Inviting view at White Elephant Cafe.
Chilli mussells.
Combi Coffee at the Saturday Margaret River Farmers’ Market.
Freshwater marron at its best.

The Margaret River Gourmet Escape is a four-day showcase of the region’s best foods and wines, writes David Bowden

WESTERN Australia will be in the international wine and food spotlight from Nov 16 to 19 when some of the world’s most celebrated chefs, wine and food critics and culinary “rock stars” come together for the Margaret River Gourmet Escape to be staged in the far southwest of Western Australia.

Sunny days and a mild Mediterranean climate ensure that Margaret River, just three-hours south of Perth, contribute to making this a year-round destination with perfect weather, tempered by refreshing breezes coming off the Indian Ocean. While this makes it ideal for holidaymakers, it also ensures perfect conditions for growing grapes and many other crops.

Margaret River is also home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Eucalypt forests, subterranean caves, incredible surfing breaks, coastal walks, whale watching and colourful wildflowers.

In its short history, the organisers of the gourmet escape have earned a reputation for inviting an A-list of global celebrity chefs and this year does not disappoint. Some of the headliners include Curtis Stone (Australia), Rick Stein (United Kingdom), May Chow (Hong Kong), Rudolfo Guzman (Chile), David Thompson (Thailand), Ashley Palmer-Watts (United Kingdom) and Alexa Atala (Brazil).


EPIC EPICUREAN EVENTS

The extensive grounds of Leeuwin Estate Winery will be the epicentre of activity and the event hub known as the Gourmet Village. The winery’s grassy expanse is open to the public to participate in cooking classes, “pop-up” restaurants, cooking demonstrations, live music and wine matching programmes, plus, meet the Margaret River winemaker sessions.

The beachfront lining the Indian Ocean is an ideal location for a beach barbecue to be hosted by several high profile chefs. Guests will enjoy being seated in Indian teepees while watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean as leading chefs barbecue delicious treats.

Sunset Beats and Bites at the region’s most iconic beachside restaurant is another event that combines music, food, cool beverages and dramatic sunsets overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches along the coast.

White Elephant Cafe at Gnarabup Beach is a destination outlet that is popular from sunrise to sunset and special gourmet escape events will be staged here on Friday and Saturday nights. Sunset Beats and Bites will feature guest chef Morgan McGlone from five Belles Hot Chicken in Sydney and Melbourne, plus a generous supply of craft ales and wines from some of the region’s top young guns.


GRAPE ESCAPES

There is an extensive range and premium accommodation and restaurants and, while there are no large resorts or hotels, there are motels, vineyard chalets, guesthouses and boutique establishments offering excellent country hospitality. Some recommended places include Caves House, Margarets Forest, Willy Bay Resort, Grand Mercure Basildene Manor, Pullman Bunker Bay Resort and the luxurious Cape Lodge (if you are able to secure a room).

There are some fantastic regional restaurants too, either within the wineries or those operating as independent outlets.

A dining institution in Margaret River is the Arc of Iris which complements its premium local produce with a selection of regional wines.

Some of the region’s most acclaimed restaurants are attached to wineries so visitors can enjoy the fruits of the vines along with those of the land and the sea.

Some of the recommended winery restaurants are located at Vasse Felix, Brookland Valley, Aravina Estate, Xanadu, Wills Domain, Voyager Estate, Hay Shed Hill and Watershed Winery.

Howard Park is one of several wineries hosting a leading festival event with dinners by celebrity chefs Luke Nguyen and Ashley Palmer-Watts in the estate’s dedicated Wine Chapel. Sadly, both events sold out immediately the news was announced but cancellations are always a possibility while simply visiting the winery provides an opportunity to at least sample their range of premium vintages.

A great casual dining venue in the main street of Margaret River is the Brewhouse where craft beers feature, but there is also excellent food. Much of the food is sourced from the local fields and the sea with dishes such as field mushroom pizza, red duck leg red curry, vegetable tajine and for dessert, chocolate delice.


REGIONAL ADVENTURE

Margaret River is not only about life’s hedonistic delights as there are many activities that need not cost a fortune to enjoy. One of the best adventures is to head down to Yallingup Beach to swim or snorkel around the shallow lagoon or beach. The turquoise and sapphire blue waters are safe and suitable for children while bigger surfing breaks attract serious surfers in locations such as Prevelly Beach near the mouth of the Margaret River.

Canoeing is a good family activity and there are various operators which provide access to Melaleuca-lined riverbanks or the secluded bays around Geographe Bay near Dunsborough in the region’s far north.

In spring, the forests of places such as Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park wildflowers burst into a kaleidoscope of colour. Beneath the ground the spectacular Jewel, Lake, Mammoth, Moodyne and Yalligup Caves are other attractions that have attracted tourists for decades, with the Caveworks Interpretation Centre providing excellent interpretative detail.


GOURMET ESCAPADES

The short message for those contemplating attending specific festival events is book early as some are already sold out, with the limited seat allocations being quickly snapped up. With their rock star status, events featuring celebrity chefs sell out, in some cases, on the same day the tickets get released which is a few months earlier.

All is not lost though as there is always the possibility of last minute cancellations, or attend another festival event. With over 180 wineries in the region, a handful of craft ales houses, cideries and distilleries plus scores of restaurants and cafes stretched over the region from Dunsborough in the north to Augusta in the south, there will be food and drinks available everywhere.

An event that everyone can visit for free is the Saturday Margaret River Farmers’ Market from 8am to noon with over 50 stalls. Only local producers are allowed to set up here and many of the locals make it a point to drop by to say hello and share a cup of coffee with their neighbours while shopping for fresh supplies.

For those who like to combine wine and food while on holidays, the Margaret River Gourmet Escape in November is the three-day event to attend. Details at www.gourmetescape.com.au


TRAVEL FILE

HOW TO GET THERE

Margaret River is a three-hour drive south of Perth, which has international flights from Kuala Lumpur (less than five hours) or via Singapore on airlines such as Scoot (www.flyscoot.com).

Scoot has daily departures with convenient connections in Singapore. The Margaret River region extends for some 70km north to south and with limited public transport, a rental car is the best way to explore all that the area offers.

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