I recently was lucky enough to get two days off work, which combined with a weekend meant four relaxing days to travel to south-west WA and engage in all the delights that the Margaret River Gourmet Escape had to offer. The Gourmet Escape is an annual celebration of the fresh produce, gourmet delicacies, world class wines and laidback lifestyle in the foodie heaven that is this part of our extraordinary state. In its 3rd year, it attracts star chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Rick Stein, as well as personalities such as Matt Preston and James Halliday. This year Ollie and I had gotten our hands on tickets to a few of the satellite events, as well as the must-see central event at the heart of this festival, the Gourmet Village at Leeuwin Estate.
Given we had a leisurely drive down on Friday, we decided to stop in for lunch at a winery along the way. It was Ollie’s turn to choose, and he settled on Watershed Winery for the fantastic views it promised. It certainly delivered on the views, and despite the intermittently rainy day we took our chances and sat outside to take maximum advantage of it. The wine got a big tick in my books, but the food and service was a little off the mark. Ollie had a nice starter of scallops and crispy pork ($20, bottom right), but my main meal of shoulder and rack of lamb with spring vegetables, kohlrabi, potato fondant and marjoram gravy ($38) left me a little underwhelmed. Overall though, a fairly relaxing experience which was nice after our long drive down.
Friday night bought with it the first of our satellite events, the ‘Feast in the Forest’ dinner at the Safari Club at Leeuwin Estate. This event was a farm to fork style event, with chefs Ben and Elvis from Porteno in Sydney carving up some top-notch smoked lamb, along with a range of other treats for the palate. This truly was a feast in the forest – this secluded clearing hidden at the back of the Leeuwin Estate was home to a small outdoor space, and an open assembly type area building with stunningly styled long tables for the sit down dinner. On arrival, we were greeted with a glass of wine, and invited to find a spot outside near the open fire coal pit where dinner was being slow roasted. Assorted canapés (toast with romesco and sardines; crackers with morcilla and smoked oyster mayonaise; and mussels with chilli) were bought around by friendly wait staff before dinner was served, all delicious and and perfect for warming up our tastebuds for what was to come.
As we sat down inside, we met a really lovely couple (Michelle and Jamie), and I was pretty excited to have some fun people sitting across from us that we could have a chat to over the share style plates. Dinner included the most amazing brussel sprouts I have ever tasted – crispy, charred, served with lentils and mint, these were incredibly more-ish. I wasn’t sure if I was sad that Ollie couldn’t experience them due to his lentil allergy, or happy that it meant there was more for me. Seeing as he doesn’t particularly like brussel sprouts, I don’t feel TOO bad saying that! Also on the menu was BBQ’d peppers with ricotta, and ‘ensalada classica’ (aka a tomato and onion salad) The all-important lamb was perfectly seasoned, with a crispy skin and moist, succulent meat accompanied by flavoursome chimichurri. There was plenty of it to go around as well, and it was smiles all around at our end of the table. After dinner for us sweet tooths was a deconstructed pavlova with passionfruit and mango – two of my absolute favourite toppings on this quintessential Australian dessert.
After the Feast in the Forest, we had a few glasses of wine with Michelle and Jamie at the Margaret River Tavern (and then a few more). As a result, we woke up feeling a little worse for wear on the Saturday, and decided to drive into the Gourmet Village and have a relatively quiet day. Whether it was a result of my hangover or not, the Gourmet Village wasn’t the highlight of my weekend. The queue’s to get in and buy GEM’s seemed really badly organised – I heard tales of those who hadn’t had their tickets sent out in the mail having to wait over an hour to pick them up (only to wait another half an hour to actually get in). We already had our tickets, but it still took about an hour and 15 minutes to get in and get some GEM’s. Having said that, once we had done that, there was some really fun stalls, and I enjoyed the tapas style dishes that were on offer. We signed up for one of the Canon food photography workshops as well, which was interesting and informative, and I would recommend to anyone considering it next year – it was a good chance to play around with a lot of expensive gear that you wouldn’t normally get a chance to use. Lots of people at the Village looked like they were having a very merry day by the end of it, the tip from the locals was to go on Sunday next year as the queue’s are a lot smaller – advice I think I shall heed.
The Audi Gourmet Beach BBQ with Oliver Gould from Stokehouse, Melbourne on the Sunday was the highlight of the weekend by a mile! This event was the perfect pairing of laidback and luxury against the backdrop of the magnificent Castle Rock Beach (Cape Naturaliste), and it was exactly what I needed after an exhausting day at Gourmet Village. As we walked off the bus, it became apparent that we were invited to slip off our shoes and enjoy the sand between our toes for the afternoon – pure bliss! Despite the sun poking its head out just in time for lunch after a gloomy weekend, we quickly nabbed a couch in one of the tents as both Ollie and I have very fair skin and would be as red as lobsters if we sat out in the sun all afternoon! Grabbing some Young Henry beers, which are brewed locally at an old dairy farm in Margaret River, we both had ridiculously big grins on our faces as we took in our surroundings.
Canapes quickly started circulating, and not having had breakfast I quickly jumped on these. On offer was Esperance scallops with parsley, lemon and nori butter; Exmouth prawns with romesco sauce; Arkady lamb kofta with smoked paprika yoghurt and eggplant relish; truffled artichoke on ciabatta with proscuitto; Shark Bay whiting, tempura with BBQ’d lemon; marinated olives; and chorizo wrapped chicken with creamed chickpea. Everything was fresh and summer-y, and top of the list for me was that impossibly light Shark Bay Whiting, which had that much needed zing with the lemon drizzled on top, and just about melted in your mouth.
After all that food, I didn’t think it was possible to fit anything else in my tummy, but when the buffet style dishes came out my my mind and heart won out over my stomach, and I ventured forth to fill up my plate with more tempting options. On the buffet was lamb shoulder with green chili harissa, zucchini, pea and mint salad; soba noodles with edamame, avocado, sesame dressing and scallions; asparagus with miso butter; and salad of baby greens with balsamic emulsion. The lamb was absolutely gorgeous – the moist meat was complemented well by the spicy harissa, but the cold zucchini noodle salad provided a fresh relief for your tastebuds. All washed down with a cold beer, I was truly in a state a bliss. The soba noodle salad was also a winner, and one I really want to try and re-create at home. After a chat between Anna Gare and Oliver Gould, we were treated to Margaret River vanilla icecream with fresh lime and Lamont’s Navera – a liqueur style fortified wine that mixed beautifully with the creamy ice-cream.
After that filling day, we had an early night and had breakfast at Bunkers Beach Cafe at the tip of Cape Naturaliste, which will be the topic of another post. It was a great meal though, and it is nice to see they haven’t just relied on their perfect beach views to bring in the customers.
Until next year, Gourmet Escape!