With Australia ready to welcome back visitors, TTG looks at Western Australia’s Margaret River region – not affected by the recent fires – for a food and wine adventure.
It’s not often that I like having my dinner interrupted. Much less so when said dinner is an ambitious yet masterful six-course banquet championing local produce and rare ingredients, prepared by a renowned French chef, with matching wines to boot. But for Marco Pierre White I just might make an exception.
Making a special guest appearance at the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Dinner, Pierre White takes to the small stage, as diners devour dark chocolate petits fours, to interview tonight’s head chef, Pierre Koffmann.
A man whose Chelsea restaurant maintained three Michelin stars for 15 years, Koffmann has also been recognised as mentor to the likes of British chef royalty, from Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing to Pierre White.
The decadent dinner, held in the winery’s private art gallery, is one of numerous exclusive events staged for the annual Western Australia Gourmet Escape. It’s a festival that Pierre White, a frequent attendee, has declared “without question, the greatest food event on earth”.
Now into its ninth year, the 10-day festival has fast transformed into arguably the country’s flagship food and wine festival. From last year, it expanded to include Perth and the Swan Valley wine region in addition to the Margaret River.
Brodie Carr, managing director at Tourism Western Australia, says:
“On behalf of Tourism Western Australia, I want to thank the UK industry for its support for Australia during this difficult time. Our thoughts are with those affected. Thankfully Western Australia has not been impacted by the bushfires and remains open for business, as does much of the country. With its wineries, premium produce, wildlife and beaches, the Margaret River region is a top destination for UK visitors. My advice to UK agents is to keep sending clients to Australia. Encouraging Brits to plan and book now is a significant way to help Australia’s long-term recovery.”
Smarter: Margaret River is a place to relax and unwind, so letting your clients race through the region defeats the purpose. Tell them to spend at least three to four days exploring what it has to offer.
Better: For a stellar stay, book your clients into Cape Lodge, one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia. Surrounded by vineyards, the property has 22 rooms set amid 40 acres of manicured grounds, as well as a luxurious five-bedroom residence.
Fairer: Many local winemakers are adopting organic and biodynamic farming practices. For up-to-date details on certified local wineries,
The festival has drawn in big names such as Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein and Pierre White over the years. While the programme changes annually, the festival’s principles remain consistent: bringing locals and visitors together for unparalleled access to the world’s best cheffing talent – from cooking demonstrations and book signings to hosting intimate dinner parties – with lots of incredible wine.
But there is far more to this corner of Western Australia than fleeting foodie extravaganzas: your clients can peer behind the scenes at Margaret River’s most illustrious wineries at any time of year.
At UWEA member Vasse Felix, the region’s founding winery, visitors can get a taste of Margaret River’s heritage, as well as the “cruisy” (Aussie slang for laid-back) attitude of the region. Whether your clients are dedicated oenophiles or simply curious first-timers, there is zero snootiness here.
As part of the Cellar Experience, we tour the property with estate sommelier Evan Gill at our side and a flute of creamy sparkling blanc de blancs in hand. Later, we venture into the private cellar for a tasting of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, the region’s two standout varietals.
The tour’s piece de resistance is a three-course lunch on the wraparound balcony, where we devour warm, home baked sourdough with caramelised wattleseed butter, courgette flowers stuffed with prawn mousse in a pool of burnt butter, and seared kingfish with a lime and ginger dressing: a formidable farm-to-fork feast.
At the manicured grounds of fellow UWEA member Voyager Estate, we’re made to feel like insiders too. From a tour of the vineyards to a private tasting of the estate’s best wines, plus a sneak peek of the barrel hall where we sample a young red straight from the cask, everything about the experience screams exclusivity; so even if your clients don’t make it to dinner with Marco Pierre White at Gourmet Escape, a jaunt with UWEA will leave them feeling like VIPs.
BOOK IT: Book direct through UWEA or with Audley Travel. The latter offers a 14-day trip to Southwest Australia from £3,495pp based on two sharing including flights, accommodation on a room-only basis in Perth, Albany, Pemberton and Margaret River, a hire car from Perth, excursions (including a day trip to Rottnest Island), and a UWEA Leeuwin Estate tasting and degustation experience.
Getting there: Three-hour drive from Perth to Margaret River. A three-times-weekly Jetstar service between Melbourne and Busselton-Margaret River airport launches on 25 March.
Getting around: Clients will need to hire a car or enlist the services of a local operator such as My Driver (mydrivermargaretriver.tours).
Best time to visit: If your clients want to hit the local beaches, tell them to avoid winter (June, July and August).