nervous to eat this dish as I have a history of reacting to kangaroo where the back of my throat becomes puffy and swollen almost like a mild anaphylactic reaction. Last time I ate kangaroo was over ten years ago and long before I was diagnosed with my all my food intolerances. I have avoided eating it since reacting three times in a row. I have always wondered whether it was something else in the dish each time or I was actually allergic to just the roo itself.
The Boy suggested I try a small mouthful and wait ten minutes or so to see if I still had a problem with it. I bravely tried a mouthful and within minutes developed only a slight scratching at the back of my throat. Nowhere near the severe reaction that I had many moons ago. I cautiously ate a few more mouthfuls before surrendering my plate to the Boy to finish it off.
Having survived my re-entry into the kangaroo eating world without the need to reach for an Epipen, I was very excited to tuck into the selection of artisan cheese from the Cheese Barrel complete with gluten free crackers for me to enjoy.
The final dish was one of Kiren’s dessert masterpieces, once again gluten free and as always totally addictive. A moist thick cut slice of chocolate and beetroot cake was literally engulfed in a sour cream mousse with some chocolate sorbet hidden inside the mousse. Thin slivers of fresh beetroot that I nearly mistook for rose petals decorated the dish with a splash of bright colour.
As I nearly slipped into a food coma, I had to remind myself that I had a full day of work the next day and wished I hadn’t enjoyed quite so much of the free flowing wine! Lucky for me I can survive for a short time on little sleep and whilst I cannot say the next day was easy I can guarantee it was all worth it! If Entwined in the Valley is anything to go by, I look forward to the next Humane Region food event!Chompchomp was a guest of the City of Swan at Entwined in the Valley. As paid tickets to this event were very popular there was no offer of a plus one so Chomp was happy to fork out her dosh for another ticket so that the Boy could accompany her. Houghton Winery (note the food for this meal was not prepared by Houghton’s) 148 Dale Road, Middle Swan, WA 6056 | (08) 9274 9543 | www.houghton-wines.com.au/our-cafe Dear Friends and Co op Dining 2/11 Regal Place, East Perth WA 6004 | (08) 9221 0404 | www.co-opdining.com.au
Australia has just announced the inception of its very first Humane Food Region. Being a patriotic Western Australian I was so proud to learn that this region was the Swan Valley. The Humane Food movement is an initiative from the RSPCA to recognise businesses that are committed to using food that can be defined as animal welfare friendly. This means more than just labelling products as cage free eggs and free range pork. It translates to these animals being able to have a better quality of life and respects their need to be able to live in an environment that is more natural for them.
Whilst the obvious solution to avoid these animal’s potential suffering is to switch to eating a vegan diet, it is not realistic to expect the entire general population to make this paradigm shift. The Humane Food movement aims at achieving the highest animal welfare standards possible in these industries in order to ensure that these innocent creatures are treated kindly and live a happier life without fear and stress.
The RSPCA have a very stringent process to be accredited as a Humane Food producer and lists all of their accredited businesses on the Choose Wisely website.
Currently there are 30 restaurants in the Swan Valley region that have signed up with the City of Swan to support the Humane Food region program and this list is growing in number each week.
I was invited to attend the Humane Region launch party at Sandalford Estate last week. The evening was catered for by Sandalford with plenty of gluten free options for me to nibble on.
After a warm welcome from TV personality Verity James, we received a lovely speech from Lynne Bradshaw who is the president of RSPCA WA. Her passion for animal welfare spans back for decades and she has worked for the RSPCA for over ten years.
After the speeches were finished we got under way with the evening’s entertainment; the cook off! Six of the region’s top chefs agreed to participate using only humanely sourced produce.
Kiren Mainwairing from Dear Friends and Coop Dining cooked a slow cooked duck egg with steamed bio-dynamic vegetables, sun choke chips and fennel pollen.
Slow cooked eggs are one of Kiren’s signature dishes and I am sure you have heard me rave on about them in the past as they are out of this world. With a delicately translucent egg white and perfectly molten yolk we stood around to watch the judging panel croon over every mouthful.
Mike Price from Sittella Winery made a stunning dish of poached higher welfare chicken breast with avocado and a creamy tarragon sauce. This was topped with a sautéed Moreton Bay bug tail. Using the rest of the chicken, Mike made a compressed chicken leg terrine and topped it with wafer thin crispy skin, fried liver and baby carrots.
This dish was considerably more substantial in size and I could see that the judges each trying to pace themselves so they wouldn’t be stuffed at the end! This dish was entirely gluten free and Mike was kind enough to hand a whole dish over to me to enjoy. I promptly ran off into the crowd with a beaming smile looking for the Boy to share it with.
The lovely smiling Caroline Taylor from Taylor’s Art and Coffee House made her very popular Italian eggs. She illustrated beautifully that you don’t have to use elaborate cooking techniques and loads of ingredients to make a dish that everyone will enjoy especially if Don Hancey’s beaming smile was anything to go by!
Her Italian eggs are made with whipping cream, chorizo, Danish feta and button mushrooms. Also being a gluten free dish she kindly gave me a portion to try. It was the perfect balance of flavours and has inspired me to return back to Taylor’s to have my own full serve to myself.
Manu Fillaudeau from Fillaudeau’s Restaurant prepared smoked Linley Valley free range pork ribs shredded with cabbage stew, turned carrots and potatoes. His dish was also gluten free however before I could steal a mouthful the judges had torn their soft bread rolls apart and dunked it in the richly coloured stew. I didn’t want to risk any gluten contamination so I consoled myself by nabbing a singular potato.
Fiona Lamont from Lamont’s made a very simple but incredibly flavoursome dish of parmesan chicken tenderloins with roast tomatoes, avocado and spinach. I was feeling very well kept as she also put aside a little gluten free portion without any crumb so I could try it too. The chicken was as tender as butter literally melting in my mouth.
The final dish was made by Dean Williams from Sandalford Wines. He created San Choy Bau using Linley Valley Pork accompanied by prawn eggs rolls. This dish was not gluten free so I didn’t get to have a nibble but would be easy to adapt using gluten free soy and Hoi sin sauces.
This wasn’t an event designed to be competitive so there was no winner to announce. I am sure the panel members were pleased with this fact as it would have been hard to choose. I loved how each dish reflected the chef’s individuality across a wide range of cuisine styles. Looks like the Boy and I have a few more places in the Valley to add to our wish list!Chompchomp was an invited guest of the City of Swan. Dear Friends is currently closed. Kiren’s other restaurant is Co Op Dining (read my reviews for Dear Friends and Co-op Dining) 2/11 Regal Place, East Perth WA 6004 | (08) 9221 0404 | www.co-opdining.com.au/ Sittella Winery 100 Barrett Street, Herne Hill WA 6056 | (08) 9296 2600 | www.sittella.com.au Taylor’s Art & Coffee House (read my review) 510 Great Northern Highway, Middle Swan WA 6056 | 0447 441 223 | www.taylorscafe.com.au
Fillaudeau’s Restaurant Located in Pinelli Wines, 30 Bennett Street, Caversham WA 6055 | (08) 9377 7733 | www.fillaudeaus.com.au Lamont’s Swan Valley 85 Bisdee Road, Millendon WA 6056 | (08) 9296 4485 | www.lamonts.com.au/venues/swan-valley Sandalford Estate Winery 3210 West Swan Road, Caversham WA 6055 | (08) 9755 6213 | www.sandalford.com
My mother and I share many personality qualities and when we spend time together it often feels like there is an overlap of our mother-daughter relationship with that of two best friends. When we are together we laugh a lot, often and easily, sometimes to the point of tears at things that others may not perceive as being quite that funny. Back when I was still at school, she was the “cool” mum that everyone else wanted as their mum. Now decades later we are separated by thousands of kilometres meaning our times spent with each other are more precious than ever before. Earlier this year the Boy and I headed back to Adelaide to visit her for a short weekender break. Mum is as much of a foodie as I am and so she organised to take us on a day trip into the McLaren Vale wine region. McLaren Vale is a short 45 minute drive from Adelaide’s city centre and is easy to visit on a day trip.
With my stepdad at the wheel we spent the day cruising from winery to winery carefully choosing just enough wine to fit into our luggage home. Our first stop was Hardy’s Tintara, a picturesque old winery bought by Hardy’s founder Thomas Hardy in 1876. Many of the old historical buildings still remain. The cellar door staff were welcoming and friendly insisting we work our way through as many of their wines as possible. There was no charge for tasting.
We spent a lot longer than we realised at Tintara chatting to the lovely staff and sipping away on a variety of their luscious reds. By the time we all jumped in the car I felt a bit light headed and keen for a bite to eat. Mum had booked us a table at The Currant Shed as she already knew they were gluten free friendly.
The Currant Shed are very focused on using local produce and being situated on the Fleurieu Peninsula they have an abundance of choice available. Their head chef prides himself on cultivating close relationships with the food producers and our waitress proudly explained to us that they make everything in house from scratch. The pickled octopus is one of their specialities and it was so tender soft you almost wouldn’t believe it was octopus.
The menu has a number of creative dishes many of which are suitable for dietary requirements including gluten free and vegetarian options. The Boy and I shared the vegetarian entrée which was a selection of baby beetroots with whipped goat’s curd, toasted pepitas and pumpkin oil.
Such a simple array of colourful ingredients decorated our plate elegantly and every mouthful was a burst of flavours and soft textures.
We had already all gone out to Bar 9 for a late breakfast so after eating our pretty entrées none of us were exceedingly hungry. Mum and my stepdad wanted to share a main so our waitress recommended that they order the smoked kangaroo loin as it was a reasonable sized serve to divide between two people. It was served with a rye pilaf, green strawberries and a pepper berry reduction. Being accustomed to Perth restaurant prices I was astonished at what a generous serve it was for just $33.
The Boy was ecstatic when he saw his vegetarian plate of amazingness arrive. Using locally sourced, seasonal vegetables such as zucchini and capsicums his plate was as beautiful as our entrée. Who said vegetarian food was boring?
On his plate were cheesy wedges of zucchini parmigiana, orzo stuffed peppers with feta and fresh tomatoes filled with black rice and peas. Scattered about his plate lay a multitude of fresh herbs, caperberries and edible flowers.
I ordered the fish of the day; two chunks of crispy skinned snapper with a macadamia nut crust in a tomato sugo broth with Goolwa cockles and thick cut chunks of pumpkin. The tomato sugo was a little watery and not as flavoursome as I would have preferred but with the saltiness of the cockles and lemony acidity of the caperberries the dish was still balanced well.
Sadly despite The Currant Shed having a very delightful looking dessert menu none of us had the room left in our bellies to squeeze in any sweets. Rolling onward and outward we piled back into the car to hit one more winery. We arrived at D’arenberg where we learnt the meaning of the wonderful word cenosilicaphobic: “the fear of an empty glass”. This is certainly something I suffer from at time to time.
The cellar door is situated overlooking the rolling hills of McLaren Vale and would have been another pretty spot to stop for lunch. Their restaurant d’Arrys Verandah is a little more formal compared to The Currant Shed and offers a full degustation menu. I noted they are also gluten free friendly and glimpses of the food heading out to the tables definitely looked like they were worth returning for.
After a few more wine tastings and a stroll around D’Arenberg’s grassy grounds we were nearly ready to head back home. It was late in the afternoon so unfortunately for us the first two venues that we dropped into for some dessert had already closed their kitchen. After nearly giving up, we found a gourmet café called Blessed Cheese that was still open in the town centre.
They had a couple of gluten free cake options and a massive selection of cheese and other local gourmet goods. We chose the gluten free sticky toffee muffin to share which was served warm with a caramel sauce drizzled over the top. It was not my usual type of dessert these days but it successfully satisfied my sweet tooth.
With the car boot clinking with a variety of bottles of wines that I had bought for our collection, I left the Vale knowing that I made the most of my trip. Thank goodness we scored a business class upgrade for our flight home otherwise our wallets would be burned with excess luggage charges!Hardy’s Tintara 202 Main Road, McLaren Vale SA 5171 | (08) 8329 4124 | hardyswines.com/au/wines/ranges/tintara D’Arenberg Osborn Road, McLaren Vale SA 5171 | (08) 8329 4848 | www.darenberg.com.au www.currantshed.com.au www.blessedcheese.com.au
Gourmet Escape is a three-day food and wine festival held in Margaret River in November each year. It attracts foodies from all around the country and the world in order to feast on the finest this region has to offer. The core part of the festival is centred on the Gourmet Village which is held on the spacious grounds at Leeuwin Estate. I have written a full account of our experience at the Gourmet Village here.
Throughout the indulgent weekend there are also a number of satellite events held featuring world-famous chefs and offering experiences such as long table lunches, luxurious dinners and even pop up beach barbecues. These events sell out in a flash and for those who are keen, be sure to get yourselves on the pre-sale lists to avoid missing out. The day that all the key tickets were released for sale I was working a full day with a busy schedule so I left all our purchasing up to the Boy. One of our many compatibilities is our love for food so I trusted he would make some good decisions. His choices included two of the Food For Thought Sessions held at the picturesque Voyager Estate grounds.
Our first session was with the amazing duo of Heston Blumenthal and Harold Mc Gee titled “The Science of Cooking”. It was a glorious day with clear blue skies and as we walked onto the brilliant green grounds the wafting aromas of freshly brewed coffee teased our senses. It wasn’t before long we both had one in hand; a short mac for me and a latte for the Boy.
But in all honesty coffee schmofy; who needs coffee when you can have a freshly shaken grape juice cocktail? I knocked back my macchiato in a flash so that I could graciously accept our next round of beverage! With glass in hand we entered into the elegant, chandelier decorated marquee and found our way to our table.
Our waitress made a careful effort to identify the people with pre-notified dietary requirements on our table including the Boy’s vegetarian request and my gluten free. My morning tea included three components. The first morsel was called Spring in a Jar and contained thick avocado cream cheese with miniature vegetables and olive powder.
The second portion on my plate was a slice of delicately tender Margaret River Wagyu sirloin with oyster mushrooms and a horseradish emulsion. The original version of this was served on a crostini which they replaced with a gluten free rice cracker for me. The final component was an egg omelette rolled up with wakame seaweed and sweet Shark Bay Blue Swimmer crab meat.
For the Boy’s vegetarian option the Wagyu was omitted and he was given a larger serve of oyster mushroom with the horse radish emulsion and his wakame egg roll omitted the crab meat.
It was entertaining listening to Heston and Harold talk, I believe they are close personal friends and have both in turn inspired each other’s careers. Whilst Heston was charming and humorous, I found Harold’s scientific approach to understanding the techniques used for cooking very interesting and he has motivated me to return to reading his enormously thick book “McGee on Food & Cooking” that I own at home on the shelf.
Desserts weren’t served until the talk had well and truly finished and by this point many attendees had to whisk away to attend their next foodie event. A perfect cube of Bahen & Co chocolate gateaux was just enough for about two mouthfuls and was adapted to be gluten free for me by omission of the ganache topping. I’m glad we had the time to stick around as this decadent treat literally melted in the mouth.
Our second Food for Thought session on the following day was with Miles Irving, Alex Atala and Matt Wilkinson and was titled “The Call of the Wild – Insects, weeds and the food of the future”. It was no surprise to me that the Boy chose us a session about eating bugs. Remember his insect devouring obsession in Thailand? He ate them at every opportunity that he could find.
This session was better organised than the previous day with both coffees and cocktails in abundance and the service even more polished and attentive. The food and drinks were created by the kitchen team from Morries Anytime. On arrival we were offered glasses of “Billy’s Punch” to accompany cubes of apple liquor soaked canapés. I had planned ahead for any inadvertent fructose exposure and brought some glucose tablets in my handbag. I downed a few before helping myself to some boozy apple delights. The punch was made with a generous amount of Aperol, some Voyager bubbles, sparkling grape juice, home-made rhubarb syrup and fresh orange and strawberry and was far too drinkable for the early morning. I was appreciative of the much larger serving compared to the day before and if it wasn’t before twelve I could have easier had another.
The wait staff team were much more on the ball and shortly after being seated platters of food were brought to the tables. I was informed that I was able to eat the pork and parsley terrine topped with spiced plum chutney as it was gluten free. The mini burgers containing Notting Hill marron and truffle were not suitable and we were told to hold out as our replacements were on their way.
For my replacement the bun was exchanged for toasted gluten free bread. My resulting sandwich was stuffed full of marron and truffle flavour. What a decadent way to start the day!
The Boy sunk his teeth into his vegetarian option before I even had a chance to photograph it and then tried to recreate it in its untouched state by swizzling it round on his plate so I couldn’t see the chomp marks. I never thought I’d hear the day that he would moan in pleasure over a vego burger but this haloumi slider did the trick.
The talk did somewhat digress away from discussing the potentially unpalatable sounding specifics of eating insects and weeds and onto its more worldly implications in providing more sustainable locally grown seasonal produce. We were made to think about not only what foods we choose to eat, but how that food is produced and what potential impact its production has had on the world around us.
Our desserts were discretely served in the latter half of the talk allowing all attendees to enjoy it for this session. The Boy received Bahen & Co chocolate fudge with salted caramel popcorn.
For my gluten free version the fudge was replaced with a scoop of caramel ice cream and topped with the salted caramel popcorn and fresh strawberries.
I found both sessions very informative and interesting and am keen to attend them again next year. The food served each day was very locally orientated, of high quality and was able to be adapted for food allergies provided notice was given in advance. The amount of food was enough for a light morning tea leaving enough room to attend another event in the afternoon or evening without feeling stuffed to the brim.
The 2013 Gourmet Escape Food for Thought sessions cost $100 per person including food and drinks.Voyager Estate 41 Stevens Road, Margaret River WA 6285 | (08) 9757 6354 | www.voyagerestate.com.au/the-estate/the-restaurant
It was only about six weeks ago that the Boy took me down to Margaret River on a prescribed weekend of rest. We wined, dined and came back as fresh as daisies albeit slightly rounder in shape. It was a comparatively unplanned and impromptu trip which is quite out of character for me and I love that the Boy can have this sort of influence on me. I had barely finished writing up all my blog posts from the trip when it was time to head back for Gourmet Escape.
For my non-Western Australians readers; Gourmet Escape is a three day food and wine festival held in Margaret River in November each year. Famous chefs from around the world join along including Heston Blumenthal, Harold McGee, Rick Stein, Adriano Zumbo, Hadleigh Troy, Guillaume Brahimi, Matt Stone, Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry to name a just few!
We had a full weekend planned with different events to attend on each day in addition to a two-day pass to the Gourmet Village. The Gourmet Village is held on the spacious grounds at Leeuwin Estate and the whole day is filled with activities, classes, shows and stalls offering wine and food from all around Western Australia. It was a wonderful way to showcase what a richly diverse State we live in and how lucky we are to have such a strong focus on quality produce.
Basic general admission tickets to the Village cost $38 per adult. We opted for premium tickets for $64 which also included 4 “GEMs”. GEMs are your village currency each costing $7 and most items to eat or drink cost one GEM. Despite buying some extra GEMS in advance we managed to guzzle our way through nearly 20 GEMS on the first day and had to buy more from one of the GEMs sellers that can be found walking through the crowd. There were also outlets in the Village selling GEMS but the queues for these were reasonably long.
The Classroom bar in North Perth set up their own Classroom Cocktail Club were you could buy their famous N2 espresso martinis for one GEM. For my review on this signature drink read my review here. The Boy missed out coming along to my cocktail Master class because he isn’t a blogger so we made a bee line as soon as we arrived to get him one to try!
One of my favourite dishes for the day was The Studio Bistro’s Butterfield beef fillet, cooked rare with a sumptuous dark sear on the surface, served with a melting dollop of decadent Café de Paris and some hand cut Royal Blue chips. I actually went back for seconds on day two! It definitely has inspired me to pay them a visit next time I’m in Yallingup. My other most enjoyable dish was the freshly shucked Pacific oysters at 34 Degrees Blue’s stall. These guys got slurped up in a flash before I even thought of snapping a picture. Oysters are best shucked right before serving as they taste completely different when served freshly shucked. I am glad we have our own oyster shucker extraordinaire in our family; namely my Dad!
Some of the presentations were of particular interest, the Boy and I loved Matt Stone’s demonstration on cooking with insects. The Boy is a great lover of eating these crunchy critters and he reminded me of the damage to the environment that farming my luscious, just devoured beef would have caused. I guarantee he would have been happier if there was a stall that he could have bought me a bag of crickets from!
The Southern Forest region is one that is lesser known to interstate and overseas tourists however it is also an area rich in world class produce, luscious forests and fine wines. This is the region in Western Australia where black truffles are grown commercially. The Southern Forests Food Council are committed to spreading awareness of the value of this region as a foodie’s mecca and were selling a variety of fresh and prepared produce including free samples of trufflicious risotto.
There were a number of gluten free options spotted around the Village and every time I saw something that I could eat I felt compelled to buy some. A little hedonistic I know and suffice to say I suffered for my overindulgence for several days afterwards!
As our second day in the Village drew to a close we had to decide how to spend our last three GEMs. We agreed on a cup of Matso’s Mango beer for the Boy, a glass of Snake + Herring ‘Corduroy’ Single Vineyard Karridale Chardonnay for me and a bowl to share of kimchi and vermicelli noodle salad topped with a couple of grilled Augusta whiting fillets courtesy of Cullen Wines. Cullen Winery are very focussed on sustainability and their impact on the environment, operating a biodynamic winery that is carbon neutral. Their restaurant specialises in using organic and local produce and is a must to visit if you are in the region. They have loads of vego and gluten free options. See my review for Cullen Wines here.
Gourmet Escape was a fabulous foodie weekend away and we hope to be able to attend for many years to come. We enjoyed a wonderful mix of satellite events along with visiting the Village although next year I think one day at the Village will suffice. This will leave more room in my stomach for attending one of the beach BBQs which I believe were incredible.
The Studio Bistro, Yallingup WA
Prevali Wines, 99 Mitchell Drive, Prevelly, WA 6285
Leeuwin Estate, Stevens Road, Margaret River, WA 6285
The Apple Daily Bar & Eating House, 125 St Georges Terrace, Perth WA 6000
Ole Paella Catering
Cullen Wines, Lot 4323 Caves Road, Margaret River, WA 6284
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
With the disappointment resulting from our cancelled Adelaide trip still fresh in our minds, we both looked forward to our weekend break down in Margaret River with an exaggerated level of enthusiasm. Our darling fur-child Eddie had made a full recovery and we both coördinated getting out of work on time on the Friday making for a perfect start to the weekend. To facilitate this further, earlier on in the week I had purchased enough gourmet treats to feed an army and the Boy had stocked up on wine, champagne and plenty of beer. We drove down on the Friday night to our Chalet at Chandeliers on Abbey where we have stayed before some years back. The following morning we lazily lounged in bed and I flicked through my Twitter feed to see what was happening in the real world. I was awakened by a stunning photograph of flash cooked snapper for Knee Deep Wines.
I was actually so excited by its beauty that I woke the Boy up to show him. It was met with some grunts of approval before he drifted back off to sleep. Later that morning as I was cooking us breakfast, I mentioned the photo again and he suggested making a booking at Knee Deep for lunch. Expecting there to be no chance to score a table at such last minute I whooped with joy when I was told there was one table left!
Knee Deep Wines first started producing wines in 2004 and are rated 5-stars in the most recent James Halliday Australian Wine Companion. We arrived a little early and enjoyed working our way through their collection at the cellar door before we sat at our table. We particularly enjoyed the 2010 Limited Release Kim’s Chardonnay with its buttery creaminess and the medium bodied 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Knee Deep Restaurant’s chef Ben Day is a recent addition to the kitchen only starting in late February this year and since then has received a number of accolades including a Chef’s Hat in the 2013 West Australian Good Food Guide.
We chose the “Trust the Chef” five course menu where the chef chooses five courses for us matched with Knee Deep Wines for $115. To start with we were brought some freshly baked organic sourdough and cultured butter which are both made in house. The butter is made from local cream and infused with beautiful fresh nasturtium flowers and leaves. The aromas wafted across the table and made me so hungry I started to salivate.
Thankfully our waitress didn’t leave me hanging for too long and after apologising for not having any gluten free bread available, brought some flavoursome marinated olives for me to nibble on. She informed us that like most ingredients used in the kitchen all the olives are marinated in house with the chef using different marinades for each type of olive.
For our first entrée, it was like the long awaited joy of spring had been captured and masterfully spread across our plate. Fresh tangy milk curds made from un-homogenised milk obtained from Millers dairy in Cowaramup, vibrant seasonal flowers and wild fennel laced the plate with shavings of zucchini and zigzags of sweet jarrah honey. Scattered in amongst the colour were paper thin “milk crisps”. Our waitress described with great enthusiasm how the chef made these crisps from skim milk infused with all the parts from the wild fennel plant. Each crisp is flavoured with sprinklings of fennel pollen to add extra punch and brought a wonderful textual contrast to this unique and pretty dish.
Continuing with the same level of originality and intrigue our next dish consisted of a wedge of smoked eel, yabby tail and for the Boy a curly whirly prawn cracker. It was freezing cold and raining outside and the delicately flavoured, warming coconut broth hit the spot.
Each dish exuded Chef Day’s passion for local and seasonal produce and this dish was garnished with locally foraged “beach herbs”. He later informed me that these beach herbs can include on any day the familiar samphire along with dune spinach, salt bush, sea celery, pig face flowers and native spinach.
I am a sucker for meticulous presentation. In my own line of work as a vet, attention to detail is everything especially with my niche field of feline medicine. When this attitude is applied to fine dining, it is by far a step in the right direction in my humble opinion. Our main dish of barramundi and octopus was indeed a plate of perfection. Each component and flavour was carefully thought out and prepared yet still retained an air of simplicity with no pretention. The octopus passed my current “Barcelona test” and the mojo picon had just a teeny bit of kick to it.
I used to be a fan of having “all the cheese” when dining out and have been known to order up to five different cheeses for just the two of us because it’s too hard to choose. I figure it’s just another way I show my “all or nothing” side of myself. Since then I have come to realise that with the right chef it is possible to have just one cheese and turn it into a course of its own right by simply pairing it with the right accompaniments. Five is not necessarily better than one! A humble slice of Pont L’Evêque was served with organic Sundowner apples, pickled watermelon and shaved macadamia. Pont L’Evêque is a French cheese and is one of the oldest Norman cheeses still in production. It is an uncooked, un-pressed, washed rind cheese made with cow’s milk and is creamy pale with a smooth fine texture and pungent aroma.
A refreshing palate cleanser of quince & watermelon sorbet gave just the right element of turning our savoury to sweet notes on our palate and tuned us in perfectly for the final course; dessert.
After not a single dish faltering in its own wonder, we were wide-eyed with anticipation to see what was going to be next. We were not disappointed. Foamy light bitter chocolate espuma with blood orange sorbet and cubes of tart blood orange jelly lay hidden under fracturable shards of chocolate wafer. This whole dish of magnificence was dusted in freeze dried blood orange powder.
I was impressed. For a spur of the minute decision to make a reservation because of a photo I’d seen on Twitter for a restaurant that was never really on my radar; we had experienced a total wow factor from beginning to end. Quirky and knowledgeable service, elegant but simple presentation and a level of true passion and enthusiasm that filtered from the kitchen all the way through to the dining room. This was a late minute change of plans I will never regret.
Knee Deep Winery & Restaurant61 Johnson Road, Margaret River WA 6280 | (08) 9755 6776 | kneedeepwines.com.au Price: $$$ (Entrees $16-22, Mains $28-40, 5 course Trust the Chef $90 + $25 matched wines) Food: 4.5/5 (creative, intriguing and locally sourced) Service: 4.5/5 (quirky and passionate) Ambience: 4/5 (even in the pouring rain, the vines are pretty as a picture) Drinks: 4/5 (only Knee Deep Wines available, but they matched well with each course) Total: 17/20
The Boy and I were desperate for some time-out. We planned to visit Adelaide for the weekend of my high school reunion and to make the most of our trip, we organised a full schedule including winery visits and lots of eating. I booked our flights months back but with all the havoc and uncertainty recently; the trip couldn’t have come at a better time. We were both really looking forward to switching off and relaxing. That is, until one of our darling fur-children fell ill. Now bear in mind that we are without human children and our two Burmese cats are the next best thing. Well, in my opinion, they ARE the best thing!
Eddie is our youngest “son” and has the softest, sweetest nature. If he was human I’m sure every sentence would start with “Please” and end in “Sorry”! The night before our departure for Adelaide, Eddie started with profuse vomiting and the poor little guy was still unable to hold anything down the next morning. After rushing him to work and running blood tests, performing x-rays and an ultrasound, we diagnosed a flare up of his inflammatory bowel disease which may have possibly been worsened by pancreatitis. He needed an overnight stay in hospital so he could get intravenous fluids, pain relief and further treatment.
I sure you will understand that upon realising this, neither of us could pack our bags, leave him and get on that plane. I was reminded again that I married the perfect man when he jumped onto the phone to Qantas without hesitation and rescheduled our trip to early next year. At least we are equally crazy about our kitties. Eddie was discharged from Perth Veterinary Emergency the following day. By Sunday he was obviously feeling much better asking to be picked up for a cuddle like usual. How does a cat ask this you say? Well, being Burmese he IS quite talkative but when he wants to be picked up he does something that is a little toddleresque. Standing up on his hind legs he reaches to tap-tap-tap on my upper thigh with his soft front paws. If I reach down to pick him up he stretches his “arms” right out to reach over my shoulder and then snuggles into me. So fricking cute.
Relieved that our child was well on the road to recovery the Boy proposed a Sunday country drive to enjoy the first of Spring’s warming rays of sunshine. I wanted to visit Myattsfield Winery to try more of their sumptuous reds so with my old map from the Bickley Valley Harvest Festival in hand we drove up into the Hills. To our surprise we found a hive of activity at the winery; it was their annual “Strawberry Fayre” where the winery recreates the celebrations from their ancestors when they used to cultivate both wine and strawberries.
There was live music, wood fired pizza and their full range of wines for tasting. Strangely there were no strawberries however. We worked our way through all their wines; from their whites through to their reds and ending on their sticky. It was hard to choose what to bring home and we ended up buying not one but two cases of our own personal selection including a couple of bottles of that delightful Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier that I fell in love with at Dear Friends.
As the Boy lined his stomach with some pizza I looked on in starving envy soaking up some sun while my tummy grumbled furiously. After much whinging about the lack of gluten free edibles, I suddenly remembered the Core Cider House was gluten free friendly and so we left the Fayre goers behind in search of something I could eat.
For those who haven’t yet managed to spend a lazy Sunday at Core Cider House, you are definitely missing out. Every time we have visited them they have been packed to near capacity and we were very lucky according to our waiter to score a table as they were fully booked.
Despite being obviously under the pump, the wait staff were all very jovial and friendly. Whilst by no means fancy, this place oozes character and charm. Tables are spotted about on the grass under the apple trees overlooking views of the orchards and vineyards. I could consciously feel my stress levels drop down notch by notch. All their ciders are gluten free although I doubted they were fructose friendly so I downed a couple of glucose tablets to counter act any issues and shared a tasting paddle with the Boy. Not being a big cider drinker I am probably the worst person to review them but for what it’s worth I really enjoyed “Pith’d”; a refreshing sparking lemon cider and “Core Reactor”; a medium dry more traditional cider made from apples and pears.
We ordered a couple of plates to share starting with the thyme and garlic infused warm brie. Deliciously gooey in the centre it was served with candied walnuts, Cabernet sauvignon sultanas and toasted gluten free bread. The bread was not stodgy or crumbly and held its texture perfect while we smeared the molten cheese on it.
Our second platter was one of the vegetarian options called “The Orchardist’s Platter”. Thick rounds of aged creamy chevre Rondelle (soft goat’s cheese), some blanched broccolini and rich red pepper puree, more gluten free toast were flavoured with rosemary salt, roasted garlic cloves and preserved lemon slivers. Although we enjoyed this platter, I did feel it was a little overpriced and it could have easily been improved with the addition of more vegetables.
Overall we had a wonderful day out in Bickley Valley, it was a nice alternative to the more mainstream Swan Valley and I am chuffed to see my wine rack filled once again. I’m not sure how long they will last though!Myattsfield Vineyards Cellar Door Union Road, Carmel Valley, WA | www.myattsfield.com.au CORE Cider House 35 Merrivale Road, Pickering Brook, WA 6076 | (08) 9293 7583 | www.corecider.com.au/core-cider-house Price: $$$ (Share plates $10-32, Mains $19-33) Food: 3/5 (excellent range of gluten free, would like better value on the platters) Service: 3.5/5 (bright and bubbly just like their ciders) Ambience: 3.5/5 (a great way to lower the blood pressure) Drinks: 2.5/5 (spritzy Pith’d lemon cider was so refreshing) Total: 12.5/20
Last year I entered a Facebook competition for a food magazine that will remain unnamed and in a nail-biting, head-to head battle with my blogging friend Carly from Perth Munchkin we both tied in first place. We each won a voucher for two for “Speed Grazing” in the Swan Valley with Taste Bud Tours. As often is the case, time got the better of me and before I knew it a whole year had flown by and our voucher was nigh on its expiration date. I contacted Loris the sole operator from Taste Bud Tours to book our day out before it was too late. But what developed was very odd indeed, it turns out that my voucher was in fact a counterfeit that was never officially issued! It turns out there were a number of dubious vouchers that were handed around the magazine’s office for competition prizes and staff rewards. What a scandal!
Loris offered me a two-for-one deal as replacement for my dodgy voucher in a gesture of goodwill. I will never say no to a day in the Valley and despite the stormy forecast the Boy agreed to come along as my plus one. Loris’s concept of Speed Grazing is quite an original one and as a result she has consistently been awarded the number 1 ranking on TripAdvisor for Perth Activities for several years running. She keeps her tour group numbers small to ensure a personalised approach and visits nine different locations during each half day tour. She provides a coach pick up from either Wellington Street, Perth City or from Guildford.
We chose an afternoon tour and headed into the city a smidge earlier for a mac-attack. Not in any way related to the famous yellow double arches; a “mac-attack” is a termed coined by my now sadly estranged sister for those times when you just have to have to get your hands on a macaron. Paired with my usual short macchiato you could consider my version a double mac attack. We stopped in at Jean Pierre Sancho where I may have accidentally bought two macarons; my old time fav the salted macaron and my newest obsession passionfruit.
The Boy opted for a buttery, flaky toasted croissant but in his partially slumbered state he ordered a ham and cheese croissant instead of a vegetarian option. As we both sat on the couches soaking up what little sunshine there was that day he had to resort to prying open his crispy croissant to remove the offending slices of ham whilst trying not to accidentally tear it in half. After our mid-morning treat we strolled down to Wellington Street to join the rest of the tour group as the storm clouds gathered in a huddled grey mass in the sky; this weather is most unusual for Perth this time of year. On our way out to the Valley in the pouring rain, Loris shared with us some history of Perth and the Swan Valley region. The area has been producing wine for over 150 years and is the oldest wine region in Western Australia. Being so close to the Perth CBD and spanning over a relatively small area means it is much easier to visit a number of venues in a short space of time making Speed Grazing an easy task.
Our first stop on the tour was at Yahava Koffee Works. We were treated to a series of hot coffee tastings from their extensive range and then ended the experience on a sugar high with a cup of their “Ice Koffee”. This is a syrupy liquid made from a rich blend of Yahava’s Indian Tiger Mountain coffee, Indian chocory and some natural spices. I could easily imagine this sticky treat poured over a big bowl of vanilla and choc chip ice cream.
Our next stop was the Margaret River Chocolate Factory. Now I don’t want to sound like a naysayer as I am a dedicated lover of all things chocolate however in recent years I have come to appreciate the bean to bar concept of chocolate production. This is the signature ethos of companies like Bahen & Co, Gabriel and Melbourne based Matale. Without meaning to sound like a snob, I confess that by comparison to these quality small scale producers I find The Margaret River Chocolate Factory a touch over commercialised. That being said I also have great respect for this WA business in becoming such a massively successful company. Whilst their chocolate is not exactly cheap, it is very creamy and smooth and we couldn’t stop ourselves from purchasing a couple of truffles.
Our stop number three was at Cape Lavender, another business that also has a location down in Margaret River. I had informed Loris earlier in the week that I required gluten free food and she advised me that Cape Lavender would have some gluten free scones made especially for me.
Alas upon our arrival I was told that this wasn’t the case and so I had to settle for my glass of Lavender coloured Howling Wolves SixPointSix Cabernato 2013 instead. Quite an unusual little drop; they recommended serving this plonk as a cocktail in a tall glass over ice accompanied with a wedge fresh lime and a sprig of mint. I bought a bottle of it for drinking later so I could give this cocktail a whirl at home.
After our group demolished the plate of mini-scones we all shuffled next door to Mago Coffee. Mago is a family owned business and they have been roasting their own blends of coffee in the Swan Valley since the late 60s. Mago imports raw coffee beans from Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Kenya and Ethiopia in addition to a few other “secret locations”. I had already reached my maximum caffeine limit for the day so I didn’t get to try their brew but we did taste some of their freshly roasted nuts and bought a giant size bag of roasted hazelnuts still slightly warm.
Our next stop was the familiar Jarrah Ridge Winery. The Boy and I have been here a number of times with both my parents on separate occasions and I am a big fan of both their olives and their wines. As we arrived the manager served us little tasting dishes of their marinated olives and WA cheeses for us to nibble on as we worked our way through all the wines on offer. In a repeat of our previous visits, we walked away with two large vacuum packed bags of olives in hand along with a decent chinking of wine bottles.
Being a sufferer of fructose malabsorption our next stop at The House of Honey wasn’t really the place for me but for those that do not have to restrict their fructose this place is worth a visit. Proudly using only pure, unpasteurised and unadulterated varietal honeys there is a wide range of honey products on offer. There is also an active hive with a Perspex backing to allow viewing of the bees in action. I can now understand where the saying “busy bee” comes from because not a single bee in that hive stopped for a rest.
It was getting into the later part of the afternoon and all the food and wine tasting was beginning to make me feel sleepy. As we entered Mondos Nougat my eyes were drawn like a magnet to the macarons. Yes, I have a problem. We were given a sample of the nougat to taste but ended up buying another couple of squares to enjoy with our macarons.
Our second last stop was a farmer’s market stall selling a variety of fresh local produce ranging from strawberries to miniature herb plants. Unfortunately it was timed simultaneously with a torrential downpour meaning that no sooner had we all exited the minibus to peruse their offerings, we all very quickly came running back to the bus for shelter.
Our final stop was at the Iron Bark Brewery where Loris had called ahead for us with the tour group’s orders for pizzas. The Boy and I ordered a vegetarian gluten free pizza to share between the two of us which is not included in the price of the tour. On arrival we were given a voucher to get either a free beer tasting or a discount on a full serve of beer or wine. The price for a small pizza was $17.50 and the large was $23.50 with a $2 supplement for gluten free.
When our pizzas arrived we were puzzled to see that our small pizza was in fact just a regular sized pizza cut in half. As we looked up and down the table we saw that another tour guest had received our other half. What we found even more perplexing was that they wanted to charge us $17 for the half pizza! Erm I think not! A $34 vegetarian pizza! When we were at the counter ready to pay I suggested to our waitress that we should really only pay for half the price of a full gluten free pizza. The other tour guest that had eaten the other half could pay for remainder. I was given a look of contempt but after consulting with her frowning manager they both begrudgingly agreed. Oh dear.
Taste Bud Tours was a fabulous way to sample the wide variety of wine and produce available in the Swan Valley. I love how Loris sticks to Western Australian companies and she is a passionate and knowledgable advocate of the region. I can highly recommend her tours to anyone who wants to join a tour that is just a bit different from the norm and more personal.Taste Bud Tours | www.tastebudtours.com.au Jean Pierre Sancho 878 Hay Street, Perth WA 6000 | (08) 6181 1904 | www.jpsancho.com.au Yahava Koffee Works 4752 West Swan Road, West Swan WA 6055 | (08) 9250 8599 | www.yahava.com.au Margaret River Chocolate Factory 5123 West Swan Road, West Swan WA 6055 | (08) 9250 1588 | www.chocolatefactory.com.au Cape Lavender 6 Cranleigh Street, West Swan WA 6055 | (08) 9250 7711 | www.lavenderonline.com.au Mago Coffee Lot 6, Cranleigh St, West Swan WA 6055 | (08) 9274 5871 | www.mago.com.au Jarrah Ridge Winery 651 Great Northern Highway, Swan Valley, Herne Hill WA 6056 | (08) 9296 6337 | www.jarrahridge.com The House of Honey & The Sticky Spoon Café 867 Great Northern Hwy, Herne Hill WA 6056 | (08) 9296 3635 | www.thehouseofhoney.com.au Mondo Nougat & Moorish Nuts 640 Great Northern Hwy, Herne Hill, WA 6056 | (08) 9296 0111 | www.mondonougat.com.au Iron Bark Brewery 55 Benara Road, Caversham WA 6055 | (08) 9377 4400 | ironbarkbrewery.com.au
Although I’m not really a baby person it is hard not to get excited when a close friend falls pregnant. One of our long-term vets is nearly at the end of her first pregnancy and she is one of those gentle, nurturing types that just seems to be born to be a mother. The joys of anticipation for the approaching arrival were very infectious amongst us women at work, so in a rather unconventional styled baby shower we all gathered together at Feral Brewing Company for a Sunday lunch to celebrate. It was the first sunny day in weeks and it was heavenly to be able to enjoy some country sunshine.
Quite a number of people at our table chose to order the pork belly. The pork was twice cooked and served on a bed of creamed cauliflower and “crinkled” courgettes. To balance the flavours with some sweetness the dish was topped with a sticky rum & apple relish. I was fortunate enough to sit next to the expecting mum’s husband who ordered the pork belly but curiously doesn’t like crackling. It wasn’t hard to find volunteers on the table including myself that were willing to take said crackling off his hands. Aren’t we kind folk? The artery blocking crackling had a satisfying crunch that was loud enough to be heard on the other side of the table.
The Feral Brewing Company offers good value in the valley; I was impressed with the size of the meals in relation to the price. The plump grain fed Porterhouse steak was a decent 300 gm cut and came with paprika potatoes, buttered broccolini and a juicy feta stuffed field mushroom.
I needed to preserve a bit of room in my stomach as we were heading out for dinner later that evening so I opted for the charcuterie meat board for something light. Creamy Persian feta, grilled Spanish chorizo, thinly shaved prosciutto and some roasted beef sirloin were served along with some locally pickled vegetables. The platter normally comes with crusty bread but I asked for it to be served gluten free. Some crackers arrived with it but I wasn’t sure whether they were gluten free or not so I left them. I wasn’t that bothered otherwise I would have asked. The chorizo was juicy and succulent and was my favourite component of this dish.
My platter was designed to share but everyone had their own full plates to contend with resulting in little luck sharing it around. My head nurse sitting next to me helped marginally to make a dent on the proviso and I helped her with her trio of dips. The dips of the days included spicy Moroccan dhal, creamy spring onion and “funky mushroom”. I smeared some of the dhal on my pickled vegetables as a bread substitute. It had a reasonable kicked to it and went well with the pickle!
Our adorable cupcakes for the day were designed and made by Cooks Cakes. Each cupcake had a gorgeous baby themed decoration and the cakes were a mix of flavours; red velvet, chocolate and vanilla. Alas none were gluten free this time round.
Feral Brewing Company offers a very casual atmosphere nestled in the heart of the Swan Valley with hearty grub and a great range of craft beers. Not being able to drink most beer due to gluten intolerance I cannot tell you much about their hand-crafted beers, but they are currently title holders for the Australian International Beer Awards “Best Medium Australian Brewery”. Their food is simple pub styled food priced reasonably well with modest portion sizes.Feral Brewing Company 152 Haddrill Road, Baskerville WA 6056 | (08) 9296 4657 | www.feralbrewing.com.au Price: $$$ (Entrée$8.50-12, Mains $23-38 Food: 3.5/5 (simple, fresh, hearty meals) Service: 3/5 (friendly, drinks service a little slow) Ambience: 3.5/5 (country sunshine, rolling hills and vineyards) Drinks: 3/5 (I need the Boy to review the beers but I couldn’t convince him to come to a baby shower) Total: 13/20
The Kalamunda Farmers Markets located in the centre of Kalamunda seemed like the most logical place for us to start our tour of the Hills for the Bickley Harvest Festival. These markets are on every Sunday from 8am until noon and include a number of local growers and producers selling their wares with many stall owners offering free tastings.
We nearly bought one of each of everything from the Ringwould Dairy stall as everything tasted so fresh. We settled for some Caillot (quark with added herbs and garlic), Moroccan marinated cheese and a strawberry lassi to share. The lassi was not overlying sweet and was very refreshing.
Moving on from Kalamunda we commenced our self-drive tour of the picturesque Bickley Valley. Gentle slopping hills, fruit filled orchards and brilliant green vineyards decorated the countryside like a holiday post card. We both wistfully dreamed of ditching city life for a tree-change. Our first stop was Aldersyde Estate which is the oldest commercially operated winery in the Perth Hills. This is a lovely spot to grab a few beautiful reds; we enjoyed their Merlot the best. I love how their pet Border Collies have made it onto their wine labels too.
Our second stop was Ashley Estate where they had set up a sausage sizzle which sent wafts of barbecued onions and sizzling dogs downwind into the car park triggering your senses immediately upon arrival. This winery is still run by the original owner and their speciality is Pinot Noir. They offered a fabulous vertical tasting journey of their Pinots ranging from 2005 through to 2010. It was fascinating to taste the change in each year’s vintage and the effects of cellaring and different seasons. We bought some of their 2008 and the popular 2009 vintages.
Brookside Winery was absolutely packed with a fully booked restaurant and I regret not planning ahead and reserving a table here! Their restaurant The Vineyard Kitchen focuses on using the freshest local produce, free range meats and line-caught fish and the meals I saw heading out of the kitchen looked worth coming back for. Although we missed out on trying their food we did hang around to sample their wines. The wine of most notable merit is their Petit Verdot; a grape that thrives on dry climates and has floral notes with fruity berry like flavours.
Sad that we had missed out on lunch at Brookside, we stopped in at Hainault Vineyard for a bite to eat to soak up all the wine. Their café was also fully booked however they also sold some take away plates to eat on the grass in front of a live band. We selected a vegetarian platter to share which cost us a scorching $18! What made the high price hurt even more was that the bread roll was stale (according to the Boy) and I tasted a distinctly horrible mouldy flavour in the hummus. Ugh. Inedible.
Hungry and disappointed we pushed on to our last stop for the day; the Core Cider House. This joint was a hive of activity with a live band playing, a bustling gourmet BBQ selling hot dogs and burgers and face painting for the little ones. You could even buy an apple tree to take home! The pork sausage was gluten free and they kindly had gluten free bread available too. Feeling much happier with some edible food to devour, we both sat back in the sun on the grass and soaked up the atmosphere.
I was shocked to learn today that apparently the Bickley Harvest Festival has run for over ten years yet this is the first time I have even heard of it! After chatting to a few wine makers it appears I’m not the only one as there are some people living in the region that have only learnt of it in recent times. It was a wonderful well organised day out and the drive showcased the Bickley Valley region beautifully. I really look forward to returning again next year.Elmars in the Valley The Vineyard Kitchen, Brookside Winery Hainault Vineyard Cafe Core Cider House
One of the most frustrating things about being a business owner is losing a good staff member. What makes it even harder is when not only are you sad to see them leave the business but you know you will also miss them as a friend. As a final bid farewell to one of our valued team members we all made the trek to the Swan Valley on a sunny Sunday to The Cheese Barrel. There was a great turn out and we all made ourselves comfortable in the downstairs area on the abundance of couches and cushions.
Located next door to Olive Farm Wines just off Great Northern Highway, The Cheese Barrel has a tremendous menu of cheese from all around the world. They have themed cheese boards such as “Blue Lovers Paradise” or “Soft Cheese Sensation” or alternatively you can order a regional board from Australia, France, Spain or Italy. For those more specific with their cheesy needs individual cheeses can be purchased in 50 gram portions or larger.
My head nurse ordered the Tarago Shadows of Blue, a mild blue mould cheese made with cow’s milk from Gippsland, Victoria. This was one of my favourite cheeses of the day; rich and creamy with a slight tang. Despite the large 100gm serving, this cheese was one of the first to disappear. I even caught a few who proclaimed they don’t like blue cheese sneaking back sheepishly for seconds.
I will be travelling to Barcelona in eight weeks on conference so I thought I’d break away from my French roots and get myself into the flamenco mood. When it comes to cheese I am highly patriotic to my French ancestry however there are a number of Spanish cheeses I shamelessly hold very close to my heart. Or should I say mouth.
The first cheese on this platter was a semi-hard goat’s cheese Murcia Al Vino. This was quite unlike anything I have had before. It has a really creamy flavour yet its texture is elastic and almost buoyant. The rind is a rich plum colour due to being washed in wine giving an interesting fruity after-taste The second cheese on the platter is one I am all too familiar with and love very dearly; Manchego. This versatile semi-hard sheep cheese is one of my all-time favourites and has the distinctive sweet flavour typical of sheep’s cheese. I received gluten free crackers on the side however there was still bread on my platter. To avoid contamination I suggest they avoid mixing the two on the same platter.
Moving around to the second half of the cheese board were two cow’s milk cheeses. The Queso San Simon is a semi-hard smoked cheese from the north-west of Spain. The smoky flavours are quite subtle and delicate and it also has a surprisingly creamy texture for a semi-hard cheese. The blue cheese on the Spanish plate is the Queso Valdeon. I recall trying this for the first time at Clarke’s of North Beach last year with the in-laws. This time the Valdeon tasted like it needed to be left to come to room temperature for another half hour as the flavours were somewhat dulled. It was definitely overshadowed by the creamy deliciousness of the Tarago Shadows of Blue.
Not being familiar with any Olive Farm wines, I ordered an Olive Farm “Wine Flight” to accompany my cheese. Each wine was carefully matched to each cheese to enhance the experience. I’m not going to pretend I know how to describe wines and I’m sure the Olive Farm have done a better job on their tasting notes!
Some of the girls ordered the Soft Cheese Sensation board which was sadly also served a little too cold. It almost seemed like sacrilege to see heroes like La Buche D’Affinois and Brillat-Savarin served firm and erect with minimal shine in their centres. The pernickety side of me also noticed spelling errors on the menu, another minor oversight perhaps.
I am told the macarons were the bomb. They are imported from France, cost $2.20 each and are worth every cent. I totally regret not trying them. At this point our party started to disband with a few of us keen to carry on the festivities. Reluctant to continue drinking this far from home with my car I attempted to convince them all to head into the city but to no avail. Eventually they opted to remain in the valley and I headed home. Not wanting my day to end once I got home I persuaded the Boy to walk down to one of our locals The Balmoral pub to carry on drinking.
Walking down the Albany Highway rekindled my appetite and by the time we arrived at The Balmoral I was super hungry. There were only limited share dishes available gluten free so we shared two serves of the scallops served in the shell topped with chorizo and marinated red pepper. The scallops were fairly small but soft and tender however the chorizo was flavourless and fatty.
Trying to pace myself so I could fit in desert I ordered a light meal for dinner; the char-grilled quail salad. The plump bird was served juicy and pink. The bed of salad was scantly tossed with some occasional crisp prosciutto, warm potatoes and mixed greens. A little more of the flavoursome ingredients wouldn’t have gone astray in this dish.
The Boy has been trying to move away from eating red meat but the lure of a steak at a pub is hard work. This time round he came very close to ordering the Surf and Turf before once again stopping himself and choosing the warm lamb and quinoa salad. His salad arrived at the table piled high on his plate with a generous serving of shredded lamb, spinach, quinoa, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds feta, dried figs and a subtle hint of mint. The word salad never conjures up thought that the meal would be filing but thanks to the higher protein content of quinoa he was so full that he nearly talked me out of ordering dessert.
I said nearly. After a couple of months of carefully watching what I ate, now there is no holding me back! The white chocolate and bailey crème brûlée sounded like it would be the perfect way to end a long day of eating and drinking. Unfortunately it was a bit of a disappointment. It tasted very bland with no evidence of any white chocolate or baileys flavours at all. The vanilla ice cream was icy and super sweet.
The Boy defaulted back to his one of his favourites for dessert; the ice cream sundae. Those of you who know him well understand that ice cream is to him what chocolate is to me. His sundae looked like something out of the eighties, and was served with three dishes of sauces; dark chocolate, berry coulis and “butterscotch sauce”. The butterscotch sauce had an odd khaki green colour to it and tasted like molten treacle. It was meant to be topped with nuts and chocolate shavings but there was barely half stingy a teaspoon sprinkled on top. Not a recommended dish even for kids.
Overall the Balmoral is a great casual pub to pop in for a local drink with your mates. There are two courtyards outside and they always have a great vibe and it is the perfect place to enjoy a sun downer in summer. Their food is trying to lift its game above basic pub fare with a few hits and misses along the way.The Cheese Barrel
920 Great Northern Highway, Millendon, WA 6056 | (08) 9296 4539 | http://www.thecheesebarrel.com.au/Price: $ Food: 2.5/5 (astounding list available, but needs to be served at the right temperature) Service: 3/5 (quick, helpful) Ambience: 3/5 (overlooks a small patch of forested reserve) Drinks: 3/5 (only tried a few wines) Total: 11.5/20 The Balmoral Hotel 901 Albany Hwy, Victoria Park 6100 | (08) 9355 4533 | http://www.thebalmoral.com.au/ Price: $$$ (Entrees $7-23, Mains $22-35, accepts Entertainment Card) Food: 2.5/5 () Service: 2.5/5 (our waitress was lovely…but very forgetful) Ambience: 3/5 (casual pub vibe) Drinks: 3/5 (the essentials) Total: 11/20
I know, I know; I whinge about the winter chilliness a bit too much. You see, I’m not normally that much of a whinger unless I’m sick or I’m cold. However during winter I am generally both of those things more often than I am not. This is why I am so thankful for the wondrous fungus Tuber melanosporum, or more commonly known as the black truffle. Its short season coincides with the deepest part of winter here in Perth and is becoming a key element to my winter survival strategy.
Being right in the height of the truffle season I had already gone a bit giddy with my annual winter addiction at our truffled dinner at Divido and then even further at Clarke’s. Although I knew the Mundaring Truffle Festival was only a few days away, I figured why not bury myself even deeper into truffle glory and enjoy it to its fullest!
Darlington Estate had kindly extended the invitation on Twitter to Perth bloggers to create a foodie table on their opening night of their Truffle Degustation. I was joined by fellow bloggers Strawberry Thief, Red Hot Spatula and Perth Food Journal. Being relatively new to the blogging scene it was wonderful to be able to put faces to the blogs that I read each week. Better still I knew that I would be dining with like-minded people who consider constantly photographing their food is a normal way of life.
Darlington Estate is one of the oldest wineries in the Perth Hills, and over the years they have won many awards both for their wines and for their restaurant. The vineyard is set on steep terraced slopes surrounded by bushland and is supposed to offer lovely views from the restaurant. Having only dined here at night, I have missed out on this part of the experience….poor me, I will have to come back again sometime! It can be hard work being a foodie!
Prior to commencing I was informed that the chef was well aware of my allergies and that all the dishes were able to be served to me relatively unadulterated except for the truffle brioche. I was assured that the chef would come up with something else for me for this course. To get us in the mood out came our amuse bouche; a seared scallop wrapped in prosciutto on a bed of cauliflower purée with salmon roe and truffle. This was a beautiful blend of flavours and balanced nicely although my scallop was ever so slightly overcooked.
I cursed my wretched gluten intolerance as I watched everyone sink their teeth into the soft and buttery brioche. The truffle flecked butter spread creamily over it like velvet and was definitely a hit.
Just as my jealousy started to heighten our waiter came over with my special gluten free replacement dish; a very generous sized bowl of truffle parsnip chips. They were crisp and perfectly seasoned and I had to fight off the Boy from trying to steal a few from me (which he did actually successfully manage twice before I gave him a cold steel look….”don’t steal MY truffles!”).
Each dish that came out was so beautifully presented and the scallops were no exception. Again my scallops were cooked just slightly past that soft delicate point of perfection. There was a hint of firmer chewiness but certainly not enough to be a significant detriment to the dish. The cauliflower purée and barigoule potatoes gave a hearty more wintery depth to this light dish making it a gorgeous entrée to kick off this cold night with.
The braised Linley Valley pork cheek was also plated beautifully, if only I had better light for my photos to do this dish justice. The meat was tender soft and the subtle sweetness of the truffled almond purée was delightful. The jus was nearly good enough to lick the plate for.
The duck was most definitely my favourite dish of the evening. The meat was richly flavoursome and simply fell apart under my fork. The truffled gruyere oozed through the meaty flavoured wild mushroom risotto forming fabulous strings of cheesiness joining every forkful.
The palate cleanser was very refreshing with the delicate flavours of lychee and rosewater with just a hint of truffliciousness in the backdrop.
Pannacotta is on my list of favourite desserts of all time. This coffee and truffle version did not disappoint. It held perfect shape on the plate and was delicate and silky smooth. The adorable little fluffy truffle passionfruit marshmallow gave the dish a twist of originality.
Unfortunately for me there were no gluten free crackers available for the cheese course. Not that this ever stops me, I am more than happy to eat brie sans crackers! Especially if it’s been truffled! The brie was soft and creamy and served at just the right temperature to allow the flavours to develop.
The petit fours consisted of the cutest little miniature toffee apples. I have never really been into toffee apples myself and personally I would have preferred something chocolaty but if you are indeed a fan, these candied morsels would have been right up your alley. The apple inside was cooked until it was soft and the toffee was hardened to a thin crisp shell.
For a degustation meal I was impressed with our serving sizes and considering the added truffle in every single dish I also thought the full ticket price of $110 (excluding drinks) was extremely good value. The service was attentive and friendly and we look forward to returning to the hills to visit Darlington Estate again.