Perth, on the western coast of Australia, isn’t quite as well-known as its east-coast siblings Sydney and Melbourne, but that’s no reason why it shouldn’t be high up your list as a go-to vacation solution. By Simon Clays
For starters, it’s a good five-hours flight time less than east coast options. Then, there’s the countryside and coast that surrounds Perth. It’s quite simply stunning and offers some of the cleanest waters and best surfing Australia has to offer. The third reason, and arguably the deciding factor for Australia’s west coast as a holiday destination, is the region’s cuisine and wine. With temperatures and rainfall comparable to the Bordeaux region of France, the area produces some of the country’s finest boutique vintages. It’s also a gourmet’s heaven with the same soft sunshine making the area rich pickings for local produce.
I’m here with Lexus to celebrate their Escape to Amazing campaign and as their guest at the annual Margaret River Western Australia Gourmet Escape event. It’s a weekend-long gathering held on the beautiful grounds of the Leeuwin Estate Winery and showcases over 100 local producers of food, drink and artisan produce. It also attracts the eyes of some of the world’s greatest chefs like Marco Pierre White, Colin Fassnidge, Pierre Koffmann and Danny Bowien all putting in appearances.
We start our tour at the Vasse Felix Winery. Deep in the heart of Margaret River, and three hours’ drive from Perth, the estate boasts some of the biggest and best red wines of the region. It also produces fantastic olive oil, marinated olives and olive oil cosmetics (vassevirgin.com.au). A tasting guide by award winning viniculturist Virginia Wilcock is nothing short of an education. You can also get hands on with the wines to create your own blends. Though, do not expect miracles; Virginia has decades of experience.
A visit to the vineyard wouldn’t be complete without pairing wine and food. The estate’s resident chef, Brendan Pratt comes with experience gleaned at Michelin Star restaurants — The Ledbury in Notting Hill, London; and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. The Lexus tailored Brave Design dinner, prepared especially by Pratt, does not disappoint. For my money, the pick of the crop is the locally sourced octopus in burnt butter with XO mushroom. It truly exemplifies the magic of the region’s fresh seafood, especially paired with their 2017 Heytesbury Chardonnay — a well balanced wine with bags of grapefruit that improves as it opens up. If you’re visiting the region, then a visit to Vasse Felix should be a top priority.
There are a number of premium resorts in the area, and my lodgings find me at the Pullman Bunker Bay — a five star nestled at the rear of Bunker Bay Beach. In between being shown the latest in Lexus’ in-car technologies and gorgeous range of vehicles, I manage to find time to wander the beach.
This is a rugged and imaginative landscape. Empty, bar for a few families; white sands and whispers of surf; and big, empty blue skies. The reception staff tells me that during the winter months, it’s quite likely to spot migrating whales making the long journey south to warmer waters.
The evening brings another food and wine extravaganza, this time hosted by neighbouring vineyard Larry Cherubino Wines. It’s just 10 minutes from Vasse Felix, so the terroir and scent of the vines is familiar. The wine and food plated is courtesy of Sydney-based chef Palisa Anderson and her Thai influenced farm-to-table style cuisine. I learn there are over 120 vineyards in the region, each boasting its own unique charm and hospitality. You can even get married at Cherubino’s. Later, we also visit the regal Fraser Gallop Estate for more excellent wine and food in arguably the best setting of all — a Georgian style mansion on the edge of a lake.
The weekend heralds the Gourmet Escape. Lexus are sponsors, so they have their own VIP lounge to camp up in. The event is a grand affair with people coming from all over the country to visit the stalls, party with friends and meet a raft of celebrity chefs. I learn to make my own panna cotta cheese (it actually does taste like it should!) and sample more wine and local craft ales.
Taking a moment, I steal some silence, sit back in the warm grass shaded by a thicket of bushes, sip a little more wine, and realise that this was not a conceit from Lexus. I really have escaped to amazing.
The next Gourmet Escape takes place on November 16 and 17, 2020