Vasse Felix

What a busy time we’ve been having lately. Sunday 27th May, my birthday, commenced a busy week of wining and dining, and wow – did we commence it in style.

Paul took me to Vasse Felix winery and restaurant for lunch.

We arrived just on time so didn’t have time to take advantage of the wine tasting. Walking upstairs to the restaurant the first thing you see in the huge, and tastefully rustic dining room, is the suspended fire – I want one!

A warm welcome

We were shown to our table, and our waitress for the day introduced herself, and explained the menu. It’s a small menu, exactly how I like a menu to be. When it’s small there’s a much better chance of everything being fresh. The menu changes daily according to seasonal produce. With things listed like, Straciatella, Betel leaves, Bigoli, and Duck Yolk it definitely needed some explanation. I hadn’t heard of most of them, and even if I had, I’d never tried them.

Explanations given, we made our choices. Firstly a glass of bubbles for me, and a half glass of Cab Sav for Paul to have with our starters of sourdough with whipped burnt butter to share, marinated olives for Paul, and Marron, orange, chilli, and rice in a betel leaf for me.

The marron came as a shelled tail with the other ingredients in a betel leaf, served on a small hot rock. I was told that I was to roll the leaf around the marron tail and eat in from my fingers, much like a small taco.

The verdict on the starters: The marron – very different, and yummy. The bread delicious, the burnt butter – so good I’ve tried to replicate at home (the waitress told me how), the olives – ok.

Next came our shared entree of Duck parfait, stout and  chicken skin, served with Lees crisp-breads. The Duck parfait was a sort of whipped pate, very light, and I gather the stout was an ingredient in the parfait. I believe the crispy crumb sprinkled over the dish was the chicken skin. The Lees crisp-breads are made from the left over yeast sediment from the bottom of the chardonnay barrels.

The verdict on the shared entree: Wow, Wow, Wow!!! I have never, ever tasted food so good before. I moaned in ecstasy trying to savour every bite, but at the same time trying not to cram it in quickly so as to get more than my share. I hope I didn’t sound like Sally in that famous scene in, When Harry meets Sally.

Next our mains. Paul chose a fillet steak with Davidson plum, beetroot and hay (not sure what the hay was,  it wasn’t hay that a horse would eat). I chose the Pork, eel, eggplant and miso. We had a side of broccolini, romesco, lardo and almond with it. I had a half glass of the cab sav with mine. I’m happy with only a few sips of any wine, so Paul had to finish it for me (no hardship for sure).

The verdict on the mains: Paul declared his delicious. Mine was tasty but nothing memorable (perhaps that was because I was still in seventh taste heaven after having the parfait).

Then onto deserts: I chose the Mandarin, honeycomb, milk. Paul opted for Cropwell Bishop Shropshire cheese served with blackcurrant gel and lavish crisp breads (plus an additional portion of the Lees crisp-breads that we had with our parfait)

The verdict on the deserts: Paul thoroughly enjoyed his cheese and said the blackcurrant went perfectly with it. The Mandarin desert, which was a sort of a mandarin mouse with a mandarin sponge topping – well if I hadn’t just had the best food I’d ever eaten by way of the Duck parfait, I may well have been declaring the Mandarin desert the best food ever. It was light, and creamy, and absolutely delectable.

We spent nearly three hours over lunch. That length of time for two people can sometimes indicate the service was slow and the courses dragged out. Not so – everything including the timely service of the drinks and each course was absolutely perfect. Needless to say, Vasse Felix has jumped to the top of our list for special dining in the south west. It’s in front of anything else we’ve tried by a county mile.

And now before I close off this post, I’ll give you a bit of photographic tour around the public part of the winery.

Vines in all their autumn glory

Underground cellar in the distance, a bit like a hobbit home built into the hillside

A granite sculpture outside the cellar

A good selection of wines in the cellar (so I’m told – I wouldn’t know a good wine from a bad wine)

The wine that first saw Vasse Felix hit the world market in 1972

There’s lots of big sculptures, here’s another one

And there you have a bit of a summary of Vasse Felix winery, located on the corner of Caves Road and Tom Cullity Drive, Margaret River. A dining pleasure!

 

 

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Lot 80

When we arrived to live in Busselton approximately 18mths ago our neighbours to be, Kaye and Brian, introduced themselves. I’m so pleased they did. Not only have they both become great friends, Kaye also introduced me to a women’s walking group, and through the walking group I’ve made some fantastic friends and acquaintances.

We meet in the car park of a local beach cafe two mornings a week, walk for an hour along the beach path, and follow up with a coffee. There’s usually at least eight women, but sometimes the numbers can be up around 20. Everyone walks at their own pace, so there’s never any pressure to keep up with the leaders. We walk, we chat, we coffee – and chat some more. It usually takes about an hour around the coffee table before we’ve put the world to rights and can head on home to get about our daily business.

Putting the world to rights after our morning walk

Once a month we lunch together, with the people having birthdays that month choosing the place. Being at the head of the Margaret River wine region, there’s no shortage of cafes and wineries to choose from. The choice for April was, Lot 80.

Lunching at Lot 80

Lot 80 is located north of Dunsborough at Eagle Bay (54 Sheens Road). Turn left onto Sheens Road off the Meelup Beach Road. There’s a small section of dirt road, but definitely ok for two wheel drive. They are open from 11am – 5pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Friday – Sunday from 11am – 7.30pm.

They have a good wine list, and a selection of tap beers and ciders. However, I believe they’re really making a name for themselves with their selection of gins. They have a whole room dedicated to, ‘Gin Master classes’ and gin tastings, with close to 200 gins to choose from. As well as gins from all around the globe, they have around 15 tonics to select from. The gin tastings cost $25 per person, with five Australian gins, and four international gins to sample.

My favourite – Sangria was on the specials board

The food menu was just the right size. I get nervous if menus are to large – not only do I have trouble choosing, but I also wonder how a restaurant can keep the ingredients of an extensive menu fresh and still keep the prices within reason.  Everyone seemed happy with their selection, and most tried to chose small meals or entrees to save room for desert.

The fish ‘n chips looked pretty good

I chose the trio of Vegan dips – Peas, mint and crispy lychee; almond & vanilla sweet potato; and spiced hummus; served with Turkish bread ($18). Both the hummus and the sweet potato dips were good, but that green minty pea dip – well that was really good! And the Turkish bread – I would have thought Turkish bread was pretty much the same everywhere, but this was extra special. Soft and fluffy on the inside with a crispy, salted, lightly oiled crust served nice and warm and toasted. I know I said we tried to order small,  but with six big pieces of Turkish bread, there was no way I was going to have room for desert if I finished my meal. Much as I hate to waste food, I had heard the deserts couldn’t be forfeited. So, what was I to do……Gee we waste a lot of food in the Western world!

The sticky date pudding was worth saving room for (but isn’t it almost always). I wished I’d taken a photo of it as it had a rather unique shape as far as sticky date puddings go, causing a few giggles from the ladies nearby. I’ll leave you to imagine the shape, I don’t think you’ll need me to describe it further……

I was very happy with this months choice of restaurant. Good food and good company – what a pleasure!

 

Boranup Camp Ground

As you drive down towards Augusta on Caves Road in the South West of Western Australia you’ll find yourself driving through the some majestic and very stately Karri Trees. This is Boranup Forest.

Caves Road winding through the Karri trees

The Karri Tree is the third tallest species of tree in the world, growing up to 90 metres high.  They grow strong and straight up, with their trunks separating into branches only after their trunks are high up.  In Autumn their pale grey bark sheds, revelling new orange/salmon pink trunks underneath. They’re native to the South West, wetter regions of WA.

Boranup scenic drive takes you on a circuit through the forest

A semi circular drive will take you through the forest, with look outs on the way. There’s picnic spots dotted around if you’re only there for a day trip. The drive is gorgeous, but it’s only by stopping for a while that you get to hear the birds, and breath the ambience of the forest. What a pleasure!

Well maintained dirt track winds through the forest – suitable for 2 wheel drive

Towards the southern end of the scenic drive, the road branches off towards a campground. There’s only seven small sites suitable, each only recommended for tents or camper trailers, although I’m sure you could probably get a small off road caravan into a couple of the sites. Each site is well shaded by a mix of native trees and shrubbery.

The campground visible through the trees

Fire pits with barbecue plate

Each site has it’s own picnic table and a fire pit with a barbecue plate. Fires are banned through the summer months though, so if you’re planning a visit through the summer make sure you take your own gas cooking facilities.

Drop toilets

There’s drop toilets – not flush of course, but sure beats digging a hole.

A couple of campsites closer together

Three campsites are in close proximity – great for friends to camp together, but still far enough apart that you’re not on each others knees.

Most of the 7 sites are separated by distance and shrubbery

The other four sites are surrounded by shrubbery – secluded and peaceful. The sites can’t be booked, but they rarely get completely full except during the absolute peak seasons (Easter).

The Cape to Cape walk track passes nearby.

A great place to camp if you’re walking the Cape to Cape track, or if you want to drive in with your tent or camper trailer. Be aware though, it’s in a national park, so your four legged friend can’t come with you. You won’t lack for furry companions though. There’s lots of ring tailed possums to keep you entertained as the daylight fades to night – more about these fascinating and endangered creatures later.

 

Jewel Cave

The Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park is literally riddled with caves, and perhaps the jewel in the crown from amongst them is the aptly named, Jewel Cave. Located just off of Cave’s Road at the Augusta end, Jewel Cave is the biggest of the show caves in Western Australia, comprising of three massive chambers on display.

Fully guided one hour tours are available.

Entering the cave was an almost surreal experience as we were met with an underground wonderland of some of nature’s finest and most dazzling displays.

Stalactites coming down from the cave ceiling

Home to one of the longest straw stalactites in Australia

 

Enchanting

magical

Like flowing honey.

Organ pipes

The pure white

 

And the pinks, and creams….

It was stunning.

The tour guide explained how the stalactites and stalagmites form, and provided quite a bit of relevant information. I, though, remained awe-struck throughout, and quite honestly to have absorbed the technical information would have taken away from the fairy-tale experience.

In the words of Lex Bastion (walkabout 1958) – Like all great works of art, nature had done her job slowly. Jewel Cave, created naturally and slowly over many thousands of years, is indeed a work of art. Nature at it’s finest, it is glorious!

 

Cape to Cape walk

 

The first section of the track


The cape to cape walk follows the Leeuwin/Naturaliste Ridge for approximately 135kms. It starts near to Dunsborough and finishes at Augusta in WA’s South West. To walk the full length end to end will take between 5 – 8 days depending on fitness level, and how long you plan to walk each day. Some of the walk is definitely easy, and in parts, even suitable for wheelchairs and prams. Some of it is more difficult with a grading of level 4 and therefore only recommended for experienced bushwalkers. If you like walking, and love spectacular coastal and forest scenery, then this walk is worth putting on your list.

The Naturaliste lighthouse

On Easter Monday we decided we’d make a start on the walk, and what better place to start than at the very beginning, at the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. It was warmer than we’d thought, and the beginning of the track was quite exposed with no trees. We hadn’t taken water, as we only planned on a short walk, but we had planned to walk a little further than we actually did. A good reminder to observe the first rule of being in the WA bush – carry water. We’ve since ordered water bottles that can be carried in a convenient waist belt. We’ll prepare for a longer walk next time.

If we had taken water the first 3.8 kilometres (plus the same in return) from the lighthouse to sugarloaf rock would have been a breeze. This first section is definitely all wheelchair and pram friendly, and includes boardwalks in sections that would otherwise be a bit tougher.

Boardwalks in the first section of the walk allowing wheelchair access

A cormorant drying it’s wings to watch on the way

One of our friends completed the full Cape to Cape last year. He whittled away at it, section by section whenever a spare day gave him the time, posting some incredible photos on face book after each section. He definitely wet my appetite to give it a go, and I’d love to complete the whole walk in the same way – day walks. Section by section whenever time and weather allows, and coming home to my own bed after each days walking. I’m keen to get started beyond the wheelchair friendly beginning, but whether or not I’m capable of doing the soft sand sections remains to be seen.

I love beach walking on firm sand, but soft beach sand is hard work. From past experience, some of the grade 4 sections of this walk include several kilometres along the beach in soft, deep sand. I think I’ll manage most of the forest sections of the track okay, and once those parts are out of the way, perhaps I’ll just have to do the harder bits – just to be able to tick the whole track off my list.

For those of you who want to do the track end to end camping along the way, there are places to stay. There’s four campsites with pit toilets and rain water tanks spaced along the track, which are only accessible by hikers. There’s also drive in camp spots at Conto’s, Point Road, and Boranyup Forest, as well as privately owned caravan parks along the way. You can either pitch your hiking tent, or perhaps hire one of their self contained cabins in the caravan parks for a sleep in a real bed.

With our summer now over and the cooler autumn weather on the way, it’s perfect for bushwalking. Watch this space for some more photos and information on the track as we tackle some of the sections in the coming weeks.

Woody Nook ploughman’s lunch failed to please

I love a good Ploughman’s lunch. I don’t mind a good tasting platter either. What I don’t like is ordering a Ploughmans lunch, and getting served a League of Nations tasting platter.

A basic Ploughman’s lunch

The ploughmans lunch doesn’t date back century’s as you may imagine.The origin of the Ploughmans is much more recent, dating back only to the 1960s. It was conjured up as a British pub meal to promote the English cheese industry.

Traditionally a Ploughmans consists of good English style cheese – usually a cheddar, preferably cloth wrapped, but if cloth wrapped isn’t available, then at least a strong flavoured waxed cheddar will do. Then add a good chunk of English Stilton. Add some thick slices, or a small loaf of quality bread (think sour dough, or rye). Next, you’ll need some pickles – pickled onions, gherkins, piccalilli, or a good relish or chutney (add at least two). And don’t forget some salad ingredients, perhaps some crisp celery and cucumber, and some nice red slices of tomatoes. Crisp apple slices are good too.

Simple, fresh ingredients

Added optional extras can be a slice of cold pork pie made with a shortcrust pastry, (definitely not puff pastry), thin slices of cold meat, a scotch egg, or even hard boiled egg halves. Tradionally the whole meal is served cold, with either beer or cider.

Many moons ago I was a cook at a small boutique hotel in Perth.  One of our lunch time signature meals at the time was a Ploughman’s lunch. It was a simple meal of rye bread, cheddar, Stilton, pickled onions, piccalilli and salad. It was very popular.

It’s a meal Paul and I love, and one we often ordered for lunch during a recent lengthy stay in England. The meals we received there didn’t stray far from their origins, and never failed to please. The best we ever had was at the Wensleydale Creamery in the Yorkshire Dales. My tastebuds are doing a song and dance just thinking about that Ploughman’s –  the cheese, the bread, the pickles, the salad – it was sooooo good!

The best Ploughman’s ever – at the Wensleydale Creamery in The Yorkshire Dales

Today we tried a Ploughmans at Woody Nook Winery.  The meal we received had cheddar, and a chunk of bread on the board – and that’s where the similarity to a Ploughman’s ended. Although to be fair, the cold cuts of cured meat would have been acceptable too. There were olives – but no pickled onions, or chutneys or relish. There was a small bowl of lettuce topped with feta cheese. There was another piece of cheese (I think it was some sort of Italian cheese).There was a small piece of watermelon. And there was a small hot pot pie with a puff pastry lid (not shortcrust), and a fried chicken wing. There were also some sweet style home made biscuits, I think they may have been Anzacs. It was a League of Nations tasting platter, but from what I’ve come to expect a Ploughman’s lunch to be – it didn’t come close. I was disappointed.

The Ploughman’s is an English meal. If it’s listed on a menu in Australia, I wish chefs would at least try to stick reasonably close to what the meal is supposed to be. In its true form, and with quality fresh ingredients, it’s good honest food, and full of flavour. If chefs want to put their signature on the dish, make some good piccalilli to go on the side, ensure good sized wedges of cheese are served, and add some quality bread. What could be better!

Sues Bridge – Dog friendly campground, and day use area

I love this place. Located in the Margaret River area, the easiest way to get to it if you’re heading south from Perth, is to look for Sues Road off the Bussell Highway as you’re nearing Busselton. The Blackwood river is the largest river in Australia’s south west and runs nearby. Walk tracks will lead you from the campground to  the river. It’s a great place for launching a canoe I believe, or as we found out on our last camp trip there, a great place to watch the mist rising over the water on an early chilly, June morning.

A misty morning on our last camping trip here

Sue’s bridge visible as the mist lifts

It’s many years since we last camped there, and with our new caravan soon to be here, we thought we’d check it out again to see if it is worth putting on our list as a possible place for Mr Tilly’s first caravan/camping experience. I’m pleased to say it’s as good as I remember it for sure, and is definitely a strong contender.

There’s 25 individual camp sites with nine of them being of a suitable size for small to mid sized caravans or camper trailers, and the other 14 being more suited to tents. There is no power, no showers, and only drop toilets. Centrally located in the camp ground is a small camper’s kitchen with sinks serviced by rainwater tanks, gas barbecues, and picnic tables. Whenever we’ve been there, it’s always been clean and well maintained.

Our camping accommodation in pre-caravan days

Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. However, currently there is a total fire ban, in place, which runs from 30 November until 15 April. Campers can still cook on their own gas fuelled barbecues or camp stoves when the fire ban is in place. If you’re visiting when fires are allowed, please bring your own wood as it’s illegal to gather wood from the forest. I think the cost for camping is $11 per person per night, with an honour box system for payment (plus the ranger visits regularly). The usual concession cards are applicable to reduce your costs even further.

Gorgeous, individual camping areas

Great for cold weather camping

Our friend Wendy making use of one the strategically placed logs

Bookings cannot be made, so on long week-ends or during school holiday times it pays to get in early. Dogs are welcome, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Please note: 1080 poison is used in the vicinity so it’s important to keep your four legged friend close at all times. Whilst the baits aren’t dropped in the camping area, there is always the small chance that a bird could pick one up and drop it. Keep your eyes peeled, they usually resemble a small sausage – don’t let your pets eat anything here that you haven’t provided. 1080 is fatal, and has no antidote.

On our visit this week it was almost deserted. We enjoyed our picnic lunch with Mr Tilly, soaking up the unequalled peace and ambience of the forest. I have to say, I’m getting impatient now for the arrival of the caravan. I can’t wait to take Tills here, and sit with him under the stars on a cool night in front of his first campfire. It’s going to be such a pleasure to see him expanded his horizons to include camping delights.

We had the place to ourselves for our picnic