Its been called one of the best cellar doors in Australia, and has remained consistently at the very top of the best regional restaurants rankings in the Good Food Guide with and equal-highest rating of two stars and 17/20. To say Vasse Felix's reputation precedes it is an understatement.
One of the great perks of living in Perth is that its so close to two amazing wine regions - the world renowned Margaret River region, and the criminally underrated Great Southern. Only back a few weeks from Alissa and Don Eat Asia, we had come down to Margaret River for a wedding and on our way back decided to replenish our depleted wine supplies and try chef Alan Carr's latest creations at the Vasse Felix restaurant.
Owing to being the first vineyard in Margaret River and their continued presence at the forefront of the region's 5-Star wineries, the cellar door-restaurant complex was one of the more expansive in the region.
We had arrived early and were the first to be seated for their lunch service. The high ceiling dining space on the upstairs floor lacked air conditioning, and on this hot Summer day the room was warm indeed even with fans feebly whirring in the background. Thankfully we were seated near the door, where the cooling winds did their best to relieve the less than optimum temperature.
The food menu was divided into sections - Entree, Main, Sides, Dessert and Cheese, and featured the kind of vague ingredients-only dish names that has become quite popular - 'Jamon, nectarine, granola, fennel, buttermilk' and 'Chicken, black eyed beans, corn, merquez, chipotle' for example. Some might find this pretentious, but sometimes its nice to have that element of surprise when the dish finally arrives. We chose to go with a shared entree, two mains and two desserts and since we had a long list of wineries to visit, we skipped the wine and opted for coffee instead.
While we waited for our first plate to arrive, we were given the obligatory serve of bread. This was good bread with a nice softness to the fluffy white interior, but it was not exactly memorable in the way the bread at Caprice and Otto e Mezzo was.
We were swayed away from individual entrees by the duck content in the Charcuterie plate. Duck parfait, duck ham and duck & pork rillette, along with some cured pork fennel sausage and a chicken, prune and pistachio terrine? Yes please! Being fans of this kind of very European-style tasting plate filled with an abundance of flavours and textures, this was a great way to start our meal - even if some of those other entrees sounded amazing.
I love a good plate of protein, but the main that caught my eye the most was the vegetarian option of Buckweat Gnocchi, Cauliflower, Raisin, Goats Cheese, Hazelnut. I used to be of the opinion that gnocchi was gross and rubbery - until I realised the off-the-shelf rubbish that passes for the stuff is nothing like the soft, creamy consistency of the real thing.
'My god!' I exclaimed as the crispy fried outer layer of the gnocchi gave way to the super-soft and smooth interior. This is how gnocchi should be. The cauliflower was served in three ways - fried florets, slivers that had been dehydrated and a foamy puree. All were delicious, and paired well with the goats cheese and a vegetable I'm not normally particular fond of - kale. Throw in the sweet raisin and hazelnut sauce at the bottom, and this was a really winning dish.
Pork was on the menu, so of course Alissa went with the Pork Shoulder, Onion, Endive, Mustard as her main. Plating was absolutely stunning - almost too pretty to eat. Tastewise, the pork shoulder was perfectly cooked as it was flavoursome and juicy, and the classic flavour combination reminded her of a very fancy version of the kind of Dutch-influence cooking she enjoyed as a child. If food has that kind of sensory flashback effect, I think it definitely a success.
Of course, you can't have a good European-style pork dish without the crackling and this salted, crispy crackling was a real treat.
I love cardamom in sweets, and it convinced me to order the Guava, Apple, Cardamom, Honeycomb dish for dessert. The plating of the multiple component dessert was again very beautiful. The combination of textures and flavours were sublime - the smoothness of the guava mousse combined with the crunch of the thinly slice apple and the honeycomb alongside the sweetness of the sauce, jelly and the cardamom brioche provided a delicious final course to the meal
Alissa's dessert was even better; a large part of which owes to the fact it had sorbet as a component. I love sorbet on a good day but during a heatwave I wanted it even more. The dish -Mango, Coconut, Yuzu, Forbidden Rice - drew from a wide range of Asian flavours. The Forbidden rice for one was basically just pulut hitam. It was not necessarily the best pulut hitam either of us have ever eaten (it was a bit too stiff for my liking) but when combined with all the coconut slivers, the meringue, sorbet, fruit and the rice cracker on top, it made for a refreshingly tropical dish that was perfect for the hot day.
The Verdict: Excellent
Vasse Felix's reputation is well deserved - this was one of the best cellar door meals I've had, and was of a quality level that was not just 'good by Regional Australia standards', but of a standard that did not need such qualifications. Alan Carr is an inventive chef with a keen understanding of flavour and textures, as these wonderful dishes reflect. Certainly worth making a part of your itinerary next time you're in Margaret River.