For us West Australians, towns like Margaret River are almost like a second home, and we all have our favourite places we like to go back to. But, if you only ever go to the same places, you could be missing out on the excitement of making a new discovery. During a recent visit, we decided to step outside our comfort zone and find out what’s new in Margaret River.
The Hairy Marron:
Finally, there’s a place that makes the most of the picturesque views of the Margaret River, which flows through the bushland just outside the main town.
This place is either a coffee shop-cum-bike rental or a bike rental-cum-coffee shop, but either way it’s a cool place to hang out. Since I’m not huge on mountain biking, we went the coffee option instead, accompanied by a pretty delicious brownie.
The Hairy Marron makes everything on site from locally sourced ingredients. The coffee comes from Yallingup and the cold pressed juices are made by a local company and delivered the day they’re pressed. They also cater for the little ones, with their gingerbread babies to go with the baby cinos, and for man's best friend there’s peanut butter and honey dog biscuits.
Oh, and you can also rent mountain bikes to explore the local tracks. But even if you’re not into riding, just sitting in the café among all the bikes and accessories makes you feel like you could be (if you wanted to).
In another first, there’s finally a brewery within walking distance of Margaret River town. Happily, this means if you live or are staying in Margaret River itself, you can have a few drinks and walk (or stumble) back to your accommodation.
The Brewhouse is on a multi-level property surrounded by bush, and looks like it’s been designed to be almost indistinguishable from its surroundings. It’s a rustic building using plenty of timber, glass and corrugated iron. The business is owned by three local families, and has obviously been built with families in mind, with a big playground and sandpit for the kids.
True to its name, the Brewhouse team brew their own beers, and the brewery is on site. The beers have colloquial Aussie names like the Bastard Brown, Black Duck Lager and Golden Groper.
The food, like the building itself, is pretty rustic. The woodfired pizza is delicious, and I was impressed to see they catered for vegetarians too, with a vegetable tagine, which was almost as tasty as it was colourful.
I have to be honest and say as a vegetarian who absolutely cannot stand seaweed, Japanese food is my least favourite cuisine (I went quite hungry when we travelled through Japan). But, after checking out the menu online at Fishbone, I decided to give it a go and I’m happy to report that despite my limitations, our lunch was a spectacular success.
The restaurant is open and airy and light, with concrete floors and bifolds which disappear to reveal the outdoor seating and expansive green lawn, surrounded by bushland. The walls are adorned with colourful striking artworks and there’s a huge fishtank separating the cellar door from the restaurant, which contains water so clean it looks like the fish are floating around in air. Everything about the place is clean, bright and uncluttered, which is also reflected in the food.
Before ordering, we did a tasting at the cellar door, and bought a bottle of the Sem Sav to have with lunch. It was light and crisp and clean, and the perfect accompaniment to the food.
Speaking of the food, I discovered that fries with kimchi is an absolutely winning combination, which made me wish I’d got a bowl to myself rather than one to share for the table. The tofu salad was fresh and crisp, and the lime and ginger dressing was exquisite. The vegetarian gyoza were also an absolute triumph (and I should know, I ate 7 of them).
After lunch at fishbone, we popped into Limeburners, a boutique distillery that started in Albany and has recently rolled its barrels into Margaret River. The distillery’s name is a shout-out to WA’s history, being named after the convict-run limeburning kilns in Albany, and most of the production is still done there.
Limeburners makes several single malt whiskies, which have won all sorts of awards. The guy behind the bar told us that some of their barrels are up to 80 years old and can be traced back to the US bourbon houses of the 1930’s (which sounds impressive, even if you’re like me and know nothing about whisky).
Since the award-winning whisky would have been wasted on me, I stuck to vodka tastings instead. The vanilla vodka was delicious, and made all the more sweet by the fact we did our tasting while sitting out the back on a cold winter’s day, looking out over the tranquil bush and gnawing on warm olives.
Oh, and the good news is, if you’re not into whisky or vodka, Limeburnes also distills gin, absinthe bitters, brandy and grappe, so there’s something for pretty much everyone (who drinks spirits).
Yallingup woodfired bread:
Without wanting to overstate how good this bread is, it’s literally THE GREATEST BREAD ON THE PLANET. If you rock up at the right time, there will be warm, fresh loaves of goodness sitting on the racks. I’m not sure there’s anything better in this world than the smell of fresh bread, and even if you’re on some weird carb-free diet, it’s worth your time just to go and take deep nostrils full of this heady scent. Even better, try eating it. It will, without doubt, solve all your worldly problems (OK, I’ve gone and overstated it).
There’s some interesting facts about this bread, like it is made from locally grown biodynamic grain, individually hand moulded and rested etc, but really, just try it.
In the centre of town, we were lured out of the freezing night into this restaurant/wine bar by the space age gas heater floating in mid air which promised some respite from the cold. We occupied the table closest to this gravity-defying marvel to order some wine, and were happy to note the list had several local options, as well as plenty of international labels. For me, wine is never complete without cheese, so we ordered a platter of that too, and spent a very pleasant couple of hours soaking up the relaxed atmosphere (and a fair bit of wine).
Elkamo also has a full restaurant with lots of local treats on offer. And the good news is, if you have a few too many wines and can’t drive, they even offer accommodation on site.
If you feel you need to walk off a few calories after consuming all that wine, cheese, brownie, Japanese cuisine, woodfired bread and spirits from all the places I’ve mentioned, then consider a hike down the new section of the Wardandi track. We started at the sign posts on Gnarawary Road, and followed the track through picturesque farming land, passing windmills and carefully negotiating our way over cattle grates.
With the right sense of direction (and opening the right gates), you can take a back road into the Leeuwin Estate winery to address the appetite you’ve worked up from all that walking (and quench your thirst with a few excellent beverages).
After our weekend of discovery, I’m really glad we decided to give our favourite places a break and experience some of the new things on offer in Margaret River. I have no doubt that by the next time we head down south, there’ll be a new list of things to try.
For more info, see: www.margaretriver.com.au