last days of summer + pet-friendly holidays in WA

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Summer died on Saturday. Well, in a metaphorical sense, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere like I do. This Sunday marked the first day of autumn; generally characterized by falling leaves (hence ‘fall’ in North America), cooler temperatures and truckloads of pumpkin spice markedly shorter days.

At the moment, though, we’re still in the transitional stage. This morning dawned with both sunshine and heat. I’m still sipping ice water from my favourite glass as the kettle gathers dust on the kitchen counter. Unless, of course, my mum comes over. She would drink tea during summer in Death Valley*.

*since I was a wee bairn, she’s been telling me that drinking hot drinks on a hot day can cool you down. Well mum, apparently the Smithsonian agrees!

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Aaron and I were determined to make the most of summer this year. We had grand plans for many a beach volleyball night alongside road trips, seaside picnics and barbecues by the pool. Although we failed on the volleyball front, we did manage to squeeze in a few blissful picnics (evidence found here and here).

We also took two summer road trips down to the south of Western Australia, initially in Cowaramup (with an excited Loki) and more recently, with some amazing friends at the seaside village of Gracetown. We laughed, talked, swam, explored the Margaret River heritage trail, ate local cheese and sipped Cabernet Sauvignon from a local vineyard.

You can see pictures from both trips via my much-better-attended Instagram account (@laurasmess). For simplicity’s sake, the majority of images included in this post are from our first summer road trip which sprawled over an idyllic, sunbathed week in January.

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Being our first trip ‘down south’ with Loki, we spent a little bit of time planning a dog-friendly itinerary for the week. First up was the job of finding suitable pet-friendly accommodation within reasonable distance of the beach, shops and wineries. After a bit of research, we found a perfect cottage through airbnb owned by a lovely local couple in Cowaramup (12km North of Margaret River). Their own dog, Karri, was both gentle and playful, providing bonus companionship for Loki throughout the week.

Our host, Maria, was more than generous with tips for local dog-friendly dining and activities, even offering to mind Loki if we wanted to visit a venue that didn’t accommodate him. Both Aaron and I wholeheartedly recommend Maria and Dan’s place to general travelers and pet owners alike (though I will stress that we brought Loki after prior negotiation with Maria – if you’re thinking of bringing your pet, please do the same).

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Australia’s south west is pretty much heaven in terms of natural beauty. Our little apartment dog had the most incredible week of rambling through the Australian bush, barking at cows and digging in snow white sand. I’ve included a few pictures of his ‘new experiences’ below (alongside a few more on Instagram including this video).

Scroll down to ‘dog friendly options in the south west’ if you’d prefer!

1. Bushwalking 

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2. Introduction to the Beach

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3. Meeting a cow (from the safety of the car!)

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Dog Friendly Options in the South West 

There’s a wealth of scatty information on pet-friendly south west facilities on the internet. This list was slightly useful but… well, you can’t really group pets and children into the same category (many facilities allow children but not dogs. Fair enough too).

Aaron and I spent most of our time meandering about the Cowaramup, Gracetown, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas, so naturally the suggestions below reflect that.

Eating Out:

White Elephant Beach Cafe – Gnarabup. This little kiosk serves amazing cafe fare and great coffee right on the beach. Their cafe space consists of concrete and durable plastic, so despite losing a few points on style, it’s fantastically user-friendly. Perfect for sandy feet, wet dogs, enthusiastic children and beach walkers alike.

Sea Gardens – Prevelly. This well-loved local cafe specializes in big breakfasts, wood-fired pizzas and French-inspired evening fare (reflecting the heritage of owner/chef Gilles England-Brassy). We only visited for a Thursday sundowner with beer and pizza (below), but would wholeheartedly recommend the space for both style and dog-friendliness.

 

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Yallingup Coffee Company – Dunsborough. This sprawling coffee shop provides only limited dining options (mainly cakes, muffins and slices) but the coffee alone is worth a visit.

Blue Ginger – Margaret River. An amazing continental delicatessen and cafe housed in what used to be a local cheese factory. Pick up some homewares, bulk goods, house-ground peanut butter and a creamy organic coffee. There’s a reasonable sized outdoor verandah to house both you and your fur-kid (get there early!).

The Bakery – Margaret River. One of my absolute favourite places to visit each time we travel down south. Fantastic baked goods, great coffee and a rambling verandah to explore. We sat with Loki out the front of the cafe, nestled into a pre-loved couch (sorry, someone’s grandma). I recommend the avocado with marinated goats cheese.

Samudra – Dunsborough. A gorgeous, holistic cafe in the heart of Dunsborough town offering both yoga classes and raw, organic, paleo, vegan-friendly and gluten free options for diners. Visit and explore their own biodynamic garden for yourself.

3 Oceans Cafe (formerly Palandri) – Cowaramup. This lovely cafe has a lot of outdoor shade, soccer goals and a green expanse of grass to use as part of your winery experience. The cellar door itself isn’t particularly dog-friendly but you can always buy a cheese platter and enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the garden.

Clancy’s Fish Pub – Dunsborough. For delicious local beers, premium fish and chips, the occasional woodfired pizza and local seafood. There’s an awesome outside play area and a meandering bush trail for children and dogs alike.

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Wineries and Breweries:

Despite the presence of many ‘wine dogs’ in the south west region, not all wineries allow the general public to bring dogs onto their premises. We had a little bit of trouble initially but managed to find some firm favourites.

Stella Bella – Margaret River. Hands-down the friendliest, loveliest cellar door we visited. Loki was treated like an old friend. The wines are absolutely brilliant also, make sure you try the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and delicious 2010 Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillion.

Bush Shack Brewery – Yallingup. The most dog friendly brewery in the region (in my opinion). Awesome chilli pilsener, generous share plates and a well-equipped play area for the children. As long as your dog has a lead, he/she is welcome.

Cowaramup Brewing Company – Cowaramup. Great pilsener and a pretty tasty Hefeweizen. There are some great outdoor benches to sit at and while away the afternoon.

*Don’t bother attempting to take your dog to Eagle Bay Brewing, Colonial Brewing, Bootleg or the Duckstein. You’ll be heading for disappointment (they’re amazing venues though – go local craft beer!).

beach3 beachIf you’re a fellow dog owner who has journeyed in the south west, feel free to add any other suggestions that I’ve missed below. The more information, the better!

Happy autumn, friends.

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big, beautiful berlin

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It’s quite a daunting prospect to write a singular blog post on the rich, diverse food culture of Berlin. After staying in the city for almost two weeks, I still felt like I had only scratched the surface of what it means to be a ‘Berliner’, both in past and present sense.

As you may be aware, Berlin has a significant and dark history that was arguably punctuated by the construction and eventual dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The division between East and West Berlin has resulted in discernible differences across the city in terms of landscape, affluence, culture and population. As one could expect, this has also had impact upon the food.

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As a newbie to this big, beautiful city, I was fortunate to have some help from a blogging friend to begin exploring some of the local hot spots including Neukölln, Mitte and Kreuzberg. The lovely Claudia from Food with a View spent one morning and one evening with Aaron and I (the second occasion with her partner Arne and our friend Paul) initially at Barcomi’s Deli and secondly at Prinzessinnengärten, an urban garden and café near Moritzplatz. Both experiences were beautiful opportunities to get to know one another whilst enjoying quality coffee, snacks and incredible homemade truffles from Claudia’s kitchen.

Claudia also gifted me with some stunning Amarena cherry and Amaretto liqueur preserve which I’m taking it home to Australia with me (thankfully Claudia has posted the recipe for when my jewel-like jar of deliciousness runs out!).

Thanks again Claudia for your generosity and kindness during our time in Berlin; it’s a blessing to count you as a true friend. If you haven’t yet discovered Food with a View, please head over to Claudia’s blog for beautiful photographs and drool-worthy vegetarian recipes in both Deutsch and English.

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Prior to arriving in Berlin, Claudia emailed me a comprehensive list of notes, links and tips that proved invaluable when trying to unearth the real foodie culture of Berlin. I’ve included some of the websites below, plus a few others that Aaron and I found useful (which I’d recommend browsing if you are planning your own Berlin trip in the future):

Berlin blogs (in English language or with an English option):

Exberliner

Where Berlin

Berlin Food Guide

CeeCee Berlin Newsletter

What Should I Eat for Breakfast Today – Eat Berlin

Now, on to my own personal notes: below you will find some of our favourite places for food and cuture, most of which were frequented more than once over our two weeks in Berlin. Please note, I’ve divided the notes by ‘geographical area’ (i.e. boroughs of Berlin) so that you can plan your future trip(s) accordingly.

Strap in and enjoy a ‘virtual visit’ to what has become one of my favourite cities in the world: big, beautiful Berlin.

A kindly warning before you start: this post is word and picture heavy. Sorry, we had about three million photographs and… well, I loved them all. **Note: associated pictures are BEFORE the name of each establishment.

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Neukölln

During our time in Berlin, Aaron and I continued to gravitate back to Neukölln despite visiting many other local destinations. The combination of grittiness, grunge and flourishing street art was a ‘perfect fit’ for our personalities. Neukölln has one of the highest percentages of immigrants in the city of Berlin and it shows in the vibrant food and street culture. Here are some of our favourite spots:

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Roamers Cafe and Booze – Pannierstraße 64 (near Hermanplatz station)

This lovely little café has a friendliness that was unmatched by many other destinations in Neukölln. It’s a great spot for good coffee, avocado toast (my favourite breakfast) and fresh juices (including melon and rosemary). They also serve booze which is, well, awesome, if you’re a bit like me. It’s an excuse to stay at this gem-of-a-place for hours on end.

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Berlin Burger International – Pannierstraße 5, open from 12pm to midnight

If you’re a fan of doorstopper burgers and beer, you will immediately fall in love with Berlin Burger International. This place is constantly busy for a very good reason. We visited twice during our two weeks in Berlin, initially for Chilli Cheese and Chicken burgers and secondly for Halloumi (a vegetarian option) and Four Cheese. Each burger was better than the last, piled high with fresh salads, bacon and sauce. Go there. You won’t regret it (I haven’t even mentioned the chips… oh my).

Café Myxa – Lenaustraße 22

This place rocks. It’s open til about 1am most nights for booze, breakfast, salads, quiches, great coffee… and free wifi, which always helps. We ventured to Myxa both for breakfast and late-night drinks; both occasions were met with great service and food. They’re also great supporters of local art and music, so check their website for occasional exhibitions and dreamy acoustic sets in the evenings.

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Art und Weise – Leinenstraße 48

This small bar is quite difficult to identify from the street (as it has no signage) however the venture is definitely worth it. Quality cocktails in an eclectic setting. As per Myxa, this place is a huge supporter of local artists so there’s usually an exhibition going on.

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Sowieso – Weisestraße 24

Our favourite Berlin bar (yes, I’m calling it). We returned to Sowieso three times within two weeks for quality cocktails (the cheapest on the street), board games, rocking music and… well, just to mix with the locals. It’s definitely not a touristy establishment. You can also sleep in the bath (if you so desire. No further information; you’ll just have to go there to see what I’m talking about!).

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Klunker Kranich – Karl Marx Straße 66, Neukölln Arcaden (rooftop bar, level 6 carpark)

This open air bar is a bit of a hidden gem. Located in the rooftop carpark of Neukölln’s biggest shopping mall, Klunker Kranich serve giant glasses of wine, quality cocktails and delicious local beers in an ‘urban garden’ setting with woodfired pizzas and couches a-plenty. There’s even a sandpit for the kids (or adults, depending upon what you fancy).

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KR/23 Liquor Company – Weserstraße 53

Also worth mentioning is the tiny shoebox office of the LQR Company. This group of passionate young Germans have long been known as importers of fine whisky and gin but, more recently, they’ve started making their own small-batch kräuterliquör (herb liqueur; think to Jägermeister but MUCH nicer) under the brand KR/23. As per the title, KR/23 contains 23 unique herbs, spices and botanicals, all of which are left to macerate in vodka for approximately 6 weeks before being filtered and bottled. It’s dangerously delicious… but unfortunately, they’re not presently taking online orders. You’ll just have to visit Florian (hello Florian!) yourself for a chat, sample and (yes, it’ll happen) purchase.

Freidrichshain-Kreuzberg

This neighbouring borough to Neukölln has a similar vibe and became our second-favourite part of Berlin city. Freiderichshain was a free-standing borough to Kreuzberg prior to 2001; it was formerly part of East Berlin and has become known for its ‘trendy’ restaurants and bars. Kreuzberg on the other hand has become known for its punk rock culture and large proportion of Turkish immigrants (which in turn has led to the availability of some incredibly authentic Turkish food). We loved everything.

Kaffebar – Graefestraße 8, Kreuzberg

This little café has hands-down the best panini’s in Berlin (that I tried, anyway). They make their own pesto and a great Eggs Benedict. Their coffee was my second favourite in the city (read on for my favourite below), creamy and delicious with just the right amount of bitterness. There are many delicious options for vegans, too.

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Bonanza Coffee Heroes – Oderbergerstraße 35, Kreuzberg

Best coffee in Berlin (according to me, anyway). This café has a very limited range of food or other beverages but the coffee alone is worth the hike.

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Markthalle Neun – Eisenbahnstraße 42/43, Kreuzberg

This place is amazing. It’s a varied venue but we visited purely for the Thursday 7pm food market which beats with incredible food, booze, eclectic people and general energy. Get there before 10pm for pulled pork sandwiches, Asian char siew rolls, handmade pies, delicious ice cream cookies, black bean, guacamole and jalapeno arepas with charred chorizo… need I say more? We went twice in two weeks. That’s testament enough.

Gipfeltreffen – Gorlitzerstraße 68, Kreuzberg

This beautiful cafe cum restaurant is right near the green expanse of Gorlitzer park. We visited on a sunny Summer day and sat outside in the balmy evening breeze; though in saying that, this little place provides delicious breakfast options that are worth the slightly higher price (than many other cafes in Kreuzberg). Pretty decent coffee, too.

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Prinzessinengärten – Prinzessenstraße (Moritzplatz), Kreuzberg

Prinzessinengärten started as a pilot project in the summer of 2009 at Moritzplatz in Berlin Kreuzberg, a site which had been a wasteland for over half a century. A group of dedicated volunteers cleared away rubbish, built transportable organic vegetable plots and reaped the first fruits of their labour. it’s now become a community garden (where people can participate in growing and harvesting processes) with a bar and organic cafe. Go along to meet some of the dedicated individuals who run the urban garden whilst eating beautiful, moist apple cake.

Aunt Benny Café (the Antlered Bunny) – Oderstraße 7, Freiderichshain

This cafe is a little off the Kreuzberg beaten track but the hike is worth it for incredible bagels and to-order mixes of cream cheese. They also serve stunning cakes, juices and great coffee. Do it.

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Neue Heimat – Revaler Straße 99, Freiderichshain

Neue Heimat is an awesome market space that offers a range of bars, food, music, art and design, brac-a-brac… everything you could hope for in a thumping event. We attended the Summer Market launch at the beginning of August… unfortunately this season ends on 27/08/2014 but I’d recommend checking their facebook page for events that pop up throughout the year.

Mitte

Mitte (translating to ‘middle’ or ‘centre’ in German) is Claudia’s favourite area in Berlin and I can definitely understand why. It’s vastly different to the gritty area of Neukölln, with clean, calm streets that are distinctly more quiet in the late hours. Mitte is the historical heart of Berlin, containing the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall Memorial. There are also many quality cafes, shopping areas and (most outstandingly) glorious sandwiches. Read on.

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Barcomi’s – Sophie Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21 (near Weinmeisterstraße station)

This lovely New York Style deli has become a Berlin icon due to the fame of its creator, Cynthia Barcomi, who has now written several cookbooks. Aaron and I visited with Claudia (in part due to the fact that its hidden courtyard entry is quite difficult to find for a non-local) and sat in the beautiful outdoor courtyard whilst munching on bagels and a vegetarian plate (with dips, salads, cheeses and fruit salad). Barcomi’s also offers a range of New York style cheesecakes and slices that won’t disappoint.

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Mogg and Melzer – Auguststraße 11-13

This eatery has reached internet fame for a very good reason. Located inside a former Jewish school for girls, Mogg and Melzer specialize in New York style pastrami sandwiches, pulled pork and to-die for Reubens. Each sandwich is served with a pickled gherkin and a side of coleslaw. So, so good. I would travel back to Berlin just for the Reuben (seriously).

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Another couple of interesting (to me, anyway) facts about Berlin:

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1. Wasps. Throughout the warmer months, Berlin has a bit of a wasp problem. They’ll be crawling under the glass on pastry counters, they’ll plague you as you eat (particularly sweet things) and they’ll often crawl into sugar dispensers with spouts that are left on outside tables. As Claudia advised me, “Berlin wasps are easily provoked”, so… just accept it. Tips from the locals: 1) always check your beer bottle for wasps before taking a sip, 2) bang any sugar dispensers horizontally on a table to ensure any wasps fly out before directing it towards your coffee, 3) if they keep coming near your face, gently guide them away with a napkin or piece of paper. Most restaurants have anti-wasp devices (aka jars of honey or nectar, see below) near outside areas to distract wasps from their customers. Interesting.

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2. Smoking. For an Australian used to strict anti-smoking rules in public areas, Berlin’s acceptance of smoking is rather overwhelming. Whether it be shisha pipe, cigar or cigarette, you’ll probably find someone smoking within five metres of your person. I ended up getting headaches from passive smoking after a few hours… not very good. But it’s unavoidable. roamers pizza

3. There’s so much good food that you’ll forget where you ate it all. Like the pizza above; crisp speck with creme fraiche, chives and Spanish onion. So good. From a beer garden somewhere. SO GOOD. breadmantonsteinegarten

So that’s it. My little foodie tour of Berlin, written whilst sitting on the floor of my Uncle’s apartment in (currently dreary) Surrey, England. If you’re heading to Berlin sometime soon, I do hope that you’ll track down some of the delicious haunts that I’m already missing. At the very least, please have a beer for me. Okay?

Prost!

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bib & tucker, north fremantle

boardwalkI love breakfast. It’s probably my favourite meal of the day, to the point where I often lie awake at night thinking about what I’ll eat in the morning. Steel cut oats, seeded toast with lemon-drenched avocado, crunchy macadamia muesli, fresh crumpets with Lescure butter and raw organic honey… I love it all. I’m one of those people who could very easy eat brinner every night of the week. But then again, where would that leave tacos and braised pork belly? Oh, the dilemmas!

A few months ago, a friend of mine mentioned a little cafe in North Fremantle called Bib & Tucker. Described as the ‘next best thing in breakfast’, I naturally wanted to visit… mostly as a comparison to my favourite breakfast destination of the moment, Harvest Espresso in Victoria Park (a place that actually solves my pork belly dilemma. They serve it for breakfast. Really).

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We arrived mid-morning last Saturday. The sky was pale blue, slightly overcast, with thick clouds wafting like a scattered blanket. By the time we pried open the front doors, sweat started to bead on our foreheads in a sticky sheen.

Luckily, we were ushered to an outside table where the reliable Fremantle Doctor was blowing. Cool, salty air gently lapped at our skin as we perused the breakfast menu.

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There’s something beautifully balanced about Bib & Tucker. Old favourites such as pancakes, eggs and crispy bacon sit snugly alongside redemptive kale, green lentils, chia seeds and almond milk. If would be fair to say that as a patron, you can be as virtuous or indulgent as you want to be. My favourite kind of place.

coffeebandt hatAfter ordering our coffees, we selected three dishes from the breakfast menu: fig chia pudding ($15), smashed avocado on cornbread ($19) and house-smoked ocean trout tartare ($24). Despite various criticisms on Urbanspoon about the ‘terrible service’ at Bib & Tucker, we met a wonderful brunette waitress who delivered our food within 15 short minutes. Nothing wrong with that.

As for the food? Well, it’s safe to say that we were three happy campers on this Saturday morning. Everything that arrived was fresh, generous, beautifully presented and suitably nourishing. My selection was (typically) chunky seasoned avocado atop thick, toasted cornbread with fresh greens, quinoa and vibrant chive oil. Aaron chose (typically) the smoked ocean trout, which was deliciously salty, soft and delicate against robust fried capers, fresh asparagus, croutons and lemon mascarpone.

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My lovely mother (atypically) selected the chia pudding, mostly out of ‘curiosity’. The dish arrived in a mason jar crowned with fresh wedges of fragrant fig, pomegranate arils and toasted almonds.

For a woman who habitually chooses ‘eggs any way with toast’ (a.k.a poached eggs with wholemeal bread), she enjoyed the breakfast variation. The chia seeds carried a slight creaminess from the organic almond milk, beautifully complimented by the sweet figs, acidic pomegranate and toasted nuts.

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From scanning the crowd, it would be fair to say that Bib & Tucker is a beautiful embodiment of the Fremantle subculture: eclectic, relaxed, slightly hippy (as opposed to hipster; these guys were growing kale in loamy soil far before the first hipster discovered plaid) artistic and entirely wonderful. As an ‘artsy’ type myself, I felt right at home.

It’s a place to contemplate, breathe and feel nourished within 100 metres of the Indian Ocean. A place I definitely want to revisit. Soon.

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Bib & Tucker

18 Leighton Beach Blvd, North Fremantle WA 6159

(08) 9433 2147

Coffee: Tues – Sun, 6am – 4pm

Breakfast: Tues – Sun, 7am – 11am

Lunch: Tues – Sun, 12pm – 3pm

Dinner: Wed – Sun, 6pm – 9pm

summer to autumn

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It’s late on Thursday evening. Six past eleven, to be exact. The world seems quiet; inky black except for the occasional headlight beam from the highway. The skyline, once illuminated by clouds of rich crimson, has become embedded in a dense cloud of onyx. The air is heavy, thick with the scent of grass and scorched eucalyptus.

Despite being thirteen days into autumn, it was hot today. Yesterday was even hotter, a humid 37 degrees Celsius, or 98 degrees Fahrenheit (if you’re from the northern hemisphere). Even now, I can hear garden cicadas droning a final ode to the sweet heat of Australian summer. They’re working in well with the ice-cube percussion from my depleting water glass.

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Despite our recent uncharacteristically warm autumn weather, I’ve dedicated this particular post to the ‘official’ last days of summer that occurred two weeks ago. We spent four days at the seaside village of Gracetown (above) enjoying warm sunsets, cooked breakfasts, wine tasting and dips in the pristine blue sea.

If you’re a regular reader of The Mess, you might remember some previous posts about Gracetown, Margaret River and the south west region over the past twelve months. You could say that I’m a little bit in love with the rolling fields, artisan produce, deep red wines and friendly country folk. The rest of this post simply contains photographs and notes from our end-of-summer trip; however, if you’d like a bit more background to the region itself, click on the three links below:

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Any south west adventure always starts with a visit to Yallingup Woodfired Bread, a traditional wood-fired bakery that creates certified biodynamic sourdough, rye and fruit loaves. Owner Gotthard Baue is a truly passionate man who takes pride in his work (take a look at this video for an introduction to Gotthard and the bread process itself).

During this trip, we bought two loaves of sourdough and a dense and sticky rye ‘rock’ loaf that was divine with cheese. Some of the best bread on the planet, I’m certain.

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Upon arriving at our house in Gracetown, we happened upon this little guy:

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He’s an Australian wolf spider. After relocating him from the bathroom wall to the garden, we took some photographs like the one above. I think he’s cute.

Overseas friends: wolf spider bites are non-lethal despite often resulting in a mild case of nausea, headaches and localised pain. Don’t let stories of spiders scare you off visiting Australia and/or the south west region. morries

The restaurant above is Morries Anytime, where we stopped twice for coffee, cake and morning eats.

Manager-cum-barista Alex Brooks makes arguably the best flat white in the Margaret River region whilst head chef Rosie Griffiths serves up nourishing, creative cuisine that showcases the best of the south west’s fresh produce. Love this place.

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Right near Morries is the Margaret River Fudge Factory with its spinning wheel of chocolate goodness. Beware the taste test boxes. You may never leave.

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Pictured above is the Margaret River Farmers’ Market, a beautiful one-stop location for fresh, organic local produce, artisan cheeses, biodynamic meats and a range of other wares in the heart of the town centre. Open every Saturday from 8am – 12pm, this market has fast become a fresh produce hub for locals and tourists alike.

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*For some reason I just had to take a picture of this ink-scrawled face.

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One of my favourite stalls was that of the Margaret River Bakery. I’m in love with their danish pastries, baguettes and cakes. They also have a fixed location at 89 Bussell Highway where you can sample their wonderful cooked breakfasts, snacks and coffee. Go there. Your stomach will thank you.

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It’s tempting to end with a cliché by saying that ‘all good things must come to an end’. But instead, I’ll just finish with a photograph of Gracetown as the sun dipped below the horizon.

We returned to Perth late on Monday evening after a stop-off for dinner with Elissa in Bunbury. A great end to a beautiful weekend.

harborGoodbye, Australian summer. Until we meet again.

the mess guide to: margaret river

bottleThe regular readers among you would be aware that it’s been a very, very long time since my last Mess Guide was published (the Mess Guide to: Melbourne). Nine months ago, to be exact. Nine months. That’s the gestation period for a human.

So, why the long hiatus between travel posts? Well, to be honest, we haven’t really traveled anywhere. Other than work, school, the library, the organic food market… that kind of thing. Despite its awesomeness, I figured a whole Mess Guide post on Perth City Farm would be slightly pushing the ‘travel category’, so… I waited. Holidays were discussed. Nothing was booked.

It’s now three-quarters-of-a-year later and we’ve finally taken another holiday, albeit in our home state. Three weeks ago, Aaron and I enjoyed a blissful long weekend ‘down south’ with family in Western Australia’s south west wine and food region, Margaret River.

mapglassFor the uninitiated, Margaret River is a Western Australian town around 277km south of Perth, the state capital. Set among majestic forests, pristine beaches and horticultural plantations, it’s become a favourite winter holiday destination for many sandgroper foodies who want to escape to the country for the weekend.

Winters in the south west are indescribably beautiful. Lush green landscapes give way to roaring wood fires, locally produced mead (more information below) and hot bread from wood fire ovens. As the seasons change, fields become speckled with fledgling shrubs, newborn lambs, bow-legged calves and wildflowers. It’s beautiful. Art in its most organic, breathtaking state.

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albest2In summer, Margaret River moves into its second phase of sunshine, salt spray and wetsuits. Surfer’s Point starts heaving with amateurs and pros alike, eagerly chasing some of the 12-foot main breaks along the coastline. Hot chips, beer and picnic blankets float with abandon around the local park areas before sunset cues the lighting of barbecues, charring of meat and consumption of boutique local wine.

Aaron and I have spent many days in Margaret River since we were small; as children, single young adults, a dating couple then husband and wife. In fact, our first official ‘road trip’ together as a couple was to a beach shack in the tiny town of Walpole in the state’s south west. Walpole lies about 250km south of Margaret River, so one sunny morning, we packed a bag and drove three hours to buy a memorable bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from a boutique vineyard. We drank it slowly, savoring each drop as the sun dipped below the horizon. That was the beginning of our combined love affair with local Western Australian wine.

rainy3Our most recent trip was at the end of a cold, wet and blustery July. The sky spattered a little during our trip down the coast, but we enjoyed blissfully good weather for the remainder of our stay: cool but sunny days followed by light rains and frosty nights by the fire. The majority of our days were spent driving from attraction to vineyard, providore to boutique producer, all the while yelling ‘Hey Cow!‘ out of the window (there are lots of cows in the south west. And sheep. But mostly lots of cows).

cowsI intended to take comprehensive food and wine tasting notes during our trip down south, but instead… well, I just had a holiday. As a result, this post is a bit of a mish-mash of notes from this trip and previous south west experiences (at all times of the year). So, settle down and have a read… then book a trip to my part of the world. You’ll be glad you did.

arlewoodmontWine:

Margaret River is the the largest wine region in the south west of Western Australia, with over 5,000 hectares under vine and around 140 established wineries. If you’re interested in a south west wine tour, I’d encourage you to start at the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre located at 9 Bussell Highway, Cowaramup WA 6284.

The Centre holds samples from every winery in the south west region (for both sale and tasting) so if you’re in a hurry, you can swill, spit and buy all of the region’s wines in one convenient location. If you’d prefer a drive, the Centre’s friendly staff can also provide maps and tips on some of the region’s best cellar doors.

wineprobMargaret River tends to enjoy a very Mediterranean climate in terms of temperature variance, humidity and rainfall. Overall, the climate is similar to that of Bordeaux (France) during a dry vintage. Although the region produces just three percent of total Australian grape production, it produces over 20 percent of Australia’s premium wine market. The principal grape varieties are fairly evenly split between red and white, with vineyards producing single origin and blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (Syrah), Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chenin Blanc and Verdelho.

Over the years, we’ve been to a fair few vineyards in Margaret River and surrounds. Here are a few of our favourites, in no particular order:

Coward & Black Vineyards: Childhood friends Patrick Coward and Martin Black began establishing their namesake vineyard in 1998, but took over five years to slowly coax their dry-grown vines into a state fit for wine production. As a boutique vineyard, Coward & Black now produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for sale. Their first vintage won five medals at the Perth Royal Show before going on to earn national recognition. The Coward & Black cellar door is integrated with another of their businesses, the Margaret River Providore (see below) so it’s easy to stop in for a taste whilst also sampling the finest of Margaret River’s produce.

leafbarrelMcLeod Creek Wines: McLeod Creek is a family owned and run vineyard overseen by Erminio (Mario) Iannarelli, one of the most down-to-earth, generous winemakers you’ll ever meet. On the day we visited, he was out tending to his vines and vegetable patches in the midday sun. After sounding our car horn (as requested on the winery’s signage!) he emerged from the garden sporting a huge smile and a blue fisherman’s cap. Mario ushered us inside, then we drank and chatted like old friends before Aaron and I left with a dozen 2009 Cabernet Merlot cleanskins. We also bought a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon after sharing a glass before Mario left for lunch (good man, Mario. We’ll be back).

Arlewood Estate: This single origin boutique vineyard was established in 2009 by an Italian migrant named Garry Gosatti. It’s predominantly run by Stuart Pym, a seasoned winemaker, alongside Russell Oates (who oversees the vineyard) and Terry Chellappah (who works in operations and marketing). On the day we visited Arlewood, the cellar door was being overseen by Natalie, a warm and knowledgeable host who was happy to tell us all about the winery, its wines, the resident horse (Al, photo below) and the owner’s new range of farm-pressed olive oil. A beautiful experience. We left with three bottles of Arlewood red.

albestFiretail Wines: This beautiful winery is nestled amongst the lush vines of Rosa Glen. On the day of our visit, Silkie hens scuttled across the footpaths, fluffy plumage waving in the wind as they pecked seeds from the grass. Once in the cellar door, our host was Jessica, one half of the winery’s ownership. Despite a rather busy afternoon, Jessica’s enthusiasm, passion and love for her product was obvious throughout the entire tasting. This winery makes rather delicious ‘Cane Cut’ Semillion and a fruit driven oak-matured 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sandalford Wines: I’ve mentioned Sandalford a few times on this blog before (such as in this post) with consistently positive praise. To reiterate, I’m a big fan of this Western Australian vineyard, which was established in the Margaret River in 1970 as a close runner up to Vasse Felix (1967). Sandalford is now owned and run by the Prendiville family, who make some of the most beautiful examples of south west Cabernet Sauvignon you can buy. Try their Prendiville Reserve series, Estate Reserve series (2009 in particular), the fresh, fruit-driven Element series and the delicious fortifieds. Fantastic value for some of the region’s best.

Wise Wines: Wise vineyard is a 60 hectare property situated near the picturesque coastline of Eagle Bay. Under the tutelage of Larry Cherubino, winemaker Jeremy Hodgson has created a wonderful catalogue of distinctive, fresh and vibrant wines such as the Sea Urchin series (bargain fresh, fruity whites), Eagle Bay varieties and one of my favourite value-for-money drops, Lot 80 Cabernet Sauvignon (2010 is currently on sale and will cellar well for the next 5-7 years). Definitely worth visiting.

leeuwintasting leeuwinmontLeeuwin Estate: Leeuwin Estate is a beautiful vineyard. It was established as one of the first wineries in Margaret River during the early 1970’s (third runner up to Vasse Felix and Sandalford). It’s now one of the most recognizable Australian producers of ‘Bordeaux blend’ Cabernet (moderately astringent during youth, with notes of blackcurrant, blackberry and plum. It mellows well with cellaring but can challenge the palate, for those more used to Californian or South Australian Cabernet). Both the cellar door and restaurant are jam-packed full of wine enthusiasts for most days of the year. For an introduction to Leeuwin wines, try the Art Series 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (my absolute favourite Leeuwin wine) and the Siblings Shiraz (a fresher, early drinking type of Shiraz that is fantastic value for money).

leeuwincorkBrown Hill Estate: This family owned and run vineyard is situated about 12km from Margaret River town centre, in the picturesque village of Rosa Brook. Winemaker Nathan Bailey creates mellow, fruit-driven reds and fresh, vibrant whites in partnership with his father, Jim Bailey, who runs the cellar door. Brown Hill Estate ‘dry harvest’ their crop. This basically means that the vineyard isn’t irrigated, resulting in smaller, intensely flavoured fruit. Try their mellow, softly oaked 2008/2009 Bill Bailey Shiraz Cabernet and the 2009 Fimiston Reserve Shiraz. Aaron and I also liked the 2008 Perseverance Cabernet Merlot; partly due to Jim Bailey’s tasting comment: “What does a great marriage need after five years? Perseverance. This wine is a tribute to that”. Ah, I love winemakers.

brownhillVasse Felix: The beautiful Vasse Felix vineyard has the honour of being the first established in the Margaret River region, planted by Dr Tom Cullity and his team in 1967. The vineyard is now owned by the Holmes à Court family, most notably Janet Holmes à Court, who manages a notable art gallery on site. The winery restaurant is headed by Executive Chef Aaron Carr and has received rave reviews for its innovative seasonal menus. Winemaking is led by chief winemaker Virginia Willcock, and some of my favourites include the 2010 Heytesbury (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot blend) and the dry harvested 2010 Shiraz. Deliciously fruit driven and spicy, with hints of oak.

The Berry Farm: It was a pleasant surprise to discover that The Berry Farm produces sticky fortifieds, small batch ports and fruit driven sparkling wines. Everything we sampled at the friendly cellar door was delicious, in particular the (ridiculously good) syrupy Muscat, the No.1 Dark Plum Port, No.6 Apple Vanilla Port and the Strawberry Sparkling. As expected, most of the fortified wines from The Berry Farm are rather sweet, however the oak barrel maturation process has delivered a beautiful, full flavoured complexity that surpasses many other sticky fortified wines. We left with a bottle of No.6 and some sticky hazelnut (noisette) liqueur… the latter of which knocks Frangelico for six.

carriagesmontBlackwood Meadery: This unique establishment is based in Karridale, around 40 minutes from the Margaret River town centre. As a family run business, Horst and Alex Bernhagen (apiarists and meadmakers) combine the latest wine making techniques with historical recipes to create unique mead, or wine made from fermented honey rather than fruit. Horst’s wife Martha runs the cellar door in a warm and friendly manner, conveying an honest passion for her family’s products. We sampled Honey Mead Wine 2002 (dry, medium and sweet), the Traditional Honey Mead Liqueur 2003, the syrupy Blackberry Nip and a Honey Boysenberry Liqueur. All of the Meadery’s products are beautifully unique, but rather on the sweet side (if you love syrupy caramel and fruit flavours you’d be in heaven). The Meadery also produces a beer-style Honey Mead Brew that tastes intriguingly similar to sweet bubbly champagne. Blackwood’s products have recently been uploaded for online sales via Margaret River 1st (also check out their facebook page for cellar door information). Worth the trip.

*Note: As you’re probably aware by now, both Aaron and I are both red wine, port and liqueur drinkers; in particular, spicy, woody Shiraz, aged port and mellow, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon. Consequently, these tasting notes are definitely written for red wine drinkers. For a more objective overview of Australian wines including summer whites and blends, I’d recommend that you visit the wonderful James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion. He knows his stuff. 

coffeegood

mecoffeeCoffee:

Aaron and I are very, very selective when it comes to coffee. In fact, I’d rather abstain altogether than drink a bad, bitter cup (Aaron is a little more tolerant but drinks with a grimace). Bear this information in mind when I say that the beanie-clad baristas at the Margaret River Bakery are pretty darn amazing. The house-ground, medium bodied, soft and aromatic coffee was consistent throughout the weekend… we drank about six huge mugs over three days and none required sugar (perfect, right down to the antique collectable spoons).

The Bakery food is also fresh and generous in terms of both quality and flavour. This is their vegetarian breakfast, piled high with balsamic field mushrooms, plenty of spinach and soft scrambled eggs atop organic seeded toast.

mushybrekkyAmazing, as was their home baked organic fruit bread: dense, chewy and flavoursome, encrusted with crunchy sesame seeds and speckled with plump vine fruit. Slathered with butter and The Berry Farm jam, it was my version of fruit toast heaven.

fruittoast

seatsEats:

Aaron and I often eat at ‘home’ during cottage holidays, and this trip wasn’t much different. We ate local bread, tender Angus beef steaks, Margaret River Dairy cheese and salad for two nights in (with some local boutique wines, of course) before splashing out on a single night at the Muster Bar & Grill (the sister restaurant to Must Wine Bar in the metropolitan suburb of Highgate, Western Australia).

Both Must and Muster are owned by Russell Blaikie, a Margaret River raised, award-winning chef who has worked under London-based Anton Mosimann and at the two-Michelin-starred Terrace Restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel. Muster has a fantastic wine list and a hearty, satisfying menu of revamped grill favourites such as pork ribs, steaks and hamburgers.

I happily grazed on sticky pork ribs with hand-cut potatoes, sour cream and a fresh rocket salad. Aaron had an Arkady lamb shank, fall-off-the-bone tender, with Moroccan pearl cous cous, preserved lemon and fresh greens. So, so good. Definitely recommended (they even have vegan options, which is rare in an Australian grill restaurant).

Back to the Bakery. Everything at this quirky little cafe is fresh, homemade and beautiful. My first breakfast at this establishment included home-baked granola packed with macadamia nuts, seeds and oats, topped off with thick organic yoghurt and a raspberry compote.

bakerymontStrangely, Aaron the carnivore actually went for a vegetarian breakfast on both of our visits to the Bakery. On the second occasion, he chose a fresh tomato salsa with free-range fried eggs, chunks of salty herbed feta, fresh avocado and sourdough bread. It was delicious (yes, I stole some); ripe, soft tomatoes dressed in red wine vinegar with sea salt, herbs, Spanish onion and a slick of extra virgin olive oil. Simple, honest goodness atop the Bakery’s divine sourdough bread.

tomsalsaeggWhilst visiting caves along the spine of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, we also stopped at the Lake Cave Tea Rooms, 20 minutes drive from Margaret River town centre. This place was promising in its location and external facade, but the internal ambience was sadly empty, characterless and awkward.

As for the food, it was expensive, limited and average. Think hot dogs with manufactured red frankfurts, toasted cheese sandwiches, fried fish and chips and packet potato wedges. Now, don’t get me wrong… I enjoy hot chips and tomato sauce on occasion. However, in consideration of price ($8 for a frankfurt in a bun) and time (25+ minutes to arrive, with only five hungry people in the cafe) I was more than a little dissatisfied.

I’m awarding extra points for the friendly, warm and genuine service. But despite the lovely people, this cafe gets a thumbs down from me.

lakecavetuckerNow for the fun part: let’s move on to the amazing array of farm cafes, organic food stores, providores and markets in the Margaret River region. With homemade pickles, chutneys, jams, wood fired organic bread, cheeses, chocolates, organic meats and olive oils on hand, it’s a food lover’s paradise (particularly if you’re into locally grown, sustainable, pesticide-free organic produce. Locavores unite!).

tasteShops and Markets:

Margaret River Gourmet Meats: This butcher shop is staffed by some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (I think there’s something in the country air; everyone seems nicer 200+km out of the city). Every time we’ve visited the south west, we’ve visited this shop to stock up on fresh, local hormone-free meat, organic free-range chicken, Arkady lamb and locally caught fish. The butchers have always been happy to cut steaks to our exact specifications, which is great if you’re traveling with a group of insatiable carnivores like I usually do. This place dispenses traditional quality with a smile.

Margaret River Bakery: Now, I think I’ve said enough about this little bakery already but if you’re in the mood for baked delights, this is your one-stop shop. Just think pastries, cakes, muffins, croissants, macarons, organic seeded loaves… pretty much anything your stomach or heart could dream up. Eat in or take away, this place is baked and kneaded bliss.

The Berry Farm: Nestled in the beautiful Rosa Glen Valley, this wonderful farm is a treasure trove of locally made preserves, jams, dressings, vinegars, ciders, fruit wines, sparkling wines, liqueurs and fortifieds. One visit and I was in love with… well, everything. The preserves and sticky fortified wines in particular.  As abovestated, we squirreled home a bottle of smooth, luscious Apple and Vanilla Port (No.6), hazelnut liqueur and various chutneys. The Farm also has a fantastic cottage cafe on site, check out reviews here.

provmontMargaret River Providore: The Providore is hands-down my favourite food store in Margaret River. Incorporating Coward & Black vineyards, an organic olive grove, a fruit orchard and vegetable gardens, the dedicated team at Providore create a spectacular array of home made jams, preserves, olive oils sauces, dressings, spice mixes, wines, liqueurs and desserts on a daily basis. Those of you who admire Maggie Beer will be aware of the benefits of verjuice. The team at Margaret River make both verjuice and vino cotto on-site alongside tapenade and preserved mustard fruits. The team harvest and press their own estate grown olive oil and make fresh egg pasta, cheese condiments and aged vinegars. Complimentary tastings are offered on site. Heaven.

beetsauceMargaret River Dairy Company: Aaron and I have been big fans of this locally established, locally run (but sadly, no longer locally owned as Manassen Foods was acquired by a Chinese company in 2011) cheese company for many years. They make some of the most delicious, premium quality cheeses and yoghurts I’ve ever tasted. Honest. And I am a big consumer of cheese. From silky smooth soft cheeses such as Camembert and Brie to distinctive port-infused or smoked Cheddar, smooth style feta, baked ricotta and creamy pot set yoghurt, this company is a dairy-lover’s paradise.

mrcheeseThe Candy Cow: This wonderful candy store specialises in handmade gourmet fudge in what seems like a hundred different flavours, ranging from sweet lime to chilli chocolate, rum and raisin, coconut and (the most popular) bubblegum. If you take a look at the website, you’ll see a photo of the store’s owner… one of the loveliest, most generous men you’ll ever meet. Pop in and say hello.

Margaret River Chocolate Company: This south west chocolate company was established in 1999 and has since grown to incorporate two factories (in Margaret River and the Swan Valley) and a Perth city ‘concept store’. Alongside chocolate bars, chocolate coated delights (including dried plums and apricots), hand made truffles, novelty chocolates and chocolate sauces, each site also incorporates a ‘chocolate cafe’ (with cakes, sundaes, fondues and more) and the all-important free tasting.

goats

margsoftchocThe Farm House: David Hohnen has farmed Wiltshire sheep and Tamworth pigs in Margaret River since 2004. He opened The Farm House in 2010 as a business dedicated to traditional farming and butchery techniques. General Manager Matt Gilray has a background in both cooking and butchery. He’s readily contactable to ensure that chefs and cooks alike can purchase perfect Arkady lamb, natural grass-fed pork, smallgoods and free-range chicken, cut or smoked to specifications. The Farm House sells products cellar door at the premises of McHenry Hohnen Vitners, a wine producing business co-owned and run by David and his brother-in-law, Murray McHenry (review their online wine catalogue here) in partnership with winemaker Ryan Walsh.

Margaret River Farmers Market: If you don’t have time to drive around to many of Margaret River’s independent producers, just take a Saturday morning stroll around the Margaret River Farmers Market on the Old Hospital site (corner of Tunbridge and Farrelly streets, town centre). This fantastic market hosts vendors from all around the region, selling everything from Leeuwin grass fed beef to Merri Bee organic honey, Mika muesli, Tapalinga homestead, Bahen & Co chocolate, Forest Grove olive farm and many, many more. Take a look at the market website for a full list of vendors. Definitely worth a look when you’re in the region.

rearviewSo, that’s it. We’ve reached the end of my personal foodie tour of Western Australia’s beautiful Margaret River region.

I can’t speak highly enough of this beautiful town, both as a holiday destination and a weekend escape. Whatever time of year you visit, there will always be plenty to discover in terms of food, wine, entertainment, activities, nature and scenery.

This shortlist contains most of my favourite food and wine destinations in Margaret River, however I’m aware that it’s just the beginning of what’s available for visitors to experience in the south west area. If you’re a local Western Australian, please let me know if I’ve missed anything you recommend from the list above. I’d love this to be a collaborative, evolving post as time passes; both as a personal reference guide and as a resource for visitors heading to Western Australia’s south west coast. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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azniVideo Links:

Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2012

Surfaid Margaret River 2013

Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River

Bahen & Co, Margaret River

the mess guide to: melbourne

Today is Tuesday November 27th, 2012. In two days, it will be exactly one month since my last post for Mexican Corn Salad which, as you might remember, promised a follow up recipe for a Roasted Beetroot Salad within a week or two. Well… as you know, that didn’t happen. And to break with blogsphere tradition, I’m not really very sorry. Mostly due to the fact that I’ve spent the last month doing really worthwhile stuff such as managing the floristry for a friend’s wedding, traveling to Melbourne, Victoria for my own wedding anniversary (our first!) and hanging out with my brother in law and his girlfriend who are moving to the United Kingdom at the end of the year.

Oh, and I learnt to crochet. Not an easy thing for someone who has a natural aversion to craft. Thanks to the teaching of my beautiful friend Krystel, I’ve mastered basic crochet to the point that I’ve completed about half of a natural wool scarf. By next Winter, I’m hoping that it will be a speckled forest green and taupe version of Dr Who’s scarf that I can wear proudly like the closet nerd I am. Watch this space.

Anyway, despite recent distractions I have spent portions of the past month researching new ingredients and recipes in both Western Australia and Victoria. Part of this ‘research’ involved sampling lots of amazing food in the city of Melbourne whilst shopping for rich spices, organic Dutch cocoa, fresh broad beans and thyme-infused honey at local markets. Rest assured that this dedicated effort will eventually benefit you (the hypothetical reader) in the form of future recipe posts… I’ve already scribbled some notes.

By this point, you may be wondering what the rest of this post is about, since I’ve spent the past month doing lots of eating and not enough recipe testing. After some contemplation I thought I’d write a bit of a ‘guide’ to the ingredients and hole-in-the-wall cafes that we found over the past month… mostly as an interim post whilst I continue to write my next recipe, but also to inspire your own personal exploring next time you go to Melbourne or elsewhere.

So, here it is, the first Mess Guide. It’s mostly about the culinary delights of Melbourne but you might find a few snippets about other interesting things too (emphasis on ‘might’). Buckle up, salivate and enjoy… next recipe post ETA: one week. And yes, you can slap me if I lie.

Melbourne

For those of you who are yet to experience this city, Melbourne is the bustling capital of Australia’s smallest mainland state, Victoria. Located on the South East coastline of Australia, it’s unofficially referred to as the nation’s ‘cultural capital’, mostly due to the fact that it was the birthplace of Australian film and television, Australian Rules football, Vegemite, the Heidelberg School (Australia’s Impressionist art movement), the Bionic Ear and… well, pretty much everything else of Australian cultural value.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. Just a little bit. But Melbourne is pretty awesome, especially if you enjoy live music, small bars, organic food and cobblestone roads that greet you with an icy kick before ushering you into the embrace of a cozy, ten-seater cafe. Not just any cafe, but one that’s decorated with ceiling-suspended chairs that swing above the barista’s head as he brews the best single-origin coffee you’ve consumed in your life. Yep, I’m talking about Brother Baba Budan, a tiny specialty coffee shop at 359 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD. It’s just one of many small establishments we visited over the course of one and a half weeks. Other awesome places to go for coffee include:

  • Dead Man Espresso – 35 Market Street, South Melbourne. This little cafe requires a tram ride from the CBD but it’s worth it for their quality single-origin coffee, local Warialda beef, Istra smallgoods and Melbourne Rooftop Honey. They also do burgers and beer on Friday nights with their very own ketchup, mayo and BBQ sauce. Delicious.
  • St Ali Coffee Roasters – 12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne. Just down the road from Dead Man lies a converted warehouse that’s the enemy of uniformity. It’s a tumble of cluttered furniture, colourful murals, upturned pot-plants and mismatched chairs that somehow manages to feel both roomy and intimate. Aaron & I both tried ‘My Mexican Cousin’, their specialty dish that consists of crisp sweetcorn fritters, molten haloumi, steamed ruby chard, baby spinach and their own recipe kasundi, crowned with softly poached free-range eggs ($21.50). It was ridiculously good, especially when paired with blaring, old-school 90’s hip hop and their own blend of rich, creamy, no-sugar-needed coffee. So, so good.
  • The Breakfast Club – 206 St George’s Road, Northcote. This little cafe is a little out of the way for non-locals. In fact, you can easily get lost once you disembark the tram (we did… make sure you check your GPS!). But despite directional confusion, this place is worth the trip for their ‘Stax Toast’ ($10) alone… imagine lemony, herby homemade pesto atop creamy avocado with Danish feta and cherry tomatoes, all piled on toasted organic sourdough. Assemble as you like, crunch and gnaw, chew, then swallow. Ah… sigh with sweet content. The coffee is good too.
  • Seven:am – 155 Bay Street, Port Melbourne. This eclectic little cafe off busy Bay Street has a really ‘homey’ feel to it, right down to their mismatched crockery and recycled timber bench tops. If you’re lucky, you might even see an old Alf plush toy mounted on their wall next to a bicycle. But anyway, decor aside, seven:am is definitely worth a visit if you’re in their part of the world. A sample of the menu includes soft, creamy scrambled eggs with homemade chilli jam on seeded sourdough, a delicious home-made granola and ‘the emporer’ (sic) which is pretty much eggs benedict with bacon and beetroot relish. It’s delicious, despite the annoying spelling gremlin.

Okay, so on to my next trick: alcoholic beverages. Melbourne has some of the most interesting boutique bars you’re likely to find anywhere, usually tucked down a darkened alleyway or accessible via rambling stairs. As long as you don’t mind a little intrigue (think: dangerous skip bins, slippery stairs, graffiti murals, lack of signage and/or cobblestones with piles of vomit) the city is your alcoholic oyster. Chew or swallow? It’s up to you.

  • The Croft Institute – 21 Croft Alley, Melbourne CBD (see photo above, top and photos directly below). An interesting little bar that resembles a high school science lab, tucked down a slightly dodgy-looking alleyway in bustling Chinatown. Alongside the usual suspects, you’ll find a boutique wine list, some interesting cocktails in ‘syringes’ and a penchant for everything Chartreuse. Definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan of test tubes.
  • 1806 – 169 Exhibition Street, Melbourne CBD (photo above, bottom). A visit to 1806 is an experience like no other. From their ridiculously comprehensive cocktail book (spanning 200 years of alcoholic beverages) to their impeccably trained staff and balanced mixes, this place runs like a perfectly oiled, top-notch machine. During our ten days we visited twice; firstly to their basement bar, the Understudy (a whimsical, experimental establishment staffed by the next generation of 1806 bartenders-in-training) before venturing into the main, street-level bar filled with historical cocktails, Chesterfield lounges and suit jackets. In a word? Love. Each cocktail was a perfectly balanced reflection of professional mixology, presented with warmth, confidence and flair. A highlight was Irvin S Cobb’s Julep. a delicious muddle of Maker’s Mark, Appleton’s VX Rum, mint and gomme. If you’re downstairs, make sure you try the Eden Milk Punch, an intriguing mix of organic soy milk, dried lavender and Beefeater gin. Strangely delicious.
  • Naked for Satan – 285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Now, before you make any assumptions, let me get something straight. This place encourages neither nudity or satanism, though you will see some homage to the 1950’s pin-up on both their website and at the bar itself. Rather, it’s a quirky split-level bar with an amazing list of house-infused vodkas (see their full list here), cocktails, exclusive beers, wines and ciders that are served with a smile. This place also provides the cheapest bar snacks around (in fact, they were awarded Cheap Eats Bar of the Year in 2010). It’s just $1 per pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchos’… they’re basically little rounds of bread adorned with deliciousness that’s impaled on a toothpick) so you can soak up your alcohol til your heart’s content. You also pay by an honour system… keep those toothpicks to show the cashier upon exiting.
  • Brunswick Street Cider House – 386 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Just up the street from Naked is a beautiful establishment that celebrates organic and biodynamic produce. Their main focus is upon Australian and international craft ciders and beers, however they also have a limited, certified organic wine list. Their food menus are impressive, and include a range of grazing plates, soups, salads, seasoned fries, sweet cider-infused apple pies and succulent burgers sandwiched in fresh brioche. You can also try a liqueur milkshake or ‘cider spider’ (cider with a scoop of icecream) for a truly boozy experience.

Now, after all that alcohol you’re going to need some proper nourishment. Yep, food. Cue my personal tour (in text form) of some of the best little eateries around. We spent approximately ten days ‘researching’ all of the amazing food options in Melbourne, so have a little read, check a map, then wander and consume at your leisure. Then do it all again tomorrow.

  • Trunktown – 275 Exhibition Street, Melbourne CBD (photo below). Occupying the garden corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets, Trunktown opened its doors in 2007 and has since become a firm favourite amongst local foodies and visitors alike.  It’s name was inspired by a 150 year old, heritage-listed Coral tree on the property which I’ve never actually seen, but I trust it’s there. The full service restaurant and bar offers an Italian-and-Spanish-fusion inspired menu (tip: try their beetroot and goat’s cheese salad, and the huge portion of chocolate mousse with homemade rum and raisin icecream and peanut brittle) whilst the half-day diner next door serves satisfying quesadillas, waffles, Wagyu beef burgers and sweet American-style pies. There’s also an exceptional wine list focusing on local wine producers as well as Spanish blends. So, so good.
  • Santa Ana – 138 Acland Street, St Kilda. This little tapas restaurant is an authentic, Latin American gem in the heart of St Kilda. Focusing on Argentinian, Chilean and Spanish food, you’re guaranteed to walk out the door with a satisfied smile on your face… unless, of course, you’re vegan. The Latinos aren’t very inclusive of those who dislike carne. During our visit, we ate authentic Asado BBQ meat drenched in chimichurri with a range of delicious sides. Absolutely delicious, especially when washed down with Spanish coffee, Mexican sodas and Latino hospitality.
  • Terra Rossa – 87 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD. This warm, inviting restaurant is located in the heart of the historic Swiss House building on Flinders Lane. They produce stylish, fresh and inspired food that focuses on local ingredients and… well, cheese. About 70% of the dishes on their menu (possibly non-intentionally) contains some kind of cheese which is delicious, but slightly off-putting if you’re not into tasty yellow beef. Despite this, I’d definitely recommend a visit. Try their gorgeous polenta chips, slow cooked pork belly and grilled asparagus with prosciutto. Delicious.
  • The Oriental Tea House – 378 Little Collins Street, Melbourne CBD. I don’t like chain restaurants. In part by principle but mostly because I feel that expansion via franchise prohibits the maintenance of consistency within a restaurant chain. Think McDonalds. I’m pretty sure most of us have had one or more satisfying experiences followed by subsequent visit that produces limp, cold fries and a dry cheeseburger with a watered-down Coke. Franchising = danger to the brand, in my opinion. Anyway, why am I standing on my soap box right now? Well, The Oriental Tea House is… wait for it… a franchise chain. So far there are four restaurants and it’s open for expansion. But despite this fact, I admit that it’s darn good. We’ve only been to the Little Collins Street venue so far but each experience has offered consistent, deliciously succulent and fresh dumplings with perfect greens and house-blended tea that’s served in insulated cups. If you want to discover where it all began, you can also visit the Tea House’s founder at his own independent restaurant, David’s Country Shanghai at 4 Cecil Place in Prahran.
  • Yamato – 28 Corrs Lane, Melbourne CBD. Deep in the heart of Chinatown is a family-run Japanese restaurant that serves fresh sashimi, deep-fried eggplant and some of the best tempura I’ve had in Australia, period. We wandered into Yamato very late on a weeknight with acidic bellies and the staff were warm, welcoming and homely. Definitely try their eggplant and the seaweed salad with cups of steaming, toasty green tea. This was one of the cheaper meals we’ve had in Melbourne, but it was satisfying in every way.
  • Cumulus, Inc. – 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD. Cumulus is a Melbourne institution. It’s been listed in The Age ‘Good Food Guide’ for three years in a row (2010-2012) and it’s consistently packed with hungry Melbournites munching on charcuterie, ortiz anchovies, grass-fed beef and rum baba. We visited Cumulus for breakfast rather than dinner, but it’s open til 11pm daily for dinner or share plates. It’s definitely a place for a positive food experience, especially if you’re accompanied by beautiful friends like we were. Thanks Rach and Jordan.

This post has become significantly longer than I first intended, but I’ve finally reached my favourite bit: stockists of fresh produce. If you’re a keen cook, a keen eater (married to, friends with or dating a keen cook) or you’re just like dabbling in different flavours, this section is definitely for you. I was like a kid sipping on red cordial in a candy store at Christmas.

  • Queen Victoria Market – 513 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne CBD. A visit to the QVM is a ‘must’ for anyone who loves variety, freshness and value for money. It’s divided into ten vast sections: the Deli Hall, Elizabeth Street Shops, F shed laneway, Vic Market Place Food Court, Fruit and Vegetables, The Meat Hall, Organics, General Merchandise, Victoria Street Shops and the Wine Market. Pretty much anything you need to create a recipe can be found here… and at a competitive price too. The market is also implementing a lot of ‘green friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ practices such as a recycling system and a ban on plastic bags. Gotta love a market with a conscience.
  • Prahran Market – 163 Commercial Road, South Yarra. This indoor establishment on the outskirts of the CBD is Melbourne’s oldest food-only public market. It specialises in heirloom vegetables, local Victorian produce, sustainable seafood, fair trade coffee and artisan foodstuffs… feelgood produce. There are also a few cafes around the central market square that serve fresh and delicious snacks such as gozleme, sushi rolls, vegan salads and felafel.
  • The Essential Ingredient – several locations including Prahran Market, South Yarra. In a word, this shop is… overwhelming. In a completely positive sense. I am quite sure that I spent at least half an hour just wandering around in a happy daze, inspecting copper pots, beautiful crockery, recipe books and rare ingredients to the bewildered amusement of my husband. I can honestly say that 99% of the ingredients I’ve never been able to find elsewhere were present in this shop. It’s an ingredient ‘mecca’, and I’d encourage you to make a pilgrimage if you’ve ever experienced one of those frustrated “I can’t find it anywhere” meltdowns. I’ll be back to visit as soon as the budget allows!
  • Gewürzhaus – several locations including Collins Street, Melbourne CBD (‘Cocos’ organic coconut sugar and harissa from this store are pictured below). ‘Gewürzhaus’ means ‘spice house’ in German… and that’s exactly what this little shop in The Block Arcade is. Upon entry, you’ll be enticed by beautifully packaged jars and containers in a kaleidoscope of colours ranging from smoky red harissa to deep, dark Mayan chocolate spice. You’ll be pleased to know that they mill all of their own single origin herbs and spices before mixing them into spice selections for ease of use. You can also buy whole ingredients such as nutmeg, Morel mushrooms, organic cacao beans and dried Ancho chillies onsite or via their website’s shopping function. I also bought some cute wooden teaspoons, an earthenware bowl and a glazed serving dish at this shop… the last item via a return “I have to have it” trip. It’s beautifully dangerous, I tell you. Set a budget before visiting.
  • Loving Earth – now, this brand doesn’t have a ‘store’ as such, but rather it’s a Melbourne based company that only sells certified organic, fair trade, sustainably sourced and responsible produce of a nutritious nature. By ‘nutritious’, I mean that they use produce in a raw, minimally-processed state as much as possible whilst still creating delicious, superfood-packed products suitable for everyday consumption. Click on the link and take a look at their website… they sell a lot of products online (such as their amazing raw, organic cacao and agave chocolate with crunchy mint pieces) whilst also stocking them in many a health food store around the country. Do your body good, give them a go and support sustainable farming in the process.

So that’s it… the ten day Mess Guide to the beautiful Victorian city of Melbourne. If you’re visiting, I hope you enjoy it just as much as we did.

I’ll leave you with a picture and some information about one last Melbourne icon that’s worth visiting if you’re ever in the Chapel Street precinct. It’s called the Chapel Street Bazaar and… well, it’s slightly bizarre (pun intended, picture below). Located at 217 Chapel Street, Prahran, this eclectic establishment is a reclaimed old arcade that has now been filled with 70-vendors-worth of vintage, retro and unique items ranging from televisions to original gas masks from World War II. We ended up buying an original old milk bottle whilst also testing out rusted flour mills, misaligned bicycles and old shoes. It’s slightly expensive (not at all like St Vincent De Paul or a thrift store) but worth a trip if you want to spend a quality hour frolicking down memory lane.

Thanks, as always, for reading. You are great. It is now Wednesday, 28th November 2012. I need to go to bed.

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