Bianca: This trip was many months in the making. Myself and pocket rocket Joyce, had planned our weekend away, gorging on some of WA’s best produce and dining in some fantastic restaurants. It was a whirlwind 5 days and we jam-packed as much as we could possibly get away with…both time-wise and stomach wise.
This will be the first of a few dedicated Western Australia posts.
Our main reasoning behind the trip was to attend the 2015 Margaret River Gourmet Escape. Events sold out faster than we anticipated so we did miss out on the popular Beach BBQ but options are a plenty. We attended a meat and chocolate ‘Foodie Trail’, a collaboration dinner at ‘Voyager Estate’ and of course, the madness that is the ‘Gourmet Village’.
The Margaret River itself is gorgeous, a quaint small town centre provides an interesting mix of bakeries, restaurants and shops. But best of all? Drive 10 minutes west and you’re at the beach. Absolute madness.
Accommodation was at the delightful ‘Edge of the Forest’ motel, we booked so far in advance we got ridiculously good rates and it was an easy 8 minute walk max into town…or most importantly to the Margaret River Bakery, more on them in a post to come.
Our first official event was the ‘Foodie Tour’- $160 hosted by the lovely Rebecca Sullivan. This consisted of a visit to local chocolatier ‘Bahen & Co’ where we toured the property, sampled and ultimately bought a ridiculous amount of chocolate. My favourite turned out to be the Papua New Guinea 70% – you can purchase it yourself online or from a number of select artisan grocers in Sydney, including The Essential Ingredient & David Jones food halls.
Second stop on the trail was a visit to a local pig farmer who supplies animals to the ‘Farm House’, a local butcher and small goods maker. I respect the etho’s behind both the farmer and the farm-house and it was interesting to hear how the animals were raised and while some may consider it a little morbid to tour a farm and see piglets. Then go off and consume the product, it is a reality in this day and age and if we are to eat meat we should see, hear and smell just how the animals are reared.
The Farm House also supply to a number of local supermarkets and local and big hitting restaurants in Perth CBD – including Rockpool B & G and Restaurant Amuse. We finished our foodie trail with a long lunch under the trees at McHenry Hohnen/Farm House. Where we feasted on Cambray Cheese, Farm House smallgoods, Bahen & Co brownies and wine. This was probably my favourite ‘event’ of the whole Gourmet Escape experience and I would definitely recommend it for 2016. The access to purveyors was unlimited and for avid gourmands this is an experience not to be missed.
All our days were mostly back to back sightseeing and eating so our chances of having a low-key relaxing holiday was never really on the cards. After a quick costume change, we made our way over to ‘Voyager Estate’ where we settled in for the Audi Collaboration dinner -$300. This dinner involved chefs Chele Gonzalez from Gallery Vask in the Philippines, Nigel Harvey from the Voyager Estate and Ryan Squires from Esquire in Brisbane. The idea is a great one, chefs from different backgrounds, cooking styles and cuisines coming together to create an interesting and innovative menu.
Chele started off with a bang with the ‘Marron with mushrooms’ – a sweet, tender marron morsel with a rich mushroom consume. An interesting kick from the pickled mango tickled the senses and brought some shock factor. The macadamias and onions provided some crunch, this was a highlight for me.
Nigel followed on with the main, the ‘Margaret River Wagyu with horseradish’. The adorning parsnip crisp was nice for some textural mouth feel, the horseradish cream was not overpowering and most important of all and the steak was cooked beautifully. The purple carrot was an almost flawless few bites with an intense sweetness but the whole dish fell rather flat, especially after the classy marron. It was all just a little underwhelming. Steak at the Gourmet Escape? Where was the innovation? Sorry.
And lastly, Ryan with dessert. ‘Campari Curds & Whey’. Sadly it did not get any better from here. This was the dish I enjoyed watching every single person at the table take a bite off. Their reactions were priceless. Which was perhaps the aim? The entire dessert was tremendously and unenjoyably bitter, Imagine packets of wiz fizz in a dessert and you pretty much have this dish. The cheese ice-cream (yes you heard that right) was slight and understated and you almost needed a large swig of the pairing sticky wine to balance out the bitter/sweet tones.
$300 later we were left disappointed with the food, the people on our table were fantastic and really made the night that much more special. AND I’ve made a mental note for my future wedding at Voyager Estate!!!
Now for the main event, the Gourmet Village. It’s always hilarious to drive through virtual paddocks and dirt roads in a rental Toyota Yaris said no-one ever!! One thing we were struck by, was the vibrant redness of the soil in WA. Being a recent purchaser of a swish Audi we were able to hob knob in the Audi customer lounge where the Aperol spritzs and sparkling water was in abundance and if you were fortunate to grab a seat in the shade it was a cool place to unwind.
This was larger than any food event I’ve ever attended with a range of stalls, foods, demonstrations and talks. Despite the heat the crowd was easy-going, no pushing and shoving, it was far more civilised than I thought it would be.
We did compile our food gems to score a bunch of different food items. I won’t go in to too much detail about each dish or we’ll be here all day, plus, it’s super hard to judge the quality in such an impractical setting. The first was a ‘Truffled Gnochhi with Marron’ from Genuinely Southern Forest.
‘Bib & Tucker’ provided one of our favourites the ‘Charcoal Roasted Lamb’ made by that gorgeous eggplant purée and an interesting dukkah crisp.
I saw one burger on the menu for the whole event and I knew it was fate. But sometimes fate is a cruel beast. The ‘Karridale Angus Burger’ from Bar Felix was really nothing more than stomach filler and a waste of calories. Sad times indeedy.
El Rio were serving up some fantastic Mexican food and we couldn’t go past the ‘Canal Rocks Kingfish Ceviche’ and the ‘Charred Chicken Taco’. Light and refreshing with some popping zesty flavours.
The last of the savoury was a ‘Crispy Soft Shell Crab Tortilla’ from ‘Hay Shed Hill’.
We were a little disappointed with the dessert offerings in the village but Joyce managed to laser in on the ‘Coco Whip’ which is basically ice-cream for fitness freaks.
And of course, trust two baking obsessed girls to narrow in on the two doughnut stalls, we picked up four for the arduous drive back up to Perth the following day. Our favourites from ‘Sweet Dream Foods’ are some of the best doughnuts I’ve eaten, even the day after. We were equally enamoured by ‘The Honeycake’ and had intentions of picking a few up in Perth to take back to Sydney but time just wasn’t on our side.
I really can’t rave about the Margaret River and the whole Gourmet Escape experience enough, there was just an electricity in the air. It was truly a memorable and special experience and I had the perfect partner in crime!
More on the Margaret River and WA to come!!