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.
For me, the resort was probably at its peak in the 1990s, and I watched its slight decline slowly over the last 20 years of visits. Aqua bikes and paddle boats are no longer options for hire, the mini golf where my cousin Dustin and I used to play looks very neglected and the once proud trout farm and the kiosk where I would eat chicken nuggets while watching my uncle fish is not completely abandoned. Still, the forest around the lake is as incredible an attraction as it ever was, and Alissa and I enjoyed walking the trail to Beedelup Falls with its improved viewing platform and much better managed trail.
The bird life are still as friendly and as tame as ever, boldly taking food from our hands, with one brave enough to even sit on Alissa's shoulder while eating Pringles!
And of course, above all, its really a perfect place to relax - something Alissa and I were happy to do after our fiasco with the car breaking down a few days earlier. When the view from your balcony is as picturesque as it is overlooking Lake Beedelup, its hard to really argue with my cousin's assertion that this is one of his favourite places in the world.
Karri Valley Resort's hotel restaurant is the aptly named Lakeside Restaurant. I dined there once a very long time ago in the late 90s, however since we usually cooked our own food in the chalets, I don't remember it very well. Staying in one of the kitchenless lakeside rooms, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to see what Lakeside Restaurant's food was like these days.
Still feeling a bit full from our massive pancakes at the Lavender and Berry Farm earlier that day, Alissa and I were grateful when our friendly and attentive waitress Jo advised that one entree would be enough for the two of us. For our shared entree, Alissa and I went with the Szechuan Calamari with Chili Aioli. Alissa and I are suckers for good squid, and we were unfortunately a bit disappointed. Flavourwise, it was well seasoned and quite tasty, with a good salty-spiciness to the squid and a decent, creamy and spicy aioli. The problem was the coating was a bit soggy, and calling it Szechuan was somewhat inaccurate as it did not really taste much like Szechuan cuisine at all; it was simply not ballsy enough to be reminiscent of that style of cooking. When we dined at Monogamous Chinese in Hong Kong we ate Szechuan food that is considered by some to be a bit watered down, and even then we were served chicken in a basket of chillis that was so hot we could barely eat it! With its mild spice, the squid could not rightly be called Szechuan and while decent enough, were far from the best squid we've had.
Thankfully my main of Trout Fettuccine, made with Local Pemberton Smoked Trout, House made Fettuccine, Baby Capers, Spanish Onion, Pernod & Dill Cream reduction, was streets ahead; it was not just the best dish of the night, but a very good dish in its own right. Impressively, the pasta was made fresh in house and prepped to order and was cooked well - slightly more done than al dente, but definitely within the acceptable region of correct pasta cooking. The smokiness of the trout delightfully permeated the entire dish - even when not eating the delicious pieces of trout, I could taste the fishy, smoky flavour that was backed up nicely by the anise one-two punch of dill and Pernod. With small pieces of baby caper providing nice salty pops throughout, this was a really good main that caused the usually seafood pasta-averse Alissa to be filled with dish envy.
Alissa's main of Roast Duck, Mushroom & Asparagus Risotto was very flavoursome - complex and layered, creamy and umami, with parmesan, mushroom and tarragon providing a bulk of the dish's power. The duck could have been more plentiful considering its pride of place in the dish's title, however Alissa and I agreed it would have been fine without the duck as the vegetables were the real stars. Of course, the risk with risotto is that it will be a bit gluggy; this could not be said of this dish. Unfortunately, the opposite was true - the arborio rice was a bit undercooked, and some sections were somewhat grainier than others. Perhaps there was a fear of overcooking it, or the easily overcooked pasta I ordered made it difficult to get both dishes out at the same time perfectly. Whatever the case is, the slightly undercooked rice was a bit of shame, as whoever was in charge of seasoning and building the flavour combos had a great palate that was unfortunately let down. Overall, we agreed its better a bit under than overcooked, and that there was enough good about the dish for it still have been very good.
The Key Lime Pie however was a big disappointment - so big in fact that it didn't seem to be a Key Lime Pie at all! It definitely did not taste like any Key Lime Pie Alissa and I have ever eaten, and instead of the lightly cooked lime and condensed milk filling it tasted more like a baked lime cheesecake, with the crust even looking like a biscuit base, By that measure it would have been a decent if not particularly noteworthy cheesecake, however since it was called Key Lime I'm not sure what happened here. The lime zest grated in also seemed a bit too course, and left a jarring, bitter taste. Thankfully the Berry Coulis and Cream helped in this regard. All in all, this seemed like a case of a dish seemingly given a completely different name to what it was, and Alissa and I wished we'd followed Jo's recommendation for the chocolate dessert special on offer.
The Verdict: Good
Lakeside Restaurant was a bit of a mixed bag; my Smoked Trout Pasta main was bordering on excellent, while Alissa's Risotto was very good if undercooked. Meanwhile, or entree and dessert seemed to be wildly mislabelled, with both being merely good dishes (the Lime Cheesecake only just barely). The mains seemed to come from a completely different and better restaurant, and Alissa and I were a bit puzzled by the inconsistency - especially considering how skillfully seasoned both our main dishes were. These dishes showed there is skill in the kitchen and with a bit of better quality control and more accurate naming of dishes, Lakeside Restaurant could be a very good restaurant. Unfortunately, its not quite there yet.