This post first appeared on Asia 361.
Some people travel to see destinations. Others travel in search of adventures. Then, there are those who travel to embark on culinary journeys. Travelling for food – that was exactly what I did last month when I went to Margaret River in Western Australia.
Located about three hours’ drive from Perth, the Margaret River region is well-known for its premium wineries and great food. In fact, it has become one of the world’s best wine-producing regions in less than 50 years. Margaret River’s reputation precedes the Western Australian town – I have long heard of it from friends even before I visited it for myself. And, I could see why it is very much a slice of heaven for a gourmand.
Rub Shoulders with Celebrity Chefs
Margaret River is fast sealing its status as one of Australia’s to-go culinary destinations. That is perhaps the reason why the annual big gourmet event Margaret River Gourmet Escape is held at this beautiful coastal part of Western Australia. Into its third year, the event is not just any ordinary food event; it attracts some of the biggest names in the culinary world, along with more than 200 participating vineyards, microbreweries and local food producers.
Having taken place from 20 to 22 November, this year’s Gourmet Escape saw a stellar list of the who’s who in the culinary scene, and by stellar, I’m talking about Michelin-starred chefs like Marco Pierre White and Sat Bains.
At one of the many satellite events called ‘Feast in the Forest’, we dined in an authentic Australian barn in a forest (hence the name). As if the idea of dining in such a sublime setting wasn’t enough, we were feasting on delicacies made from the freshest locally sourced quality ingredients, cooked by UK-based Chef Sat Bains of 2-Michelin-star Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms, and George Calombaris of MasterChef Australia fame. It was almost surreal.
The heart of the three-day culinary extravaganza is the Gourmet Village. Held on the sprawling grounds of famous winery Leeuwin Estate, the Gourmet Village was akin to a huge playground for gourmands and wine connoisseurs. Hundreds of stalls selling the best of local produce – from artisanal jams to chocolates to good ol’ Aussie grilled food – set up on the sun-soaked field. Wine lovers took to the wine tastings like bees to honey. The towering stage at the centre of the Village had culinary heavyweights (I saw MasterChef Australia judge Matt Preston) doing cooking demonstrations.
So vibrant was the atmosphere, it’s little wonder that British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal once described the Gourmet Escape as his favourite food festival.
Wine and Dine Your Way Through
The Margaret River region has more than 220 local wine producers, and is responsible for producing about 25 per cent of Australia’s premium wine. In fact, Margaret River has gained quite an international reputation for world-class wines, particularly its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, due to a unique climate that is optimum for growing grapes. It would seem sacrilegious to visit Margaret River without a stop at one of the wineries.
Visit at least one of the founding wineries of the region, such as Vasse Felix, Leeuwin Estate, Cullen, Moss Wood and Cape Mentelle. Besides tastings, there are tours to take you behind the scenes to see the wine-making process from vine to bottle.
Even if you are not an oenophile, you can dine at the restaurants at the wineries for an enhanced epicurean experience. Leeuwin Estate, for instance, offers a seasonal seven-course degustation menu paired with carefully selected Estate wines. Some of these gastronomic experiences at the wineries are tailored to satiate even the harshest food critic.
Get the Freshest Produce
Few things in life stir the soul of a foodie or chef like fresh local produce do. Pop by the local Margaret River Farmers’ Market for an authentic taste of the Aussie region. Held every Saturday from 8am to 12 noon in Margaret River town, the Farmers’ Market has been operating for more than 13 years. You will discover some 40 to 50 stalls set up by local farmers, growers and manufacturers.
Organic fruits, chocolates, olive oils, baked goods, cheese, homemade ice cream. These are just a handful of the food on offer at the Farmers’ Market. I was told that only those who grow the produce or make the products themselves within the region are allowed to set up stalls.
It’s a heady experience at the bustling Farmers’ Market. You get to smell fresh produce, eat food cooked on the spot, join in the buzz and mingle with the real folks who literally grow the stuff they are selling. This sure beats shopping at the supermarket anytime.
Visit Artisan Producers and Farms
The Margaret River region boasts not only premium wineries, but also innumerable artisan producers and farms. There’s something for everyone.
If you are looking for family-friendly activities, consider dropping by a farm for a fun-filled day out. We stopped by Wonky Windmill Farm and Eco Park in Busselton where we not only got a taste of mandarins and lemons from the orchard, but also of picking them ourselves. Both adults and children will find joy at the farm. You’ll be given bags of food to feed the farm animals. We got up close to some of the animals like Shetland ponies, kangaroos, llamas, emus and goats.
Make time to also visit some of the artisan producers around the region. From chocolate to cheese to nougat to olive oil, there are a myriad of choices to suit every palate. We dropped by Margaret River Chocolate Factory, Vasse Virgin Olive Oils and Bettenay’s Nougat Factory. At each of these places, you’ll get to sample some of the most sumptuous food, which means you’ll not only have to make time, but also make room in your tummy.
Eat, drink and be merry at Margaret River.
Special thanks to Tourism Western Australia for making this trip possible.