The foodie face of Western Australia

by John.Law

In Western Australia, Perth and Margaret River can offer foodies everything from fabulous wineries to a fine line in bush tucker

Down Under is renowned these days for its exceptional food and wines. But if you enjoy a taste of the exotic, go native and get stuck into a few bush tucker delicacies.
Margaret River, a three-hour drive south of Perth, is a great area to escape the crowds. Here, you can swim or surf from deserted soft-sand shores, tour some of Australia’s top wineries, and feast on some of its finest – and some of its more unusual – cuisine. I managed to drag myself away from those fabulous beaches and paddled off in a convoy of canoes along the tranquil, gently meandering river to enjoy a waterside picnic with a difference.
Thankfully, bush tucker out here isn’t the revolting wriggling grubs and creepy-crawlies they usually dig up to frighten tourists. Instead, we dragged our boats up the shore, sat in the shade of a paper bark tree and sampled delicious slices of kangaroo and emu with a side salad of the curious, wild-growing equivalents of celery, olives and tomatoes – all followed by peach-like quongdongs and lilly pilly berries.
From a rather different crop, Margaret River produces some of the country’s most delicious cabernet sauvignon, merlot, shiraz, chardonnay and a winning blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc. At the Clairault winery in Wilyabrup the affable Irish-born owner, Bill Martin, poured a selection of his finest to taste and then ushered us into the garden to serve a splendid lunch from his dégustation menu. We ate local scallops, grilled salmon, venison, cheese, and chocolate mousse with five different accompanying wines. Absolutely delicious and good value at £48.
Apart from all that lovely wine, the sea lapping this lower southwest tip of Western Australia is a big attraction. At Yallingup Surf School, they’ll kit you out in a wet suit, hand you a board and send you into the crashing breakers of the Indian Ocean. Most beginners who are fit and competent swimmers are likely to be riding a wave or two by the end of a £24, 90-minute group lesson. Sadly, I was one of those left floundering in the foam, preferring instead an early-morning run along the deserted sands followed by a quick dip in the sea at idyllic Bunker Bay.
After my exertions I enjoyed a memorable breakfast on the terrace of the stylish Quay West Resort, watching a couple of humpback whales sending up flumes of spray. Summer room rates here start from about £85 a night.
For a real next-to-nature base, Forest Rise Eco Retreat at Yelverton offers spacious timber chalets with a well-equipped kitchen, lounge area and shady verandah where you can watch out for the odd kangaroo leaping through the jarrah trees. Chalets (from £150 a night) are in a secluded setting and after a hard day’s wine-tasting you can sink into the double-size spa bath, cover yourself in exotic unguents and gaze up through the glass ceiling at the amazingly star-encrusted night sky.
A good night’s kip is guaranteed, but don’t panic if you’re woken next morning by rollicking laughter outside. The dawn chorus comes from the laughing kookaburras who appear to find woodland life absolutely hysterical.
It’s worth spending some time in the WA capital of Perth. One tour by bike took us along cycle trails following the Swan River and up into King’s Park, a wonderful 400-hectare swathe of greenery where wild flowers and native shrubs like kangaroo paw and exotic orchids grow among the trees.
Perth has plenty of great places to eat, including The Oyster Bar at Mead’s Mosman Bay, where you can expect to pay around £40 for a three-course dinner. The restaurant has a wonderful location overlooking the Swan River and we arrived in style by boat across the bay, escorted by a couple of cavorting dolphins.
Just outside Perth is the port of Fremantle, a lively town with good restaurants, a decent beach – and lashings of history. A tour of Fremantle Prison, built by convicts in the 1850s, is a gloomy but fascinating experience. The visit rounds off nicely with a trip to the condemned cell before following the path dozens of murderers and assorted villains had taken on their last journey to the execution chamber and hangman’s noose.
Released from jail, I felt as depressed as hell. But the smile soon returned while buzzing around Fremantle – literally – in a two-seater Scootcar. Powered by a noisy two-stroke engine, these little open-air three-wheelers are ideal for whizzing along the coast and into the centre to admire the colonial-style architecture.
We enjoyed an excellent seafood and beer lunch at the Little Creatures microbrewery and our last night in WA was spent at the lively open-air restaurant of the Norfolk Hotel. For days I had gorged on splendid shellfish – including the wonderfully-named bugs (seafood) and yabbies (freshwater crayfish) – so I settled for a modestly priced but scrumptious kangaroo fillet burger. It seemed an appropriate final meal before I hopped off home.


Where to stay

Recommended hotels in Perth include the Crowne Plaza, which overlooks the park and river just outside the centre and charges from around £149 for a double room with breakfast this summer. If the call of the wild appeals, try Forest Rise Eco Resort in the Margaret River wine-growing region, where a spa chalet for two costs from around £163.