Cullen Vegetarian Dining Margaret River Region

It’s been years since Margaret River could be accused of being a sleepy hollow when it comes to good food and wine.

The results of this year’s West Australian Good Food Guide Awards makes official what those of us who know and love the Margaret River Region have been aware of for some time: there is some mighty good eating to be done between the beaches and the bush, courtesy of a new vanguard of chefs and restaurateurs with the skill and the passion to marry incredible produce with innovative technique and stunning spaces.

Get hungry, get in your car, and get touring. We’ve got a lot to get to.

Wills Domain

Wills Domain

Best Restaurant – West Australian Good Food Guide Awards 2018

The view from Wills Domain is incredible. The best in the region, according to Tom at cellar door, and you can forgive him his boast: vines lattice some 60-hectares of hill and valley, a postcard-perfect vista matched only by the painterly plates of chef Seth James. Texture, flavour and technique are the bywords here. An entrée of “chewy” carrots is served with quail chargrilled to tender richness, while a glazed dome Snickers dessert is a sweet explosion of salted caramel, peanut glace and honey ice cream. Dining options run the gamut from a la carte through to a multi-course ‘tasting menu’ that allows diners to see the chefs at work. Feels like too much commitment? You’re just as welcome to drop by for a cheeseboard and a glass of chardonnay. Whatever your appetite, do yourself a favour – go.

Voyager Estate

Voyager Estate

Best Regional Restaurant, Best Regional Chef, #3 in Top 10 Restaurants – West Australian Good Food Guide Awards 2018

The arrival of new chef Santiago Fernandez has led to a sexed up Voyager Estate that has lost nothing of the elegance and refinement for which the Cape Dutch-styled winery has long been known. A la carte is not an option here, but given ‘Santi’s’ expertise you’ll be glad for the multi-course experience; think local cured venison tartare with just-steamed oyster and oyster cream, or beef rib with treacle and celeriac. As for the dining experience, Voyager is as committed to service as it is to celebrating local farmers and producers; seating is plush, wait staff are observant, knowledgeable and reactive, and exquisite crockery will leave you feeling all grown up. Voyager is a true dining experience.

Vasse Felix

Leeuwin Estate & Vasse Felix

Top 10 Best Restaurants – West Australian Good Food Guide Awards 2018

Leeuwin Estate (#6) and Vasse Felix (#7) were the other two Margaret River Region winery restaurants to sneak into the Top 10, both singled out for sophisticated settings matched with menus that speak to a clear and well-articulated ethos. For Leeuwin, this equates with a modern menu led by new head chef Dan Gedge matching simplicity with faultlessly executed technique; a dish of wagyu cheek and sirloin dances a rich tango with smoked onion puree and a glossy mushroom jus, while flash-cured sashimi-style Geraldton kingfish is elegantly dressed with sesame, ginger and a fermented black bean crumb.

Vasse Felix head chef Brendan Pratt runs his own race in the wake of the departure of stalwart Aaron Carr, serving up dishes that are often richly Japanese-inspired; think corn kernels roasted on Pratt’s favoured Hibachi grill matched to a housemade XO sauce funked up with dried scallops, Parma ham and dried prawns. Both venues make the most of surrounding vine views with plenty of timber beams and acres of glass. Add to that some of the region’s best wines, and lunchtime is looking pretty good.

Cullen Restaurant

Cullen Wines, Yarri, Wise Wine & Xanadu

Top 50 Best Restaurants – West Australian Good Food Guide Awards 2018

One in, all in – at least, that appears to be the current Margaret River Region restaurant motto, with a healthy stable of winery and stand-alone restaurants pushing to reinforce the region’s winning foodie status. While Cullen Wines (#25) may not be a newcomer, the commitment of chef Iain Robertson to producing a menu equal to head winemaker Vanya Cullen’s meticulously curated biodynamic wines is reaping rewards for lucky lunchers. Robertson’s menu blends stunning local produce with Japanese influence and faultless French technique; Wagin duck done two ways – tender, compressed breast and a confit Maryland – is strongly met by sweetened calamondin, pickled mustard seeds and a subtle almond cream.

At Yarri (#31), a little ways up Caves Road in Dunsborough, chef and owner Aaron Carr is a devotee of the six Noongar seasons. Needless to say, native ingredients are a highlight, be it wood-grilled marron with XO and saltbush or mushrooms with quandong. Highlight of the schmick new natural timber and glass build is a wine garden beneath the ‘peppi’ trees.

Out at Eagle Bay, Wise Wine (#43) is another down south restaurant that has taken on both a new chef and a new attitude, this year, with stellar results. Ben Jacob is the chef to takeover the reigns at this impressively positioned winery, with its views of stunning Eagle Bay. Local suppliers and fresh produce are, again, important calling cards for a chef whose food sits on the refined side of rustic. Think beautifully cooked local venison with carrot and mandarin – well-matched flavours that are clean and concise. Breakfast is on seven days for those who prefer their morning brew with a view.

Back in Margaret River and just a stone’s throw from Voyager and Leeuwin Estate sits Xanadu (#45), a winery restaurant not keen to rest on its wine winning laurels (the winery won the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for the best young red for its 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon in October 2018). Head chef Melissa Kokoti plays with subtle Indian flavour in a dish of achar-spiced spitchcock, while kataifi-wrapped prawns top an almond, quinoa, pomegranate and honey crumb. The restaurant itself is a tranquil space wrapped around a wind-sheltered and grassed courtyard – the perfect spot to bask with a lauded Xanadu chardy come summer.

Fishbone Wines Restaurant

Pizzica, Fishbone & Morries

Best Casual Dining & Best Bar Dining Finalists – West Australian Good Food Guide Awards 2018

It may be dug into the ground beneath another restaurant, but there’s no longer any hiding the fact that Pizzica is far more than a bolthole pizza joint. With the help of his crack Italian wait and kitchen staff, owner Ivan Zecca has created a little slice of Italy in the heart of rural Australian wine country. While thin-crust pizzas topped thoughtfully with high-quality ingredients are the drawcard, the wood-fired meats and puccia (stuffed calzone-like breads) demand notice; the 400-gram T-bone is seasoned and charred well enough to make Nonna cry.

Pushing a different barrow altogether is Fishbone, a small-scale winery with a unique wine restaurant menu courtesy of its Korean head chef, Julie Jang. Pull up a seat on the comfy lawn couches and order up a tasting of Jang’s heritage: sticky beef ribs are spiced perfection, as is her kimchi. Cleaner, leaner Japanese flavours also get a good showing, including a zesty beef tataki, first-rate sashimi and a wasabi tartar that’s the ideal partner for her pair of deep-fried Panko crumbed prawns.

On the bar front it’s Morries that holds the winning ticket. Great small plates and share dishes are a draw (cumin panisse, mango chutney and cauliflower, yes please!) but it’s the cocktails shaken at the hands of award-winning bartender Billy Phillips that has garnered the eating den attention this time ‘round. While Phillips can prep you a mean espresso martini, the real reward is found in diving into the unknown: Fat Coconut is all lychee, lime, kaffir and pomegranate liquored up with coconut oil fat washed matusalem platino rum; Pinnacle is a tangy swill of elderflower, pineapple and ginger shrub and Ginversity botanical gin. It’s cocktails minus the cliché.

Wills Domain