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Sun, sea, sand and... sauvignon; Fine wines, truffles and even kangaroo are on the menu for LAUREN TAYLOR when she visits Western Australia.

Byline: LAUREN TAYLOR

AS I lie in bed, sunlight drenches the Southern Ocean stretched out in front of me. The horizon slowly melts into the sky as the sun rises over an endless expanse of white empty beach.

If it sounds like the stuff of A-list holidays, that's because it is. Lady Gaga once slept in this exact bed, and penned a few of her hits here.

I'm staying at the private retreat, Maitraya, perched on the cliffs of Western Australia's south westerly coast, near Albany. With the beautifully rugged coastline of the Torndirrup National Park close by, there's something about this area of the world that feels wild, untarnished and undiscovered.

The Mediterranean-type weather, soil quality and proximity to the ocean, create vital conditions for Western Australia's biggest assets: its food and wine.

To celebrate the region's excellent gourmet scene, an annual food and drink festival was launched last year in Margaret River - an area already world-famous for its vineyards.

Attracrting top international chefs, producers, critics and food lovers, Gourmet Escape is due to take place again this November. I attended the inaugural event in the hope of discovering why Western Australia has such an exciting food story.

As I weave my way through the crowds at the iconic Leeuwin Wines estate, where Gourmet Escape is held the smell of fresh produce is mouth-watering.

m in the company of Rene Redzepi, who is the head chef of Noma in Copenhagen - winner of industry leader Restaurant magazine's best restaurant award for three years running.

Also in our party is David Chang of Momofuku in the US, and Sat Bains, whose eponymous Nottingham restaurant holds not just one, but two Michelin stars.

As Rene Redzepi tells me: "Travelling anywhere, you want to eat something distilled from the place you are in. I wouldn't want to travel to Singapore and have a French meal."

To be honest, I thought I'd be chewing a piece of kangaroo or an emu steak in the land down under, but apparently kangaroo is what people feed their cats here. The international chefs don't agree, though. Rene says that kangaroo tail is delicious.

During the three-day festival we watch cooking demonstrations, listen to panel discussions and squirm as the Australian audience shifts awkwardly in their seats at British food critic AA Gill's banter.

Stands from restaurants all over Western Australia cook up delights on site. It's all very civilised with the sun beating down and a glass of one of the wines on offer in hand.

But the region has more to offer than just exquisite wine, as I discover over lunch at family-run Cullen Wines.

A trio of seared local squid, grilled Esperance scallops with squid ink, and grilled whiting is served with Cullen Wine's 2010 'Kevin John' Margaret River Chardonnay. Next, an Arkady lamb dish is coupled with their 2010 Diana Madeline.

The restaurant harvests its own vegetables so even the side dishes are worth writing home about.

According to Cullen's owners, it's all down to biodynamic farming: a combination of ethical organic values and paying attention to the movement of the cosmos. Then there's burying cow horns in the soil - but who am I to question the methods when the wine's this good? Western Australians seem to have a real respect for the land and the food that comes from it. Foragers, a cookery school-cum-restaurant 90 minutes south of Margaret River in Pemberton, couldn't demonstrate that better.

Generous sharing plates of natural, honest food line the long tables and the head chef, Sophie, seems genuinely humbled by, and respectful of, the local ingredients.

We overnight in Pemberton at the Karri Valley Resort. The bedrooms sit on the edge of a large lake, where you can swim or kayak, enclosed by tall karri trees.

Western Australia produces the largest amount of black truffle outside France and just north of Pemberton, in Manjimup, is Perigord Truffle producer The Wine & Truffle Co. A black Labrador, Bella, shows us how it's done, scouting the soil underneath oak and hazelnut trees for treasure.

It turns out the aroma of truffle goes perfectly with a glass of the estate's 2012 Cabernet Franc Rose.

A further 115 miles down the coast is Denmark. No, not that one...

More hardcore travellers can explore this coastline by walking the 970km Bibbulmun track.

But what makes Denmark most memorable is Howard Park Wines.

Rich and full-bodied, their distinctive flagship 2008 Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon is almost worth the 9,000-mile journey from the UK alone.

The most exciting thing about Western Australia's cuisine is that it's constantly evolving.

Chefs are still finding new, or forgotten, ingredients. Rene Redzepi excitedly tells me about the Mulga tree (a small native shrub) and the Goanna lizard he discovered while out foraging. Apparently, the green fat is delicious.

Local chefs seem to be looking back to the region's strong indigenous roots, as well as forward, to make the most of Australian produce in Australian cuisine. If you're looking for a long haul foodie break, look no further.

WHEN TO GO FROM November 22 to 24 this year the Margaret River Gourmet Escape will once again showcase an unparalleled line-up of more than 25 international and local food and wine celebrities, as well as a programme of beach BBQs, indulgent long lunches, exclusive dinners with the world's best and wine tastings. A day ticket starts at 63 Australian dollars (approximately PS42). Tickets go on sale on Monday June 3. See www.gourmetescape.

com.au NEED TO KNOW LAUREN TAYLOR visited Western Australia as a guest of specialist tailor-made travel company Bridge & Wickers.

Bridge & Wickers can arrange a two-week gourmet self-drive trip from PS1,869 a head.

Beginning with two nights in Perth at the Crowne Plaza, next stop is Margaret River's Bunker Bay Pullman Resort.

Further nights are spent in Albany, Denmark and the Karri Valley Resort. The price includes Qantas flights from Heathrow to Perth and five days' car rental.

Call 020 3411 0711 or visit bridgeandwickers.co.uk. For more on Western Australia visit westernaustralia.com

CAPTION(S):

Top chefs Rene Redzepi, left, and Sat Bains

Western Australia is known for its stunning beaches like Elephant Cove

Western Australia boasts an impressive and abundant array of natural produce from truffles, top, to wine and the freshest of seafood
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Article Type:Recipe
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 2013
Words:1050
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