Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

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It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Margaret River - Wineries

or: “don’t listen to Ronnie the Receptionist”

Driving into Margaret River was nothing like I expected. I was thinking of a big sand dune with surfers, but the town feels like an Alpine resort, a bit like Fox in New Zealand.

Heavily wooded in surrounds, there’s the river at the edge of town, and a strip of shops going up a hill with restaurants and supermarkets.

We checked in to some serviced apartments just off the main strip, where they had a very helpful receptionist named Ronnie. She marked a few highlights of spots to visit on a map, told us the good restaurants to check out on the strip, and gave us, on my prompting, what we thought would be the good oil.

After a couple of days, however, I couldn’t help but start to question her judgement…

Margaret River the town

Margaret River was established as a stage coach post by some Irish people. There’s a petrol station about forty feet from where the commemorative stones are laid down by the river, which is the stage coach post of the modern era.

A walk of the main town strip reveals Margaret River to be like many resort towns, built on tourism with supermarkets, restaurants and bars. We payed through the nose for groceries – it’s a bit like Sydney prices in that regard; it is nearly four hours out of Perth.

Some notable dining options included:

Morries Anytime

2/149 Bussell Hwy
Margaret River WA 6285

Ronnie advised us this was one of the top restaurants, but she didn’t rate it value for money. Well, I’m sorry, but wrong Ronnie! Absolutely the best place for breakfast along there. You might struggle for a table at dinner time though.


85 Russell Highway, Margaret River
An industrial fit out of concrete and exposed wiring, Swings is the fall back establishment when you can’t get into Morries. This is the highly popular retail restaurant of the winery Swings and Roundabouts, and features all of their wines on tap.

New Settler’s Hotel

The big bogun pub (and a favourite of the locals) where you can go to smoke Peter Jacksons, drink bourbon and get your head punched in for looking at someone the wrong way is called the New Settler’s Hotel. I was tipped off to the profile by a man and woman having a conference up the road from there about some relationship that had gone wrong:
“She just wants to see someone else”
“That mole…

Conjecturing thusly, a bouncer gave me a nod, and my doubts were confirmed…

CAVES RD: From Prevelly to Dunsborough

To see wineries, you’ve got to drive. And the first drive is up Caves Rd… from the nearby beach towards the hang out of the idle rich - Dunsborough


The beach at nearby Prevelly fulfilled my previous expectations Margaret River; there are heaps of surf spots along the coast, and we found ourselves at a beautifully landscaped car park overlooking some top surf spots.

There are a few different breaks, and the big one is called ‘the Box’, with swell ranging from two to twenty feet.

There’s a plaque up in honour of a kid who had died surfing there; and another plaque explaining ‘Tribal Lore’, i.e. courtesy on the waves when surfing; if you’re on the outside or the inside, don’t drop in on someone else’s wave, don’t snake (whatever that is), first person up and on the wave has right of way, paddle out wide through the rip, etc. Local businesses have done a lot of work to promote good will and explain the rules of engagement for everyone.


3887 Caves road (400m north of Metricup Rd) in the Wilyabrup Valley of the Margaret River wine region.

We went to the first one recommended, Lenton Brae. SWMNBN didn’t do a taste, as she was saving up her drinks for lunch, and I worked my way through the list and bought their top of the line Chardonnay (so my wife could have one later - $55!), and a modest Rose (for $18).


4070 Caves Road Wilyabrup 6280
Margaret River Wine Region

Next, we went to the highly recommended restaurant at the Brookland Valley Winery called ‘Flutes’. It looked so promising, but what a disappointment. They took ages to seat us, put us in a dodgy spot, even though there were tables at the windows, the staffs' first words to us were “sorry”, the décor was hard and noisy, art on the walls terrible, I felt awkward and embarrassed the whole time, we got our table moved, and the whole thing was an over priced disaster.

The one upside was watching people engage with a statue of a boy playing the flute in the garden in the nude. His bum was pointed at the window, and we watched patron after patron go and look at it from the front on leaving, checking out his willy. Hilarious. I first noticed this because a little girl in pink stockings went and sat beside it, then surreptitiously leant over and had a good look, then ran away.


Caves Road (Cnr Tom Cullity Drive)
Formerly Harman’s Road South
Margaret River, WA 6284

The third winery we dropped into wasn’t recommended by Ronnie, and was by far the best; Vasse Felix. It’s owned by a family associated with the Holmes-Acourts (as in Janet Holmes Acourt), had a fantastic gallery, beautiful grounds, and a great building with a fantastic looking restaurant with professional staff. Sigh!

Bum. I wish we’d had lunch there… I bought a range of wines, all thoroughly tip top.


Speaking of bizarre sculptures, one winery we drove past:

had this massive beam protruding from a lake with a golden lady with bare boobs standing Rolls Royce angel-like on top of a plinth.

We were to later find a spoof of this statute in Cowaramup with a cow on a similar beam in gold, bearing its udders.

“Aramup”, incidentally, is local indigenous for “the place of”. Cowaramup means place of the small bird, but its meaning has changed. The town is full of sculptures of cows, and the day we arrived in Margaret River, they broke the Guinness world record for the number of people dressed up as cows (in cow onesies) ~ it was on the news.



Stevens Rd, Margaret River, 6285
Western Australia

Leeuwin – fantastic, a big tick, they have gigs there and art on the bottles, a great tasting host called Jamie who gave me a taste of everything… though I had to spit since I was driving around by myself and officially “the Skipper” (giving a new twist to the phrase “do you spit or swallow”?)


Stevens Road, Margaret River, WA 6285
I couldn’t come at this place. The aesthetic was all wrong. The businessman who set it up (RIP) built a pretentious “white” French estate, with a “chateau” with the year built over the door (1996!); it looked like a neo-Fascist tampon commercial. The staff were in a state of fear and tight with the tastings. Still, I bought a couple of bottles and both passable.


Boodjidup Rd, Margaret River WA 6285

Xanadu – a newer and more casual feel to this one, though their holdings are small (they buy grapes and blend). The tasting room was run by a surfey called Jules. The sound was a bit echoey, but it was OK. I rated it higher than Voyager for the honesty and charm, but Leeuwin was up there with Vasse Felix.

Anyway, I don’t need to write tonnes about any of these things, because I video recorded them all (on my iPhone… “How quaint”) and will be releasing it as a Kit’s Cucina video blog (how dated). So unless you’re reading this after some apocalypse, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll be able to check it all out and feel what it’s like to go out drinking with me (video pending... give me a few days...).

WARNING: I may have swallowed more than I realised.