Dog friendly – The Fire Station Bar, Busselton

Having the addition of a four legged family member changes our ‘out and about’ focus. Whilst we will still go out on our own from time to time, there will be many days where we’ll be wanting to include Mr Tilly in our outings.  Consequently, dog friendly venues are now on our radar.

You’ll notice I’ve included a new DOG FRIENDLY category. Posts such as this one will be listed under all the relevant categories – food experiences, tourism at home, WA the south west, and when appropriate will now also be listed under this new category – Dog Friendly.

On a particularly busy day last week we hadn’t had time to eat, and had passed our usual lunch time. We still had a number of things to do before we would be returning home, so we used the opportunity to try out a little boutique bar and eatery in the centre of Busselton’s Main Street – The Fire Station.

Located at 68 Queen street, Busselton, the fire station was constructed in 1936. Built in the inter-war, functionalist style of architecture, the building was used for its intended purpose until 1990. A number of years followed when it was  used by local art groups, or charity shops. In 2013 an application was made, and granted, for the building to be re-incarnated as a boutique bar, a welcome addition to the Busselton food and beverage establishments.

When we visited last week we didn’t have Mr Tilly with us, but when some patrons arrived accompanied by their fur baby we realised it was ‘dog friendly’. There’s an outdoor area to the side of the building, and also a pavement alfresco area where dogs are allowed. Not only did we not have Mr Tilly with us,  we hadn’t taken our camera either. So, apologies for the quality of the photos, all have been taken directly off the net.

From the food menu we chose to share a plate of steamed bao buns, along with a basket of chips with aioli. An IPA was chosen from the selection of rotating craft beers to wash down the buns. Both hit the spot beautifully.

After the light lunch had established the Fire Station is a venue worthy of a return visit, we enquired as to their happy hour offers. They offer ‘five at five’, between the hours  of 5pm  & 6pm week days. Five items are chosen each afternoon to list from between their food and drink menus. These are offered at the reduced price of $5. I’m sure we’ll find something to suit us when we return during their happy hour one afternoon, perhaps with Mr Tilly next time.

Now that we have our four legged family member, and are on the look out for places that allow dogs, we’re delighted to see an abundance of choices. Our last canine family member passed away almost 25 years ago. I remember finding the choice of places available to which she could accompany us were very few, and often far between. There’s so many venues, and places available now. Being able to include him in our outings is going to add to our outings, and to his lifestyle. It’ll re-enforce his acceptable social behaviour, and will help satisfy his need for mental stimulation. The positive changes in places that now accept and welcome dogs to their premises – what a pleasure!

 

 

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Fields of Arum lilies

Driving through the south west of WA in the spring, the fields of Arum Lillies are breathtakingly beautiful. Growing with wild abandon absolutely everywhere, they create displays that must surely rival Wordsworth’s Daffodils. Beautiful, but not wanted in WA.

A perfect specimen of a flower – if only it was wanted


The Arum Lily, from South Africa,was introduced as a plant to glorify our gardens. The flowers are beautiful and indeed, glorious, albeit poisonous to both humans and animals. However, that’s not where the real problem lies. No-one could have anticipated how rampant it would become once it escaped the confines of the household garden. It’s now classified as an invasive pest, and you only have to drive through the Margaret River region in the Spring, knowing it’s not a native, to understand why

The 2011 bushfires that ravaged the area around Margaret River had an additional devastating consequence. The open soil left in the wake of the fires provided ideal conditions for the lilies to multiply, dare i say it, faster than wildfire!

In open areas, birds are spreading the seeds, and individual clumps are sprouting up, only to later multiply into visually stunning fields of toxic green and white. They’re taking over the land faster than our our own natives can regenerate, and are consequently making it difficult for the native bush to compete.

This years clumps become next years fields

Despite an eradication program, the banks of Arum lilies don’t seem to be diminishing. One day, hopefully they’ll be gone, but until that day, with reservations – I’ll still enjoy the stunning (albeit hopefully temporary) display they create in the spring.

Western Australia’s famous wildflowers

Life is settling down again after Mr Tilly’s arrival. His training is well on track, and we’re gaining a bit of freedom to come and go, sometimes with him (cautiously as he’s still not old enough to be fully vaccinated), and sometimes without him.

This week we took an overnight trip with him up to Perth to meet Alice’s older dogs. Of course, being a puppy, he loved them a lot more than eight year old dogs want to be loved. It’ll take a few interactions for them to be comfortable with a rat-bag puppy, especially in their territory.

While we were up in Perth, Paul treated himself to the long awaited camera upgrade. More on the new camera later. This post is about our first excursion to try it out.  What better subject to try it out on than the famous WA wildflowers.

Candle like Banksias

It’s spring, and the wild-flowers are blooming. We headed to Carbunup Reserve in the shire of Busselton, a wooded area just off Bussell Highway.  At first glance it doesn’t look like there’s an abundance of wildflowers, but as you walk along the track concentrating on the flowers rather than the trees, you start seeing them in abundance.

Full sized gum nuts on a baby tree

The reserve is full of gum trees and banksias.

Home for the critters

Big tall gum trees, small gum trees just sprouting, and old, dead gum trees. The dead trees still standing provide nesting spots for the birds that like the hollowed out dead branches to nest in. The older fallen trees provide shelter for all the little critters than rely on decaying tree wood for their shelter and homes.

And in between all the ordered chaos that forms the natural habitat of Carbunup Reserve sprouts an amazing profusion of wild flowers, and wild orchids.

Apologies up front, I know very few wildflowers by name, neither the botanical, nor the common names. It’s on my list to learn, but for now you’ll just have to make do with seeing the pictures.

 

My favourite amongst them is the Kangaroo Paws – Western Australia’s floral emblem.

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Vivid red and green everywhere.

We left the reserve and headed south past Margaret River to The Berry Farm, one of our favourites lunch spots. On the way we came across a mass of Everlasting Daisies at the entrance of Margaret River township. I think Everlastings are native to WA, but more so in the north eastern wheatbelt area. They’re so pretty though when planted on mass, and don’t seem to cause any invasion problems, so they’re often planted where a profusion of easy care, colour is wanted.

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A profusion of colours

A good start to trying out the new camera – and a new camera a great inspiration for getting into the great outdoors. A real pleasure to see Paul resurrecting a hobby from almost 40 years ago.

 

 

 

Cowaramup (Cowtown)

With less than a week to go now until we resume our ‘life of Riley on wheels’, we thought we’d take a final visit to our favourite little, local town – Cowaramup, or Cowtown as it’s known colloquially.

I’ve mentioned the town briefly before, but thought I’d provide a few more facts, and a few more photos.

The town was gazetted in 1925, and origianally supported the local timber and dairy industries.

Contrary to popular belief, the name of the town is derived from an Aboriginal word, Cowara, meaning purple-crowned lorikeet.

The town centre consists of a local store providing basic produce, a post office, a bakery, a sweet shop, a couple of cafes, a real estate office, and a few specialty stores selling everything from gourmet produce and candles, to all manner of arts and crafts. There’s no supermarkets, and definitely no MacDonalds anywhere in sight (or even out of sight on the back streets) – joy!!! Oh, but if you fancy a good pie – one of the local little cafe sells some beauties.

In 2012, to enhance the town’s growing ‘cow’ identity, 42 fibreglass sculptures of friesian cows and calves were commissioned. As the town is very small town, there’s  literally cows almost every few metres. They adorn the shopfronts, parks, footpaths, and are on almost every street corner.

One of my favourites is the Cowtown’s cheeky answer to Laurence Winery’s 23-carat gold plated, ‘free as a bird’, aka – ‘Chick on a stick’ (more on that later). Centred in the local park is Cowaramup’s, ‘Rump on a stump’ or, ‘Roast on a post’. Cowtown – or should it be quaint-town, whatever it’s called, if you’re planning a visit to WA’s southwest don’t drive though without stopping for at least a walk around.

‘Rump on a Stump’

And now a bit about the ‘Free as a Bird’ sculpture at Laurence Winery. Early in the 21st century concerns were raised when the sculpture took up residence in the dam fronting Caves Road. The Busselton council took umbrage (some say at the instigation of the neighbouring wineries), and sought to have the sculpture removed. They said the 17.5 metre high erection contravened local and state planning policies, and impacted negatively on the area’s natural and rural outlook.

The iconic ‘Chick on a Stick’, that caused a raucous in 2007.

I’m pleased to say that in October 2007 the State Administrative Tribunal ruled against the shire by granting retrospective planning approval. The ‘chick on a stick’ with all it’s controversy, and the Cowaramup’s humorous take-off, the ‘rump on a stump’ are both here to stay (for a long, long time I hope).

Amelia Park Lodge

For those of you who have traversed the Busselton/Dunsborough/Margaret River area, you will no doubt be familiar with the heritage listed, farm homestead that used to be one of the family homes of the Bussell family (circa 1851). Located close to the roundabout on Caves Road, almost halfway between Busselton and Dunsborough, the single storey, brick and limestone building with it’s gabled iron roof, encircling verandah and grassy surrounds, is a standout, iconic building in the area.

Heritage listed old Bussell farm homestead.

There’s cosy indoor dining areas, an alfresco area, and a recently added,purpose built outdoor glassed private room.

A cosy inside dining room.

In the 19th century the main building served as the Bussell family home, and the local post office.  Mrs Bussell being a midwife, also used it as a ‘lying in house’ for the local expectant mothers. From there, I found the history became sketchy until late in the 20th century when it became Newtown House Restaurant. Newtown House offered fine dining, and from past experience I can vouch that it was indeed ‘fine dining’.

The restaurant recently changed hands and has been closed for sometime as refurbishment took place. Anxiously, the locals have awaited it’s opening. Approximately a month ago the long awaited, upgraded restaurant opened it’s doors again under the new name of, Amelia Park Lodge.

It was with some trepidation that the girls (and one token guy) from my heart foundation walking group chose to try it out for our monthly lunch-date. I say with trepidation, as a local restaurant reviewer, Rob Broadfield, gave it very mixed reviews recently. Rob had a few good comments to make, but some comments were so scathing that we thought long and hard as to whether or not we were willing to give it a go.

There were quite a few of us so we were seated at two tables in the private, airy, outdoor addition.  Not being part of the original farm building, what it lacked in heritage quaintness it made up for with it’s large windows on all sides. It had an open air feel, but still had the warmth of glass surrounds, had it suddenly turned cool.

Some of the ladies (myself included)

more ladies seated in the light, airy dining room

and our one token gentleman.

Several people chose the lamb shanks, which came on a bed of potato mash with seasonal greens, and served with  glass of Newtown Shiraz ($29). All, without exception, pronounced the dish superb.($29.00)

Three people chose the beetroot risotto, charred greens, macadamia salsa, with aged parmesan. ($26.00). No complaints there either.

I had difficulty choosing, but finally settled on the baby kale caesar with poached chicken, serrano, white anchovies, aged parmesan and crisp brioche. ($20.00). I’ve only once before had the pleasure of eating white anchovies and that was in a little village in Saddleworth, UK. They swayed my choice, and were just as delectable this time as I remember them being. An added surprise with the dish were some soft boiled, quail egg halves. Delightful!

A few other dishes were chosen, including one person who braved the Barramundi, reviewed infamously in Rob’s recent review – the one that caused us so much trepidation about trialling the  restaurant – no complaints this time round.

In fact, not a murmer of complaint from anyone in relation to only of their chosen meals. Plenty of murmers of appreciation though. The desserts, wines, and coffee also superb. But I suppose I’d better be fair and report the negative along with the positive. One person said one of her petite fours was a bit bland, and one lady said her coffee could have been hotter……

They have a breakfast menu, a lunch menu, an afternoon menu (reduced lunch menu), a dinner menu, and they also serve High Tea on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. So, whatever time of day you chose to call by, there will something to tempt your tastebuds. And if you’re in the area, I do recommend you put Amelia Park Lodge on your dining list. We all agreed, it’s definitely on our ‘return to soon’ list. In fact, I think I heard some of the ladies making enquiries for the High Tea, and at only $18 per person, why not. I’m tempted myself.

I wonder did Rob get it wrong, or was it just a day with some problems. Certainly none of us could relate to any of the negatives in his review. But then again, sometimes I’ve chosen  restaurants because of some restauranteur’s brilliant review, only to be extremely disappointed. Perhaps they’re a tad more pedantic than the average person.

So, that’s my findings on Amelia Park Lodge and it’s new fine dining menu – very enjoyable.

If you can provide any updates on the building’s history, please feel free to enlighten myself and any future readers with your comments below. I’d love to know more of it’s history between the running of the farm, the selling of stamps, the birthing of babies, and the late 20th century restaurant of Newtown House.

Cape to Cape walk

We’re fortunate enough to have the 135 km Cape to Cape walk located only a short drive from home. The spectacular coastal track winds itself along the Leeuwin/Naturaliste ridge, taking in a fascinating geology of cliffs, caves, headlands and rock formations.

Stunning cliffs.

Starting in the north approximately 13kms from Dunsborough at the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse, the track takes between five to eight days to complete. It finishes at the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. Sections of the track incorporate some soft sandy beach parts, as well as some steeper rocky climbs and descents. Some sections are easier than others, so the degree of difficulty depends on your fitness level.

Rock Cairns

Amazing coastline.

Our friend and neighbour Brian, has been completing the track section by section on day walks when time allows. Yesterday, Paul, along with another friend of Brian’s, Sharon, tackled the 17km section from Moses Rock to Gracetown.

Towering rocks.

Kay took them to their starting point, leaving home at around 6.30am. I stayed tucked up snugly in bed….. They expected to complete the walk around 11. Kay picked me up around 10.30am with the plan to meet them at the conclusion at the Gracetown general store. However, we had just left when Kay received a call from Brian advising they would take an hour longer than anticipated, a good excuse for Kay and I to enjoy a coffee at Cape Lavender tea rooms.

We arrived to pick them up in good time, passing them with only about 50 metres to go. They were ecstatic, in awe of the scenery they had encountered, and showed no visible signs of exhaustion. Apparently, they followed the coast virtually the whole way. The swells were enormous, Brian reported the biggest he’d seen. Surfers where clearly taking advantage of the the giant waves and whenever they passed good breaks, they were entertained by young (and some not so young) men and women taking their lives in their hands doing what surfers do. Some were apparently doing their best to paddle out to meet the gigantic swells, while others made use of jet skis to tow them out to the swells, and then to pick them up when they either finished their ride, or came to grief, getting pummelled by the following waves. Certainly not for the faint hearted!

Sitting outside the Gracetown general store whilst the walkers relaxed with a well deserved coffee, Kay and I had a chance to also be entertained by the dozens of surfers opposite taking advantage of the spectacular surf conditions. Not so long ago I would have been joining them on the walk. Perhaps one day I will again, but I won’t risk inflaming an old ankle injury until after I’ve done the Gibb River. I was content enjoy the view at the end.

Enjoying a well deserved coffee

Surfers entertaining us.

Sun sparkling like diamonds on the water.

And today – Paul reports slightly sore muscles but nothing that would prevent him tackling the next section. He loved it. Living close enough to be able to complete such an amazing walk a day at a time – what a pleasure!

Will’s Domain

One of the guys Paul used to work with has always raved over Will’s Domain winery and restaurant. With a day to spare on Thursday we decided to give it a try.

Our favourite winery restaurant, and yardstick by which to measure others by in the region to date is Aravina. Obviously, we’ll only compare like with like. Aravina is on the pricey side, so is Will’s Domain. Here’s how the comparison fared.

Firstly, the seats – Will’s Domain had very comfortable dining seats, with low curved backs that hug the lumber area. As I remember it Aravina had high backed, straight cane seats, which I find particularly uncomfortable.

Sitting comfortably

Sitting comfortably

Next, the view -both had stunning views, but perhaps Will’s Domain was more expansive, giving it the edge.

Healthy, well looked after vines to look at.

Healthy, well looked after vines to look at.

Being happy with the seats and the view, the meal also had to live up to Aravina’s high standards in order to knock it off the perch as our number 1.

So, how did it compare.

It was a warm, humid day so Paul chose a pre-dinner drink of a locally brewed Eagles Bay ale. I chose the Wills Domain Rose. Both refreshing choices that didn’t disappoint. I continued with a second of the same with my main, but Paul being the skipper made do with water after he’d finished his ale.

We started with a shared charcuterie Board. No complaints from either of us. In fact, I’m not usually a fan of black pudding, but the small pieces of warmed black pudding were enough to change my mind. Delightful.

Charcuterie Board, already partially eaten before I remembered my camera.

Charcuterie Board, already partially eaten before I remembered my camera.

To follow, Paul ordered Duck with peaches. I ordered Wagyu beef with beets. The waitress suggested that a side order would also be needed. I think there were only three to choose from, none of which appealed particularly to me. Paul however opted for the potato chunks crisped in pork fat.

Paul's duck breast, cooked perfectly.

Paul’s duck breast, cooked perfectly.

The mains arrived with the side of potatoes. And yes, we did need a side dish. Not for the quantity, the meals were of adequate size for us. But the meals weren’t a complete main. No matter what I pay for a main meal, I always expect it to be complete in it’s own right. I expect the starring dish, usually a protein of choice to be supported by some carbs, a coloured vegetable, and some greens. It doesn’t have to be more than a few spears of asparagus, or a broccoli floweret, but there needs to be something in order for the meal to justify being called a ‘main’. In this case the lack of green on my plate provided the first let down for the day. With the other two side dishes on offer on the menu being ones that didn’t appeal, my main, no matter how nice it was, didn’t stand a chance of providing an equal to the meals I’ve had at Aravina.

Some greens would have made all the difference to my Wagyu beef.

Some greens would have made all the difference to my Wagyu beef.

Saying that though, Paul, not usually a fan of duck, did enjoy his main. My Wagyu beef was delicious, and the pickled beet strips accompanying by beef provided a nice fresh crunch. The small roasted beets on the side, however, were a touch gritty. The crispy pork roasted potatoes, although not the green vegetable I would have liked, were never-the-less, to die for!

The mains out of the way, nice but a bit lacking. Next came dessert. There were four to choose from. We narrowed down our selection to three, and then asked the waitress’ advice on which one would be the best as a shared desert. We went with her recommendation of the goats yogurt with raspberry granita, and liquorice wafers.

Between our mains and the arrival of our dessert we received a complimentary palate cleanser. As I understand it, the purpose of a palate cleanser prior to dessert is to clean the palate in readiness for the transition to something sweet. Our palate cleanser arrived – goats yogurt with raspberry granita. We hadn’t realised how similar it was until shortly after our dessert arrived – a bigger portion of the same. Goats yogurt and raspberry granita, only with the addition of three fresh raspberries and some liquorice wafer. Grumble number two! Apologies for looking a gift horse in the mouth, but surely it would be good restaurant sense to serve a palate cleanser completely different from the ordered dessert, even if it is complimentary. Not that the dessert wasn’t delicious, it was. But to be the same basic ingredients as the cleanser – Come on, really!!!!

Complimentary palate cleanser - goats yogurt with raspberry granita.

Complimentary palate cleanser – goats yogurt with raspberry granita.

And dessert, a larger serving of the palate cleanser only with three fresh raspberries and some liquorice wafer.

And dessert, a larger serving of the palate cleanser only with three fresh raspberries and some liquorice wafer.

Next a visit to the ladies before we finished. Now here, Wills Domain really let itself down. The hand basin in the ladies was one long marble basin with a slit at the base of a downward slope for the water to run through. A taller person most likely wouldn’t have seen the marble rear wall behind the slit, but I’m short, and I looked full on to the rear marble. What would have been visible to most people looked sparkling clean, but what I saw looked slimy and neglected. Perhaps it was just stains, but whatever it was, it didn’t look pretty. If it was stains, it needs replacing. If it was slime, it needs a damned good scrub.

The ambience, the seating and the view were tops. The service also was what one would expect from one of the top end wineries. The wines (sampled prior to dinner) were good. The menu was a good size, not to large so as to be overwhelming, but enough options to please. The starter was superb. The mains however, weren’t complete, and the desert was let down by already being sampled by way of the palate cleanser. The hand basin in the women’s WC was questionable.

My first impression of Wills Domain was that it was going to give Aravina a run for it’s money – but by the end of our visit, Aravina still holds it’s top position. Well in my opinion anyway.  Saying that though, we did still enjoy our meal, and our day out. What a joy it is to have such an abundance of world class restaurants and wineries virtually on our doorstep. What a pleasure.