Gourmet travels in the Land of the BBQ

by Lauren Jarvis on 19 December 2014, 10:12AM

Lauren Jarvis heads to Western Australia and finds gourmet cuisine is on the up in the land Down Under

Australia may be known as the spiritual home of the BBQ, but these days, there’s plenty more than chargrilled steak on the menu. Spend some time in the south-western corner of Australia and WA’s cosmopolitan capital, Perth, and you’ll not only discover one of the world’s most celebrated wine-making regions in Margaret River, but exciting foodie experiences, secluded luxury lodges and world-class restaurants, all set against a stunning backdrop of wild, untouched coastline and some of the planet’s oldest, most magical forests.

“I’ve never seen a food revolution happen in any country in the world like it’s happened in Australia,” reveals Michelin-starred chef, Heston Blumenthal, during a chat at the launch of this Margaret River Gourmet Escape food festival, which took place in November. “The effect that Australian MasterChef has had on the general public is amazing – it’s exploded. The enthusiasm for food is incredible – even the taxi drivers are talking about their beetroot salad.”

Heston’s right – Australia is upping its culinary credentials, from the extensive award-winning wine cellar and five-star gourmet menu designed by renowned chef, Neil Perry, on its Qantas flights; to catering for a new breed of diner demanding paleo, gluten-free, vegan or raw in restaurants and hotel dining rooms across the continent. If you’re a food lover, there’s never been a better time to head Down Under. 

In the country’s south west, the gourmet uprising’s been building over the last five years, with foodie gatherings like Albany’s Saturday-morning farmer’s market offering a platform for super-fresh produce from local small-holders. Artisan bread, cheese and chocolate makers are getting the attention of chefs from the region’s top eateries, including Perth’s multi-award-winning Restaurant Amusé, which offers an imaginatively mouth-watering degustation menu featuring locally grown ingredients, each uniquely presented at the table by the chefs responsible for their creation in the kitchen. 

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Margaret River’s vineyards such as the elegant Leeuwin Estate are producing world-class wines, while Denmark’s hip Boston Brewery makes wonderful craft beers, and Albany’s boutique Great Southern Distilling Company produces small-batch, premium-quality whiskies in traditional copper-pot stills. Visitors can rock up for tastings year-round at the cellar door, while the annual Gourmet Escape brings together top chefs, local producers and food-lovers for three days every November to celebrate the best the region has to offer. 

“We host some of the Gourmet Escape  gatherings here on our lawns and it’s always such a fun, special event,” says Simone Horgan-Furlong, whose family owns Leeuwin Estate, which also runs an al fresco summer concert series. Complete with a contemporary art gallery and verandah restaurant overlooking the karri forest, Leeuwin is the perfect place to while away a sunny afternoon, sipping one of their award-winning glasses of “Art Series” Chardonnays, or indulging in a dinner designed by one of the Gourmet Escape guest chefs, such as Heston, Rick Stein or René Redzepi.

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Nearby vineyard, Aravina Estate, is also foodie paradise, with celebrated Australian chef, Tony Howell, magically transforming the freshest, locally grown produce (some from the Estate’s garden) into tantalising Asian-inspired dishes. With an idyllic view of the lake and vineyards beyond, I while away a few hours over a lunch of king oyster mushrooms with noodles, wakame and sesame quail egg, followed by desert of coffee canolli with hot chocolate fondue and masala strawberries, accompanied by a juicy glass of the winery’s signature Shiraz Tempranillo. It’s a perfect afternoon. 

Having been tempted to (over) indulge in foodie delights during my own two-week stay in the south west, I decide to sign up for a gourmet tour with a difference with The Margaret River Discovery Company, which combines a vineyard visit with the chance to burn some calories canoeing along the river and hiking the Cape to Cape Track in the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park. Paddling along the crystal clear waterway with parrots and cockatoos flying through the towering eucalyptus trees overhead, company owner Sean Blocksidge shares the secret of the area’s wine-making success. “Unlike other parts of Australia which suffer floods, frost or drought, we have a fantastic year-round mild climate,” he reveals. “Summer temperatures rarely go above 30 degrees and winters rarely drop below zero.” Our paddle over, it’s back to the serious business of wine-tasting, as we jump into Sean’s 4X4 and head for a delicious lunch at Fraser Gallop Estate, accompanied by wines including their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, voted best Bordeaux blend in the world at the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards. 

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Leaving the winery behind, but still bathed in a ruby-red inner glow, we walk along the Cape to Cape Track, watching out for breaching humpback whales and dolphins, as kestrels swoop along the ancient, craggy cliffs below. While much is changing in the land Down Under, it’s reassuring to know that in this gorgeously wild region of Western Australia, some things will forever be the same.   


How to get there

Travelbag (0845 543 6615 / travelbag.co.uk) offers a self-drive package in Western Australia from £1,352 per person, including two nights in Perth and 10-day Maui Campervan hire. Book by 31/12/14 for travel between 04/04/15 - 31/05/15. Qantas flies from London Heathrow to Perth, with economy fares starting at £1,172 and business fares starting at £4,225. Visit qantas.com for latest deals. 

To find out more about the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, go to www.gourmetescape.com.au

To book a Margaret River Discovery Tour, go to www.margaretriverdiscovery.com.au

For more on Western Australia, go to www.westernaustralia.com 

Words: Lauren Jarvis. Images: Tourism WA.


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