Tucked away in the far southwest corner of Australia, nearly 300km (186mi) south of Perth, Margaret River has a temperate climate and relaxed atmosphere that make it the perfect hub for top-class restaurants and wineries. Once a centre of agriculture and timber production, the town is now home to vineyards that yield some of Australia’s finest wines. Here are our tips for the region’s best wining and dining.
Credited with planting the region’s first vineyards in 1967, Vasse Felix pioneered Margaret River’s viniculture. A restaurant followed in 1989 and these days Perth-born head chef Brendan Pratt is spearheading this much-loved restaurant to new heights and more accolades. Overlooking the soft rolling landscape of the estate’s original vines, modern Australian fine-dining is the order of the day, in both à la carte and tasting menus.
This quirky unfussy eatery serves up Japanese-like-no-other, from a chef who works his magic in front of his watching diners. Miki’s Open Kitchen serves four degustation menus, plus an à la carte, all centred on seafood tempura. There’s more than a simple nod to East-West fusion here in the ever-changing menu: dishes like snapper with surinagashi soup and saltbush reflect Mikihito Nagai’s mission to ally local produce and ingredients with Japanese technique and flavours.
Farm-turned-vineyard, Arimia’s holistic approach to conscionable farming is mirrored in head chef Evan Hayter’s take on modern Australian cuisine tinged with Japanese influences. A Regional Restaurant of the Year 2020 finalist, you might start with soy glazed cabbage, macadamia and pickled capers and end with citrus curd, plum sorbet and oatmeal. This restaurant looks and feels like an airy modern farmstead dropped into the lush bush; solar panels help maintain an eco-friendly off-grid kitchen.
Among the region’s founding wineries, this former cattle farm’s transformation to elegant cellar and award-winning restaurant is spectacular, with views across sloping lawns to a forest-backed stage, famed for concerts featuring A-list performers, are picturesque. There’s a three-course set menu or a six-course tasting menu with a choice of current or museum release wines; you’ll likely encounter raw scallops, marron (a particularly large crayfish), wagyu beef with smoked onion and bush tomato.
Named after native gum trees, Yarri melds seasonal local produce and ingredients with indigenous herbs, plants and splashes of Japanese technique. Chef Aaron Carr made his name at Vasse Felix, but is now striving for more simplified fare at this location. Menus reflect this by simply itemising ingredients, but around here casual is a strictly relative term as reviews suggest an enigmatic, almost alchemical, approach to gastronomy. Want something quick? Yarri will happily serve charcuterie and a glass of Chardonnay.
A cheery antidote to genteel fine dining, Margaret River Brewhouse is set among bushland and eucalyptus groves is a popular no-nonsense joint which often has live music. An accomplished array of lagers, ales and stouts is bolstered with a range of pub grub that segues from pizza and burgers to tempura, curries and modern Australian food. From lemon risotto to beef cheek, sticky pork to beer battered mackerel, this is solid keenly-priced fare and the sort of place where you might want to give your taste buds a night in rather than a day off.
Nestling in the Stevens Valley, on southern edge of town, Spanish-born head chef Santiago Fernandez spearheads Voyager Estate’s food du terroir showcasing produce sourced from local suppliers or his organic kitchen garden. Four-course degustation lunch menus embrace Australian wagyu beef, aged duck and spring lamb dishes embellished with shiso and youlk. Vegetarians fear not; there’s an eclectic four-course terroir menu. The estate’s Wine Room also offers wine tasting with local charcuterie and cheese.
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