Monday, 16 February 2015

Petite Villaine, Denmark, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Two years ago, Alissa and I visited Rockcliffe Winery for lunch. Back then, their cellar door restaurant was Silas Masih's Pepper & Salt - arguably the best and most interesting restaurant in Denmark - and Masih's spice-driven fusion cuisine combined with the ambiance of Rockcliffe's idyllic vineyards and gardens made for a very satisfying, lazy afternoon in the South West. By the end of that year, Pepper & Salt had moved out of Rockcliffe to take up residence at Forest Hill. I understood the move - Forest Hill's grand dining room is one of the best you're likely to find at any of WA's best cellar door restaurants, but I felt a bit sorry for Rockcliffe in a way, and hoped that the restaurant space would once again house a restaurant worthy of its setting.

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Joop Thai, Albany, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

During our last few trips to Albany, Alissa and I have been a little disappointed with the lack of really interesting premier restaurants. The cafe's on York St and the Terrace are fine and all (Gourmandise and Co is particularly impressive), however its really hard to find places that really shine as true contenders for the city's best and most interesting restaurant; even the better dining options recommended by our family in the region have lagged behind memorable dining experiences like Pepper & Salt in Denmark, and Foragers in Pemberton - strange, considering Albany is a city compared to those much smaller towns.

One strong recommendation we hadn't followed up on during our last few trips was Joop Thai - a restaurant that is apparently a firm favourite with the locals and was thus a top priority for us to investigate this time. Located on Lockyer Avenue, Joop's premises look like it had once been home to a Sizzler or one of those old Pizza Huts before they stopped doing dine in service.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Gourmandise & Co, Albany, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

One of my favourite things to do in the lead up to a holiday is to scour the internet for tips and leads on interesting dining experiences, and then getting all the leads together and creating a schedule of places to check out. For the Busselton to Margaret River leg of our holiday through the South West, many of our meals were planned and booked months ahead, however as Alissa and I were staying with her parents for a whole week in Denmark, we decided to keep our schedule a bit more loose and adaptable. Using Denmark as our base, Alissa and I headed out to Albany for a day trip to visit the National Anzac Centre, have dinner at Joop Thai and try out Gourmandise and Co - a 'place for a good coffee and a simple lunch' recommended to us by Chris Zalokar after our excellent dinner at Foragers in Pemberton.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Foragers, Pemberton, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Sometimes the storm clouds of misfortune has a silver lining. On the way to Pemberton from Margaret River the airflow sensor in our car failed, leading to our car being towed to Augusta, another three days in Margaret River and delaying the Pemberton leg of our journey. At the time, stuck out in the searing hot sun, worried that we'd lose our deposit for our accommodation at Karri Valley Resort and then having to pay for unexpected repairs, it felt like a pretty hopeless situation. However, with a very understanding Karri Valley changing our booking, Alissa and I found ourselves in Pemberton on a Thursday and Friday night instead of the planned Monday and Tuesday. As luck would have it, the change of days meant our trip to Pemberton lined up with a dinner at Foragers, a unique cooking school, farm, restaurant and accommodation hybrid run by chef and food writer Sophie Zalokar and her husband Chris.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Truffle Hill Gourmet Cafe (Truffle & Wine Co), Manjimup, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

One of the great pleasures of wintertime in Western Australia is Truffle Season. Home to the largest producer of Black Truffles in the world, restaurants throughout Perth get in on the gift of the season with truffle-oriented dishes and even entire menus devoted to the Black Truffle - everyone ranging from fine dining stalwarts like 1907 right down to more casual eateries like Old Faithful. Such is the quality of Manjimup Truffles that they've been spruiked by chefs as influential as Heston Blumenthal and David Chang, and even the French are actually importing our Truffles for their off-season.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Lakeside Restaurant (Karri Valley Resort), Pemberton, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Holidays Down South are some of the most cherished memories of my childhood, and few places are imbued with more nostalgia than Karri Valley. Along with Albany, Karri Valley Resort was our favourite destination for family holidays Down South, and I vividly remember canoeing on the lake with my Dad while wearing my favourite stripy t-shirt, walking a section of the Bibbulman for the first time on the opposite side of the lake, and games nights of Celebrity Heads, Monopoly and Scrabble with family and friends whenever we stayed in one of the larger chalets. It was where I celebrated my 13th birthday, and there are albums we listened to while driving through the karri forests that to this day bring back fond memories of a happy childhood.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Lavender and Berry Farm, Pemberton, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

One of the interesting things about having visited the South West repeatedly over the last 20+ years is seeing how many things have changed, while others stay the same. I walked Busselton Jetty before the fire of 1999 when it was a bit more obviously wooden, and I visited Ngilgi Cave when it was still called Yallingup Cave. I remember when Karri Valley Resort had aqua bikes and paddle boats, and when the on site trout farm was busy with keen fishing enthusiasts. And I remember the '90s iteration of Middleton Beach's Esplanade Hotel before it became the sad, empty lot it is today. Some of these changes have been for the better while others have not, but its remarkable that some things in the South West have remained the same to this day.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen, Margaret River, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

I've said it before and I'll say it again - pizza is an easy dish to make at a mediocre level (hence its ubiquity), but one that is very difficult to truly master. The dough, the thickness of the base, the type of oven, the temperature, the amount of toppings on top - all these variables greatly influence the final result, and while exotic and clever pizza topping combinations are obvious ways to make a pizza appear better, if the fundamentals of a great base are not achieved first then half the battle is already lost. Its for this reason I seldom seek out pizza, but when our friends Cam and Nadia said the Swings Taphouse & Kitchen made the best pizza they'd eaten since they lived in Italy, I knew it was something worth trying. We initially thought of saving it for future Down South holiday, however after a car breakdown meant another three nights in Margaret River, Alissa and I decided to pop into Swings for a late lunch.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Settlers Tavern (American BBQ Lunch), Margaret River, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Our last meal in Margaret River was meant to be our breakfast at Morries; we had our car packed and ready to go, and after stopping in for a wine tasting at Stella Bella and a coffee at Yahava, we were on the road for two nights in Karri Valley. As we were driving down Brockman Hwy, our car suddenly stopped and would not start up again. After a few hours standing around in the searing sun, an RAC mechanic trying his best to figure out what was wrong with the car, a rope tow to Augusta, a $400 order for a faulty Airflow Sensor and being advised of a 2-3 day wait for the part to come from Sydney, Alissa and I were rescued by our friends Cam and Nadia and taken back to Margaret River. With Karri Valley Resort kindly changing the date of our booking and Cam and Nadia telling us to stay as long as we needed, Alissa and I decided to make the most of this less than ideal situation by sampling a few more restaurants on the Margaret River main strip, with Settlers Tavern's American Barbecue menu high on our list after Cam's strong recommendation.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Morries Anytime (Lunch and Breakfast), Margaret River, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

In spite of only having been established less than 3 years ago, Morries Anytime has become something of a Margaret River institution. It so well known and popular - the most blogged about restaurant in the region - that it feels like its always been there, and yet for all the regular visits Alissa and I have made over those same 3 years, we've never tried the food at Morries. With two nights set aside staying with our friends Cam and Nadia in Margaret River, Alissa and I were keen to rectify this oversight by trying the lunch and breakfast menus of 'Margaret Rivers first all day, anytime hospitality venue'.