Have you ever been to Perth? Or Margaret River? I have been to Australia a number of times, but never out west. A vast swathe of Australia, in parts scorched orange with iron ore sands and sunshine. What surprised me was how lush and green Western Australia became the more we travelled south. It was early spring and that will change, but I was reminded that travel is best when you leave your expectations at the airport and remain open to whatever may come.
We started at Fremantle, and I finished there too. A pretty town outside Perth and on the sea, it is slow paced and well preserved with a thriving food and drink culture. From Fremantle you can travel by boat to Rottnest Island, an island famous for pristine beaches and quokkas (small and relatively tame marsupials that densely populate the island). The name comes from rat nest in Dutch, as they mistook the quokkas for rats when they first found it.
Fremantle gently nursed me through the fog of jetlag before I hit the road to Margaret River. Margaret River, itself a small town just over 3 hours drive from Perth and a world away, is the nucleus of a well established and growing wine region. With 187 wineries and 215 vineyards (as counted in 2015), Margaret River, surrounded by the ocean on three sides, has a maritime climate without extreme summers or winters. This provides ideal conditions for producing wine, compared often to Bordeaux in a dry vintage. Wineries mainly produce Bordeaux style wines (semillon and sauvignon blanc blends are common as are cabernet sauvignon and shiraz). The reds will surprise you, light and expressive and not as big as some of the reds from the hotter Australian wine regions. There are established producers like Leeuwin Estate (who produced their first commercial vintage in 1979) and newer ones like Fraser Gallop (whose first vintage was 2008). Both produce excellent wines, from table to high end.
Back to Perth, Western Australia’s largest city and capital with 2 million people spread along the coast. With the heart of a smaller town, Perth is very laid back and accessible. The food scene is emerging and thriving with big names arriving like David Thompson with his street food restaurant Long Chim, there are also many small independents doing very interesting things.
Some highlights for now, and lots of details soon.
Fremantle and Rottnest Island
One of the many beaches on Rottnest in the crisp light of early spring.
You think selfies are hard? Try getting one with a quokka smiling in it, and looking at the camera. Obligatory.
One of my favourite restaurant in Fremantle (and of the whole trip along with Long Chim), was Bread in Common in Fremantle. Fabulous room, centred around their own oproduce and two enormous wood ovens (named Hansel and Gretel). I went here for my last meal of the trip, it was a perfect place to finish it. Gorgeous food, bright flavours and a little fermentation. The chicken with black vinegar was sublime.
I was based in Northridge for much of my stay in Perth (I moved around a little, but was there for a week). A vibrant area bubbling with coffee shops, small independent restaurants and cute shops. It is right next to the central station and the cultural quarter, and is the perfect area to be based.
Goat chops with kasundi at Bivouac Canteen, accompanied by a great cocktail. A smart lively spot in Northbridge. I almost went back for these chops a few times. If I had more time… !
The Notorious B.A.G. at Toastface Grillah. Bacon, apple and gouda in a heavenly toastie / grilled cheese. That did nicely!
Pie! Because you have to have pie when you are in Australia. That is the rule. I was quite surprised to see how obsessed our Australian friends are with pie on my first visit. I embrace it now. This was a good curry one from Tuck Shop Café.
Dumplings! Because if there is hand made xiao long bao to be had, and there is a queue, I need to join that queue and try them. Very porky, delicate skins (I lost just one and the glorious broth inside, always heartbreaking). Great value and packed from when they open at 11.30am.
Chicken larb and fermented pork sausage from Long Chim in Perth, an outpost of David Thompson’s Thai street food restaurants. Glorious. Even if it felt like the larb was at times trying to kill me with chilli heat. Great flavours though.
Dim sum trolley at Fortune Five restaurant in Northridge. All handmade and very good.
Because you have to when perched on the edge of a cliff on a windy day. On a walk through the beautiful wild flowers on the Cape to Cape walk in Margaret River.
It was beautiful. Someone even spotted a whale, but I missed it, distracted as I was by the flowers fragrancing the wind.
They were just there.
So were these guys.
A visit to Leeuwin Estate demands their fried oysters and food and wine matching platter.
Tasting at Fraser Gallup with winemaker Kate, an exciting creative winery in Margaret River.
Canoeing on Margaret River.
I travelled to Western Australia as part of a project between iAmbassador and Tourism Western Australia, who sponsored this project. I flew with Qatar Airways, who fly daily to Perth from 4 UK airports. As always, I have complete editorial control.