The cherry blossoms are, well – blossoming – in Brisbane and there seems no better time to pop into Sake for dinner.
Everything about this restaurant is well-considered perfection. It’s location at Eagle Street Pier, the demure, perfectly lit interior, adept service, homage to the old and fusion with the new. The menu is vast and proffers a good nod to healthy appetites as well as the more adventurous variety-lovers amongst us.
The miso soup is Japan in a bowl. Not as authentic, but too interesting to ignore and the perfect appetiser, the popcorn shrimp crackles in your mouth just before doing a little jig with the spicy sauce and melting.
The panko-fried pork belly is a cracking little nod to Australia, but fused to Japan with the miso mustard and given a modern twist with fermented cabbage.
Meatlovers with a healthy appetite will be more than happy with the generous soy beef stirfry.
The galantine of quail with yama-gobo and shitake mushrooms is utterly gorgeous on the plate. On the palate an orange soy glaze balances sweet and salty with a hit of sour from the pickled golden beetroot. This is for the variety-lover, not the hungry diner, but if they have the cherry chocolate tart on special you won’t be sorry you left a little space.
All good things and so on ….Sadly, it’s our last day. Typically, the sun cracks through the clouds and strobes gold through the trees. We’re off to Hay Shed Hill for breakfast. If you want something different this is where it’s at.
The café offers local produce with a distinctively Middle Eastern bent. I order the shakshuka – my first – and I’m hooked. Eggs cracked into a spicy tomato base, baked with chorizo and served with sesame flatbread. A good chilli hit so not for the spice-shy.
Stomachs lined, we face up for our last wine-tasting in the region and we’re not disappointed. With many outstanding Chardonnays and Cab Savs under our belts, it’s the 2011 Shiraz Tempranillo that grabs me. 86% Tempranillo, 14% Cab Sav, nice and spicy with complex tannins. The 2009 Block 8 Cab Franc is deliciously fragrant and a great way to end.
We send off our week’s stash and head for a sweet finish to the Margaret River Chocolate Company. Chocaholics be warned. I have never seen so much chocolate in one place in my life. Let alone so many interesting versions of it.
No tasting notes here – try everything. It’s all melt-in-your mouth, roll your eyes, bob your head, gushingly, embarrassingly perfect.
We pop in at the Silk Road and then hit the road towards Perth, travelling via Cottlesloe beach, where we stop for a lazy sunset drink at Indiana, stroll along the beach and wistfully yen for just one more day.
The big wet is showing no interest in dissipating and we choose this day to dedicate almost entirely to one of the greats – Leeuwin Estate. We start with a wine tour. Not much happening at this time of the year but still interesting and the personal attention and private wine-tasting that follows makes it all the more worthwhile. We work our way through almost the entire offering, from the Prelude range through the Art Series. There’s probably nothing I can say that James Halliday and other wine boffs haven’t already said. All I can say is if you visit Margaret River and there is a winery you should not miss, this is it. This is premium wine and testament to Leeuwin’s heritage.
Now so soggy outside we can barely see the Karri trees surrounding the property, our happy haze draws us to the crackling hearth and the promise of food.
With my usual lack of restraint and want for trying everything, I start with the Art Series tasting plate. Oysters paired with the 2012 Riesling; Thai curry scallops with the 2012 Sav Blanc; d’Argental Lingot with cherry gel and candied walnuts is heaven with the 2012 Chardonnay; although the confit duck loses its legs a little against the 2008 Cab Sav.
Not wanting to make a pig of myself but unable to resist crab or soufflé, I order this entrée instead of a main and pair it with a side of roast artichokes and a glass of the Art Series Chardonnay. A happy pairing albeit with a slightly saggy soufflé.
Roger has the Rangers Valley scotch fillet with truffle fondant and horseradish bearnaise. He’s not a fan of gristle so this disappoints him, but the truffle fondant and béarnaise is sublime.
On our way home, we pop into Watershed, impressive though a little exposed on a blustery day. We’ve heard the owner is dabbling in Manjimup truffles and vow to return to the vast restaurant, but for today I’m here to pay homage to their Senses Shiraz. A year ago I was lucky enough to pick up a few bottles of their 2010 vintage – outstanding and deserving of the Visy Gold award it picked up. Not as blown away by the current offering but one to watch. In the meantime, if you’re a fan, try the Zinfandel. Not many of them around (only five last time I checked) and this is a goodie.
A glance at the forecast tells us today is likely to be the fairest of the rest, so we bolt up to Busselton. Foiled again. Stormy seas have muddied visibility and the aquarium at the jetty is closed.
So instead we head up to Cape Naturaliste, stopping at Dunsborough to see Christian Fletchers’ photo gallery. Breathtaking talent and well worth the detour. En route to Cape Naturaliste we stop to take pictures of the millions of lilies scattered across the fields. I’m told they’re noxious here but I still love them.
At Cape Naturaliste we pay the nice lady for passes to the lighthouse and then wish we hadn’t. It’s small (much smaller than Cape Leeuwin) and sealed in with an eight foot fence that precludes any decent shots of the view.
In disdain, we consider our options and make the best of logical decisions. We head to the next winery. Wise Wines is just off the road heading back from the lighthouse. The view from the cellar door and restaurant is spectacular with a vista from the lush valley to the ocean beyond. The wines complete the experience. The Pinot Grigio would make an Italian proud and the 2010 Lot 80 Cab Sav is stupendous. The finesse of the tannin curls delicately around cassis, vanilla and settles on a wisp of smokiness.
We take the scenic ocean drive to Meelup Bay. If you see no other beach in WA, see this one.
Just about everyone I know who has been to Margaret River has recommended our next stop and with good reason. Will’s Domain is perched atop a valley and is a feast for both scenery junkies and fusion foodies. Their eclectic menu is bold, complex and creative. I opt for the Ningaloo wagyu brisket with pickled walnuts, quince, kale and parsnip – served on a platter. My husband has the “Big Red” pork collar and belly with smoked shallots, dumplings and pear – served as a casserole.
A chilly mist rolls up the hill and snaps at our ankles as we head for the next winery – Pierro. As we get out of the car I can smell the lees and my tastebuds start a little jingle. My husband loves the LTC – an SBS with a “little touch of chardonnay”. I adore the 2011 Chardonnay. Sure the 2009 scored big but I can’t imagine much difference with a bit of cellaring. As for the 2009 Pinot Noir – yum, yum, yum – and just the thing for a cold night in front of the fire.