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.

azlokibeach

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brookwood estate, margaret river

glasseslogoblIt’s rather late on a quiet suburban Friday. The air is cool, clean and lingering, reddening my skin as fingers tap on plastic keys in the half-light. Today was the sixth official day of the Australian winter, cold but bright. A woollen blanket lies perched upon my lap, cushioning the weight of a softly humming laptop.

As I type, sleep gently beckons my tired eyes. I resist in stubborn audacity, scanning images of panko-crumbed oysters, syrupy Shiraz and dappled gold upon sprawling autumn vines. Click, adjust, save. Admire for a while. It’s photographic evidence of the blissful weekend-that-was and I love every pixel.

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If you’re a regular reader of the Mess, you’d be well aware of my endless love affair with Western Australia’s breathtaking south west food and wine region. I’ve written about it at least four times (in South West Rambling, The Mess Guide to: Margaret River, Summer to Autumn and Buttermilk Corn Fritters) whilst also referencing south west produce in countless recipe posts.

So, it may be no surprise that my husband and I took the recent ‘Western Australia Day‘ weekend as another excuse to visit the south west; or more specifically, the Margaret River wine region. Three days of rolling green pastures, log fires, locally farmed food and boutique wine was too good to miss.

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Let’s rewind to last Saturday morning. Aaron and I packed our bags, tumbled into our battered sedan and drove two hours south to the coastal town of Bunbury. We ate dinner (steak sandwiches and calamari at the waterside Mash brewery), slept (in our car. No, I am not joking), bought coffee (from McDonalds; it was actually passable) and then continued our drive to the Margaret River region.

Now, one of the most wonderful things about the south west is that no matter how many times you’ve visited, there’s always something else to explore – whether it be pristine beaches, national parks, wineries or surfing breaks. Trust me, I’ve been countless times and it was only last weekend that I discovered the rambling country road that led to Brookwood Estate.

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Brookwood is a family owned and run vineyard that was established in 1996 by Trevor and Lyn Mann (pictured above). The couple experienced their first harvest around 1999 after three years of nurturing ten thousand Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines across a six hectare property. They have since been working alongside their daughter, Bronnlea Cahill (now head winemaker) to create a unique and delicious range of wines featuring one hundred percent estate-grown fruit that has been processed, blended and bottled on-site.

Brookwood has since developed into a biologically balanced, thriving boutique vineyard that produces around 5000 cases of wine (each with 12 bottles) per year. Initially serving platters and tasting plates, the winery has since established a thriving restaurant and cafe that serves lunch and snacks from 11.00am – 5.00pm daily.

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Aaron and I were fortunate enough to visit Brookwood last Sunday afternoon, the first official day of Australian winter. That morning, light rain had fallen across the south west in a glistening blanket, the earth smelt fresh, green and nourished.

Upon arriving at Brookwood, the scene was ridiculously beautiful. Fresh raindrops clung to the russet vines like sparkling jewels; the grass was bright and saturated with colour. We spent a few minutes snapping photographs, clambering from vine to wine before the scent of food beckoned. We obeyed, making our way towards the tin and timber-clad winery restaurant.

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It was here that we met our affable host for the afternoon, Lucy. She swiftly ushered us to our table and provided a brief overview of the restaurant menu and its focus on local produce.

With a warm smile, she left us to peruse our lunch options whilst fetching one half of the vineyard’s management team, Lyn Mann.

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brookwoodmenuOnce again, if you’re a regular reader of the Mess you’d be aware that I follow a simple locavore policy when it comes to both food and wine. Where possible, I believe in purchasing fresh, local, organic, biodynamic, sustainable and ethically produced products with minimal food miles, environmental impact and wastage.

To my delight, Brookwood follows this same philosophy with a particular emphasis upon clean production, recycling and viticulture that follows organic principles. That’s a big A+ in foodie terms.

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Let me (or Lyn, in actual fact) explain a little further. Brookwood voluntarily recycles all of its glass, cardboard and paper refuse whilst throwing kitchen waste to their hungry family of chooks (chickens, for the non-Aussies out there). Residual grape skins and seeds are used in organic compost whilst the kitchen’s used cooking oil is recycled as bio-diesel to drive the machinery that maintains their 6 hectare property.

Upon tasting some of Brookwood’s wines (with their fantastically knowledgeable cellar door man and assistant winemaker, Greg) I was also pleased to discover that the vineyard uses unbleached, naturally matte cardboard and ‘green glass’ for all elements of packaging. This reduces the winery’s carbon footprint by at least 30%.

Lyn’s husband Trevor explains: “The customers are interested in what’s inside the bottle, not the packaging”. That’s a big thumbs up from me. If only more wineries thought the same.

greg pour After finishing our tasting, Aaron and I ordered two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.00 per glass) before settling down to await our pre-ordered lunch (Lyn cleverly suggests that customers order their lunch before visiting the cellar door for a wine tasting; that way you pick an appropriate wine for your meal and limit wait time at the table). The wine was richly pigmented, medium-bodied and aromatic with vine fruit, bay leaf and spice – characteristic of the Margaret River region. With a soft finish, it was altogether delicious.

As both of us are fans of small plates, we picked the following items from the tapas menu:

  • Panko-crumbed Albany oysters with avocado salsa and lime – $3.50 each
  • Seared Esperance scallops with pickled radish, apple and citrus – $4.00 each
  • Estate-made dukkah with extra virgin olive oil and local Turkish bread (from Kappadokia Turkish bakery in Margaret River) – $7.00
  • Field mushrooms with chevre and garlic chives – $8.00
  • Chorizo with pickled apple – $8.00
  • Broccolini with salted caramel macadamias and crispy pancetta – $9.00

The first items to arrive were the panko-crumbed oysters and scallops, both perched steadily in their shells upon piles of coarse rock salt. We ordered one of each per person and I must say, after rambling about the property for one hour we devoured them hungrily.

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Of the two seafood items, the oysters were the definite standout. Both Aaron and I adored the contrast between the soft avocado salsa and the crisp, golden-fried panko crumbs. Beneath the crunchy exterior, the oyster flesh was fresh, slightly salty and delicious. I’m not a huge oyster fan but with these, I was completely sold.

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Our second plate of seafood, the Esperance scallops, were also delicious. Slightly caramelised, soft and juicy. I did find that the delicate flesh was slightly overwhelmed by the acidity of the pickled vegetables, however that was easily remedied by ‘adjustment of ratios’ on the fork.

Next to arrive was a plate of estate-made dukkah, olive oil and Turkish bread. I was rather excited to try the ‘house blend’ which Lyn advised was available for purchase via That Margaret River Stuff (online or at the cellar door). The fresh bread was served warm, generously piled upon the plate.

turkish dukkahtable

Upon first bite, I could already tell that the bread was beautifully chewy and authentic. We eagerly dunked it into the pot of local extra virgin olive oil before generously dipping into the toasty house-made dukkah. Unfortunately, that was where things went just a little bit wrong.

Now, let me explain something: both Aaron and I are used to eating either homemade or Providore dukkah, both of which lend themselves towards a generous dip, slather or enthusiastic sprinkle. The estate-made dukkah at Brookwood is entirely different and my rather ‘generous’ dip resulted in a mouthful of salt, ground coriander and cumin which needed to be drowned by a large gulp of cold water.

However, when used sparingly I did enjoy the mixture of spices, sesame seeds and local toasted macadamia nuts. The olive oil was fruity, glossy and altogether delicious.

dukkahevoobl2After finishing our bread, the chorizo and mushrooms arrived with a side of vibrant green broccolini. I was intrigued to see clusters of what resembled praline in the vegetable dish; after checking the menu I remembered the reference to ‘salted caramel macadamias’ which I couldn’t wait to try.

broccolinibroccoliniforkAfter crunching my way through a few forkfuls, I was absolutely sold on the balance of sweet and savoury. The buttery crunch of macadamias worked brilliantly with the sweet toffee, salty prosciutto and fresh green vegetables. There was a soft undertone of organic stock and I’d love to attempt the entire combination at home one day. Kudos to Chef Aven (who apparently met Lyn and Trevor by chance during an industry event. We’re pretty lucky that he did).

The salty, rich chorizo was beautifully balanced by delicate slices of accompanying pickled apple whilst the mushrooms were meaty and flavoursome. The creamy chevre was a delicious accompaniment, enlivened by scattered green garlic chives.

chorizo mushrooms1mushroomscuAfter draining our wine glasses, we sat for a few minutes before deciding to share one of Chef Aven’s sweet offerings, the white chocolate semifreddo with toasted coconut and chocolate soil ($9.00).

I do think that the pictures speak for themselves.

dessert dessertside dessert2I’m not an expert on semifreddo by any means, but this one was a little firmer than I expected. More like ice cream which had been pulled straight from the freezer than a mousse-like consistency. It was nevertheless delicious, with notes of both toasted coconut and soft vanilla.

The interior of the frozen dome housed the ‘truffle’ part of the dessert, a coconut and wafer ball with a milk cream and almond interior that resembled a Ferrero Raffaello (on second thoughts I am 98% sure that it was a Raffaello, which is by no means disappointing, however I was in some respects hoping that the truffle component would be homemade).

The fresh berries, delicate herbs and chocolate granules were a beautiful accompaniment to the entire dish and we were left feeling rather blessed and satisfied.

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Rather than proceeding on to of offers coffee or tea, we headed back to the cellar door to pick up a bottle of estate red to take back to Perth. After another chat with both Greg and Trevor, we left with a bottle of Brookwood 2012 Shiraz Cabernet ($26.00). I’m looking forward to drinking it over the winter months with some beautifully warming food.

Before we exited the cellar door, Trevor also advised that a very special barrel of Shiraz (‘Mann Up’, below left) is planned for bottling in July or August this year. Its release date is currently unknown but I am rather excited.

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All in all, both Aaron and I were entirely impressed by the quality and value-for-money of the food and wine on offer at Brookwood. Living in a state plagued by exorbitant restaurant pricing, I was in awe of what Chef Aven was producing for prices that don’t break the bank.

Brookwood is definitely a destination in itself, not a stop-off on a boozy wine tour. Next time you’re heading to Margaret River, call in a lunch booking and enjoy some genuine south west food, wine and warm hospitality.

Disclaimer: Laura and Aaron attended Brookwood Estate Winery and Restaurant as invited guests; the prices above are included for your information (however the take-home wine was purchased with our own hard cash). No compensation was received for this post and all opinions are our own.

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Brookwood Estate Winery and Restaurant

430 Treeton Road, Cowaramup (near Margaret River), Western Australia 6284

(08) 9755 5604

Open 7 days, 11.00am – 5.00pm (lunch until 3.00pm)

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