Fine wines, black truffles and even kangaroo tail are on the menu for Lauren Taylor when she visits an exciting new food festival in Margaret River, Western Australia.
As I lie in bed, sunlight drenches the Southern Ocean stretched out in front of me. Colours shifting, the horizon slowly melts into the sky as the sun rises over an endless expanse of white empty beach.
If it sounds like the stuff of A-list holidays, that’s because it is. Lady Gaga once slept in this exact bed, and even penned a few of her hits here.
I’m staying at the private retreat, Maitraya, perched on the cliffs of Western Australia’s south westerly coast, near Albany.
To celebrate the region’s excellent gourmet scene, an annual food and drink festival launched last year in Margaret River - an area already world famous for its wine production.
I attended the inaugural event in the hope of discovering why Western Australia has such an exciting food story to tell.
There’s practically a Michelin star everywhere I turn. I’m in the company of Rene Redzepi, head chef of Noma in Copenhagen, David Chang of Momofuku in the US and Sat Bains, whose eponymous Nottingham restaurant holds two Michelin stars.
During the three-day festival we watch cooking demos, listen to panel discussions and squirm as the Australian audience shift awkwardly in their seats at British food critic AA Gill’s on-stage banter.
Pop-up stands from restaurants all over Western Australia cook up delights on site. I trade my GEMS (festival currency to make you forget how much everything costs) for chicken liver parfait with Manjimup black truffle and chardonnay jelly from local restaurant Must. It’s all very civilised with the sun beating down and a glass of one of the many wines on offer in my hand.
Margaret River is fairly young in age compared to other wine regions of the world but is famous for its internationally acclaimed cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays.
But the region has more to offer than just exquisite wine, as I discover over lunch at family-run Cullen Wines. A trio of seared local squid, grilled Esperance scallops with squid ink, and grilled whiting is served with Cullen Wine’s 2010 ‘Kevin John’ Margaret River Chardonnay.
The restaurant harvests its own vegetables so even the side dishes - such as the broad beans with parmesan - are worth writing home about.
Western Australians seem to have a real affinity and respect for the land and the food that comes from it. Foragers, a cookery school-cum-restaurant 90 minutes south of Margaret River in Pemberton, couldn’t demonstrate that better.
Generous sharing plates of natural, honest food line the long tables and the head chef, Sophie, seems genuinely humbled by and respectful of the local ingredients.
The most exciting thing about Western Australia’s cuisine is that it’s constantly evolving. Chefs are still finding new or forgotten ingredients right on their doorstep.
Local chefs seem to be looking back to the region’s strong indigenous roots, as well as forward, to make the most of Australian produce in Australian cuisine.