Little Black Book

Get Schooled in Food in Western Australia, the Other West Coast

by Danielle Austin
Break Injidup Beach. Photo courtesy of Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association.

A Perth native waxes — poetically, hungrily — about the culinary scene in Western Australia.

MARGARET RIVER, Western Australia – Foraged food and gourmet meals might seem an incongruous pairing, but down under we like to do things differently. It's little surprise the best bushtucker (sustenance from the Australian wilderness) and fine dining are found in the same spot. After a three-hour scenic drive from Perth, Western Australia's capital, you'll hit the Margaret River region, reaching from Dunsborough and Busselton in the north to Augusta in the south. Spanning just under 70 miles end-to-end, the region packs a biodiverse punch, with vast hardwood forests alongside white sand beaches and turquoise bays, ancient underground limestone caves, rolling vineyards, and farmland interspersed with quaint cosmopolitan towns. With a similar climate, Margaret River is Australia's answer to Bordeaux, producing 20 percent of the nation's premium wine including some of the world's best cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and semillon/sauvignon blanc blends.

The locale of Margaret River is perhaps the sleepiest little coastal town you'll ever visit. The surfer vibes are abundant, from the copious combi vans to the sun-bleached buildings. A place to recharge and relax, a strange local mix of beach bums, bohemian artisans, and serious food connoisseurs give Margaret River vibes like nowhere else.

Get a Food Education

A melting pot of world-class chefs, amazing local produce, and more than 100 wineries culminate in some gastronomical magic; but it's the region's desire to share food knowledge that should make Margaret River a strong contender for your next food destination.

Walk into Luxury tours.

Photo courtesy of Walk into Luxury.

Walk into Luxury Tours
Get an early start to your day and join a guided coastal walking tour to see the best of the Australian bush. Walk into Luxury offers tours up to six days long that cover the entire headland (Dunsborough to Augusta). If you don't have time for the 35-mile walk, a 4.5-mile jaunt along the cape reveals scenic, red rock landscapes, lagoon-like coves, and limestone cliffs to one side and pristine Injidup beachfront on the other in just three hours. Stop for a dip at Smiths Beach and get a transfer to Wills Domain Winery where you'll be treated to a four-course food and wine paired degustation.

Cooking Classes at Wildwood Valley
Transatlantic couple Siobhan and Carlo split their time between Tuscany and their Margaret River property Wildwood Valley. In hands-on, small group classes, they share their knowledge of Tuscan-style cooking using locally available Margaret River produce. Once you've mastered the dishes, you'll share a five-course Italian feast with your hosts and fellow students.

Cape Lodge
Photo courtesy of Cape Lodge.

Cooking Classes at Cape Lodge
Join a monthly cooking class at Cape Lodge, where a special guest chef will walk you through a two-hour themed cooking class featuring seasonal local produce, followed by a three-course long table lunch accompanied by local wines. Frequently showcasing French techniques, menus are known to feature truffles and locally grown mushrooms.

Koomal Dreaming
Custodian of the land and Wadandi tribe member Josh Whiteland shares his ancient culture on a bush forage. You'll learn about the six native seasons while scavenging for seasonal bushfood like quandong, emu plum, and salt bush. Cook your spoils, which could be accompanied by kangaroo or emu, like the traditional landowners, with a campfire and tunes on the didgeridoo.

Tucked inside the Margaret River Distilling Co. is the Giniversity classroom. Meet your fellow students on deck for a sneaky G&T before class begins. You'll sit down at a blackbutt table lined with jars of dried local herbs, fruits, spices, and botanicals. Your gin blend starts with a juniper berry base and your choice of dreamy sounding botanicals (think red rose petals, earl grey, liquorice root, clove, or meadowsweet). The botanicals are crushed and steeped – as you enjoy a complimentary lunch – before being boiled to reveal the spirit. Class ends with a group tasting of the different gins, so be sure to bring your designated driver.

Leeuwin Estate vineyard.
Photo courtesy of Leeuwin Estate.

Wine Blending at Leeuwin Estate
If wine is your preferred tipple, head to Leeuwin Estate instead. Here you'll start class with a flute of brut and canapés as you explore the winery's artwork. The main session, a hands-on red wine blending tutorial, is next, where you'll get the chance to create a bottle of your own blend, which you'll get to take home. The day is rounded out with a tasting of five of Leeuwin Estate's top wines, followed by a five-course degustation, paired with Leeuwin Art Series chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.

Food by the Chef
European-trained young chef George Cooper will bring the food to you. You choose a four-, six-, or eight-course menu. George and his team will bring everything they need to cook and serve the meal to you and your guests. Running on a “no-menu” format, you won't know what's for dinner until it's on the table, but you can be sure it'll be made from the finest local produce. The degustation ends with a cooking demonstration at the dining table as part of dessert, offering an opportunity to question the chef on his favorite local foods.

Settlers Tavern
The region is an endless expanse of wineries that would take a much longer trip to explore. Instead, relax after a big day at Settlers Tavern, which has the largest wine list in the area and features many local varieties. If you need a break from the vino, sample one of sixteen on-tap beers, more than 60 bottled beers, or the local distils. If you do want to take a drive to visit some vineyards, hit Caves Road for a good selection (my absolute favorite is Gralyn Estate).

Wine making at Glenarty Road.
Photo courtesy of Glenarty Road.

Glenarty Road Progressive Tasting
Join a daily progressive tasting through some of the 26 acres that make up the Glenarty Road estate. Sample the grapes off the vine and learn how they affect the final flavor of the wine, visit the hops garden, and taste produce from the vegetables patches and fruit and macadamia trees before you taste the final product in the restaurant with a grazing platter and a glass of wine.

Eat Without the Exams

When you've had your fill of culinary education and just want to enjoy a relaxing bite to eat, Margaret River still delivers the goods. No one does brunch quite like Australians, so enjoy a lazy morning meal to prepare your stomach for the hard day ahead.

White Elephant Cafe
Photo courtesy of White Elephant Cafe.

White Elephant Café
Do like the locals and grab your board for an early morning surf at Gnarabup Beach to work up an appetite for beachside breakfast at uber-Instagrammable White Elephant Café. The coconut bircher is unmissable, and the brekkie burger is a great savory option. Don't forget to take a food snap showing off the Pacific in the background.

Margaret River Bakery
Photo courtesy of Margaret River Bakery.

The Margaret River Bakery
The eclectic cafe specializes in mismatched crockery and seriously good pastries. While they do have a breakfast menu, this spot is a great choice for a baked good and coffee on the go – you'll be eating a lot during the day!

Sidekick Cafe
Margaret River's hipster hub takes coffee very seriously and allows you to personalize your cup of joe. Hot chocolate, made from local Bahen & Co, is a must, and the menu features healthy plates made from natural ingredients.

Production at Margaret River Chocolate Company.
Photo courtesy of Margaret River Chocolate Company.

So much more to do! Visit local olive farm Eagle Bay Olives. Try your hand at truffle hunting in WA's world-renowned truffle region with Truffle & Wine Co. Sample artisanal chocolate and grab a souvenir chocolate bilby (imagine a baby kangaroo with enormous ears). Bahen & Co are chocolate artisans, but The Margaret River Chocolate Company is iconic. In the summer months, go berry picking at The Berry Farm and taste locally made jams, preserves and berry wines.

Depending on the time of year, Margaret River also hosts some of Australia's biggest food festivals. Keep an eye out for Truffle Kerfuffle (June), Cabin Fever Festival (July), and Gourmet Escape (November).

Scenic Spots

For serious surfers, local beach Surfers Point has some of the best surfing breaks in the world and hosts international competitions. The beach itself is surrounded by limestone cliffs and golden sand dunes and is perfect for an early morning stroll. Non-surfers can enjoy the beaches too: The area is full of rock pools that locals are doing their best to keep secret. Injidup Natural Spa is easily accessible and completely beautiful.

Ngilgi Cave
Ngilgi Cave. Photo courtesy of Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association.

If you have the time, be sure to take a tour of either Mammoth or Ngilgi limestone caves and view the impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations. Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk is a great way to get a quick view of the giant red tingle trees, unique to the area. You'll get incredible views and a few native animal sightings if you're lucky.

Where to Stay

Mile End Glamping
Photo courtesy of Mile End Glamping.

Mile End Glamping
Sleep under the stars in your own two-person light-filled geodesic dome. There's a four poster canopy bed, private bathroom, fully functioning kitchen, dining space, rainforest style shower, adjacent deck with a private spa, and outdoor kitchen, and a lot of solitude on the 144-acre private estate.

Cape Lodge
A 22-room, private country house located on vineyard land based in prime Margaret River region. Choose from generously sized, garden view rooms, or book The Residence, a private house and lake for eight guests. There's an on-site treatment room for a little pampering and the dining room serves a French-inspired country menu. If you're there on a Sunday, make sure to get to the Chef's Harvest Dinner.

Injidup Spa Retreat
Photo courtesy of Injidup Spa Retreat.

Injidup Spa Retreat
The ultimate luxury option in Margaret River, Injidup Spa Retreat is located on a secluded beach. Each of the ten adults-only villas come with a private plunge pool, fireplace, kitchenette, and patio. Enjoy a complimentary gourmet breakfast hamper and bottle of wine on arrival and book a treatment at the on-site Bodhi J wellness spa.

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