The Boy is the youngest in a family of three boys. His oldest brother still lives in Perth, but his other brother is a nuclear physicist who lives in Boston. His brother has lived in the US for over ten years and sadly is unlikely to ever return to Australia permanently. Every couple of years, his brother tries to return back to Perth with his lovely American wife to spend time with the family. Because American employees don’t receive as much annual leave as we do in Australia, they both struggle to get time off work and will save up their leave for a few years before being able to visit us.
This year was their first family visit to see us in over three years which was made even more special as it was also the first trip since the birth of their adorable daughter Noelle. The Boy and I had been busting to meet our little niece ever since she was born, especially after having to cancel our planned 2014 USA trip where we were going to go and stay with them in Boston.
To maximise quality time with his brother’s family, the Boy and his brother organised a family mini-break in Margaret River staying at the secluded Merribrook Retreat. While I already knew my brother-in-law enjoyed fine wine, I had never spent enough time with him to know if he was a foodie like us. You can imagine my pure delight when I discovered that both him and his wife were super keen to join us on a degustation for lunch while down south. I booked us in at Studio Bistro in Yallingup.
I notified the chef in advance of my dietary requirements and they were more than happy to accommodate for me. Studio Bistro’s degustation offers six courses for $95 or $135 with matched wines. We had already been wine tasting at a number of vineyards earlier in the morning and were in the mood for a bit of fun so we all chose the matched wines.
We started off with an amuse bouche of exquisitely fresh steak tartare made with succulent, tender Cape Grim grass-fed beef. The steak tartare was served with an emulsion containing a subtle kick of tabasco.
Our first course was an asparagus gazpacho served with a thick blue cheese cream that was poured table side. I love interactive dishes, they always make for more interesting photography provided I’m quick enough!
The aromatic butteriness of the blue cheese cream made this one of those dishes that leaves you wanting to lick the bowl at the end. Crispy jamon iberico added wonderful textural contrasts to the dish.
Our next course sent me further spiraling into a state of heavenly bliss. Many of my regular readers will know how I am totally obsessed with slow cooked eggs. I would actually be happy to eat a degustation with them included in every course. My chunks of slow cooked silky salmon were arranged around a slow cooked free range hen’s egg and drizzled in syrupy teriyaki.
My hen’s egg was picture perfect with a nearly translucent egg white and ooey gooey yolk porn centre. The salmon was topped with rice crisps that were made from scratch in house. The chef explained to me that to make them he boils the rice until all starch come out and then rolls the rice out between sheets of baking paper. He then dehydrates these sheets of squished rice at 50 degrees for 17 hours before being fried to serve. The rice crisps were puffy and light, dissolving like prawn crackers on my tongue.
Our next dish was made using local, free range pork from Big Red Pork. Unlike many intensive pig farms, Big Red pigs are raised in family groups in a more natural environment of paddocks filled with woodlands, creek lines and pasture. This allows the pigs to forage for food like in the wild. Their natural diet gives the meat a darker colour when compared to intensive, less humanely farmed pork.
The pork was served in two ways; a cube of twice cooked pork belly paired with a soft mound of pork cheek and a generous amount of garlic confit and vanilla dressing.
I loved how not only does Studio Bistro focus strongly on using locally farmed and grown Western Australian produce, but that they also ensure to source their meat from organic free range farms where the animals live humanely and are ethically farmed.
Our final main course consisted of a delicately soft portion of slow cooked organic Blackwood Valley lamb rump served with a yellow curry whip and fried sweetbreads. Fresh cooked peas and shavings of coconut gave this dish an interesting fusion of flavours. The rump came accompanied by a lamb gyoza, which meant I couldn’t eat it due to the dumpling pastry. However the chef must have pre-empted my disappointment in advance and kindly plated some of the dumpling filling onto my dish so I didn’t feel like I missed out at all.
The degustation dessert wasn’t gluten free so I chose to have the cheese course instead. There were three cheeses on the platter; Manchego, Heysen Blue and Wensleydale which were served with gluten free crackers, quince paste, walnuts and some fruit. Manchego is a hard Spanish cheese that is made from sheep’s milk and is one of my most favourite cheeses of all time. Heysen Blue is a mild, fruity blue cheese that is made in the Adelaide Hills with cow’s milk. Wensleydale is a classic, crumbly cows from Yorkshire in the UK.
As our lunch drew to an end, we were joined by the Boy’s parents and of course our gorgeous little niece. Upon seeing my little niece, I was surprisingly satisfied that I had eaten enough for the day and left the rest of the adults sitting at the table to join my niece in the gardens. Fueled by a number of glasses of wine I proceeded to leap about and dance with her to music on my iPhone before eventually we both tumbled on the grass puffed out and giggling madly. Such fun times, it is hard when distance separates you from those you love but hopefully we can get over to visit them in Boston soon.
7 Marrinup Drive, Yallingup, WA | (08) 9756 6164 | www.thestudiobistro.com.au
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
It was our first morning at Chandeliers on Abbey and we woke up to nothing but the soft twitter of birds. The peace and quiet of the country coupled with an amazingly comfortable bed had allowed both of us to get the first uninterrupted night’s sleep since my evil gastro hit nearly a week ago. Although I still wasn’t quite 100%, I definitely felt much more revived, refreshed and ready to eat again. What perfect timing.
Our chalet had a fridge stocked with some fresh orange juice, milk, eggs and butter and a pantry stocked with tea and coffee. I had presumed there would be nothing for us to eat in the chalet for breakfast, so I brought some gluten-free bread, avocado and tomatoes from our fridge at home. These fresh provisions were combined for a quick and satisfying cooked breakfast and feeling energised off we set on a self-guided tour. I planned to stop in at a few old favourites mixed in with a couple of places we hadn’t visited before.
Our favourites included the picturesque Clairault Wines where I was delighted to see they had a special on their cases of Chardonnay – obviously I had to take advantage of this offer! The Boy was so sweet and without complaint was my skipper for the day. He knew what a horrid week I had and wanted me to enjoy myself too. So that he didn’t bore too much from winery upon winery, we stopped in at the Bootleg Brewery where he grabbed a mixed six-pack and some Pilsner to enjoy back at the chalet later.
No visit to Margaret River is complete without a stop at the Margaret River Chocolate Company. I get so excited at their tubs of free choc buds – they contain white, dark and milk buds. Kids line up at the tubs scooping out handfuls at a time (thankfully using the spoon not their bare hands!)
We bought a sample of their truffles to enjoy for the drive down to Xanadu for lunch but as we journeyed further south we drove past another much newer chocolatey venue called Gabriel Chocolate. I recall reading a review of this place on Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse and was intrigued to see how they compared to the mainstream MRCF.
Gabriel chocolate differs from many fine chocolatiers in that they import the actual cocoa beans (rather than chocolate) to make all their lovely treats. This basically means that they can make chocolate from beans that have been obtained from only one part of the world or even just one plantation. Just like wine made from the same grapes but grown in different regions, the flavour from cocoa beans can vary depending on the climate they are grown in and we both found it fascinating comparing different textures, aromas and taste that each region imparted to its beans.
Being the Easter weekend, Xanadu Wines was fully booked and as we arrived a number of less organised people were being turned away due to a lack of a reservation. All the staff were all so bubbly and welcoming, and within minutes of us being seated at our table the manager came over to acknowledge us and advised me he was fully aware of my allergy requirements. I was advised that most items off the menu could be easily adapted and we were introduced to our waiter for the afternoon.
Of course I ordered the mushroom entrée. My obsession with this vegetable continues. Served with soft butternut pumpkin and quinoa I felt like I was being so good to my body while still enjoying such wonderful flavours. This was my first time trying quinoa at a restaurant and I enjoyed the nutty texture. Prior to my gluten-free days I was a big fan of couscous and it is one of the things I miss (along with buttery croissants). I can see how this ancient grain could serve as a replacement to couscous in many of my old recipes!
The Boy ordered the Marsala prawns with curried lentils, carrot and yoghurt purée topped with a coconut dressing. A good indicator of the quality of his meal can always be measured by how quickly he devours it and trust me those prawns didn’t linger long on the plate!
As my stomach was still undersized from its usual capacity I stuck with ordering light meals and chose the fish of the day. It was a Gold band snapper fillet and the chef kindly adapted the sides to accommodate for my allergies. The fish flaked away gently under my fork and I was surprised at the size of the portion.
The Boy ordered the duck which came with zesty orange braised witlof and a fig salad. It was drizzled in sweet, sticky quince vinaigrette. The duck was tender and not overcooked or dry.
Despite feeling pretty full I was determined to have dessert. There were a number of gluten-free options available which was quite exciting. I chose the mandarin and almond cake with olive oil ice cream. It was so moist and was warmed slightly. As I scooped a mouthful of ice cream and cake simultaneously onto my spoon I delighted that the ice cream melted perfectly into my mouth and not on my plate.
The Boy wasn’t going to have any dessert as he was also feeling near capacity but I coaxed him into trying the poached pear on the fact that it came also with ice cream. His addiction to ice cream parallels mine for mushrooms. The caramel ice cream was nothing short of amazing and mixed in with the vanilla cream I had to stop myself from stealing all his dessert. I will definitely be back!
Like Me on Facebook!Xanadu Wines Boodjidup Road, Margaret River 6285 | (08) 9758 9500 | www.xanaduwines.com Price: $$$$ Accepts Entertainment Card (Entrees $18, Mains $36, 2 course special $49, 3 course special $65) Food: 4.8/5 (wonderful fresh, clean and locally sourced food)) Service: 5/5 (discreetly attentive, friendly, oozed great teamwork and positivity) Ambience: 3.5/5 (would have been better with a bit of a view) Drinks: 4/5 (we shared a bottle of the lively fruity Xanadu Sauvignon blanc Semillion 2011) Total: 17.3/20
What a horrific week it’s been for me! This persistent stomach bug has put me out of action for the whole week!. It started brewing on my wedding dress shopping day with my bestie and then developed more dramatically into a further two days at home in bed. I always get racked with guilt whenever I take a sick day as everyone else’s work load increases to compensate for my absence. So when I woke up on the fourth day and managed to hold a piece of toast down I figured surely I must be good to go. I was wrong and a few hours later my manager sent me home ashen-faced and dizzy.
Being our first Easter off together in several years, I had booked a weekend getaway with the Boy down in Margaret River which also happened to coincide with our 14th anniversary celebration. Prior to falling sick I was so excited about this little minibreak and was looking forward to a few days of eating, drinking and romantic fun. As I sat unusually quietly in the car on the drive down, I accepted that although I am not feeling at my best I was not going to let it ruin our holiday.
We didn’t arrive until the late afternoon on Good Friday by which I was too tired to consider the notion that I may want to blog about our accommodation so dear readers please forgive me for the lack of any photos. We stayed at Chandeliers on Abbey in Yallingup and were quite impressed with the quality of the chalet – it had a fabulous sound system with speakers throughout the chalet, warmed bathroom tiles, and a fridge stocked with fresh milk, OJ, eggs and butter. The kitchen was well equipped and there were candles all about the chalet to help give more atmosphere.
After relaxing on the deck for some time, we headed out to Gnarabar Bar and Bistro which was seemingly one of the only places I could find open on a Good Friday. Situated just out of Margaret River Township near the Gnarabup beach, the bar was humming with life and nearly full capacity. The staff seemed a little run off their feet and perhaps also a tad disorganised.
Seeing a menu clearly marked with gluten-free options always instills hope for an easy ordering experience. If gluten-free dishes are regular menu items then this indicates to me that the kitchen must be familiar with correct food preparation for us more challenging customers. I ordered the gluten-free option of chilli salted calamari with Thai chilli jam and lime. I just wanted a light snack for entrée as my stomach had shrunk from my lack of food intake during the week as a result of being so unwell.
When my dish arrived, it was coated in batter and for some reason I thought there was a chance it wasn’t actually gluten-free. I asked the waiter who assured me this was gluten-free batter and I was totally fine to eat it. Fortunately my usual ritual of photo taking delayed me starting to eat this dish as a few minutes later the same waiter came out of the kitchen looking a little flustered exclaiming I can’t eat it and that it WASN’T gluten free. I couldn’t believe my ears! If I hadn’t double checked with the waiter, and then paused to take photos, I would be back to square one with my stomach ills and our romantic weekend would have been ruined. It astounded me that the kitchen allowed this error to occur!
The Boy order the pan-fried gnocchi with rabbit and shiitake mushrooms. I told him not to wait for my replacement meal to arrive before commencing so he could enjoy his while it was still hot. The gnocchi was soft and not too doughy and he said the rabbit was tender and sweet. My dish didn’t end up being brought out to the table until well after he had polished off his gnocchi.
It didn’t actually look a grand deal different from the previous dish but the Boy had snuck a taste of the one with gluten and said it tasted different. Seeing as my appetite wasn’t the best I was happy to share some of my calamari with him rather than have him stare hungrily at me while I ate. I’m not sure what happened to my “chilli jam” as my calamari was served with some aioli…maybe I read the menu wrong. The calamari was fairly bland and not seasoned very well, and although most pieces were tender there were a few chewy ones in there.
There was only one main dish on the menu that was able to be prepared both gluten and onion free and unfortunately it was a fairly unexciting looking chicken breast dish. Thankfully I was informed by our waitress that it wasn’t a problem for the chef to make any of the entrée dishes into a full main meal size for an extra ten bucks. I was impressed with the size of the meal that was to follow. Juicy meaty Moroccan spiced quail served on a creamy pumpkin purée with an olive, feta and parsley salad. The spices were not too overpowering for my delicate gut and the quail were super-sized and succulent.
The boy ordered the 10 hour braised beef cheek with parmesan polenta for his main meal. He was quite disappointed in his choice as the meat was unexpectedly dry and chewy; not tender or flavoursome as he imagined.
There was no way I was going to fit in a third course until I had given myself another day or two for my stomach size to re-expand to its previous size so we skipped dessert – an unusual occurrence for me indeed! We returned to our cosy chalet and flaked out for what was to be one of the best night’s sleep either one of us has had in over a week. Bliss.
For what it is, a casual beach pub, the Gnarabar fits the bill. However despite us using our Entertainment Book discount, we both felt we could get better quality food at better value at many of the beautiful wineries we visited over the following few days. Additionally the oversight of serving me gluten accidentally is of considerable concern not just for me but for other gluten intolerants out there. If I hadn’t asked, I would have found out the hard way a few hours later.
Follow Me on Facebook!Gnarabar Bar and Bistro Margarets Beach Resort, 1 Resort Place, Gnarabup Beach, Margaret River, WA 6285 | (08) 9757 1583 | www.gnarabar.com.au Price: $$$ (Entrees $14-17, Mains $28-35, accepts Entertainment Card) Food: 2/5 (dodged a gluten bullet!) Service: 2.5/5 (friendly but haphazard and disorganized) Ambience: 2.5/5 (bubbling pub vibe, needs more dim lighting too bright in restaurant area) Drinks: 3/5 (some great MR choices, need more by the glass options) Total: 10/20