Sally’s Regional Food Diary – Western Australia, June 2007

Part 3 – Pemberton to Dunsborough

In the late afternoon as we approached the town spread on the hillside, it had the most amazing appearance, little peaks gleaming in the sunset like neat rows of tents in a campsite. These turned out to be the tin roofs of former timber mill workers’ houses, each with a curl of smoke poised on the chimney, as by now it was becoming quite chilly and it seemed the sensible locals were already inside warming up by their fires.

We were booked into the Pemberton Best Western Hotel on the edge of town and our room had a stylish latticed patio overlooking the street and the trees which are never far away in this timber country. Fact is that although there are some massive trees in the area – some of which like the nearby Gloucester Tree can be climbed, albeit fearfully – around here now you are just as likely to find lavender farms, wineries, marron ponds and breweries.

For dinner we decided to visit Sadies at the Gloucester Motel , and were glad we did. Not only was there a superb list of a la carte dishes with a ‘catch of the day’ from nearby Windy Harbour, but the back page of the menu featured ‘Pemberton’s Own’ – dishes devised around local meat, marron and fish. I had a rack of local lamb and Gordon ordered rogan josh, which might at first sound a departure from good Aussie regional food, but we had been given the tip-off: the chef here is Indian, and it was every bit as good as you’d expect.

Next day we headed out of town to Jarrah Jacks Brewery & Woodsmoke Wines & Cafe This custom-built property sits on a hillside with a stunning country view and quite obviously aims to deliver it all – beer, wine, food and coffee – in delightful; surroundings.

Then it was on to visit local food-legend Sophie Zalokar who runs Breakaway Cottages Sophie worked at one time with Maggie Beer and her enthusiasm for local cuisine and produce is infectious. Her cottages overlook the edge of the forest and to make staying here even more attractive, Sophie has developed a very smart plan. A regional shopping list allows guests to have their cupboards stocked with wonderful fresh local goodies. More is on the drawing board too as her enthusiasm for sharing the full extent of this fertile region’s produce is apparently boundless.

It was she who urged us to visit Pemberton Wine Centre This little gem not only showcases all the local wineries, but also has a gallery of local photography and produce from various suppliers – including Sophie’s homemade jams and bottled honey. Although it is definitely worth a detour, go even if you have no interest in wines or food as the Old Vasse Road is one of the most lovely drives in the area. The quiet road passes through huge stands of karri trees easily identified by their massive mottled cream trunks. Even more impressive were the ‘roos reclining on the grassy lawn in front of the centre when we arrived. We crept up to take photos of them then realised later that they were very much at home in the sunshine and had no intention of moving anyway. Well, why would you?

By now we were pointed in the direction of Nannup and a lunch date at Koala Gourmet a tiny cafe that began life as a Thai restaurant. Although it was exuberantly received, a small Australian town only needs so much tom yum, so the owners, Marilyn & Brian Rulyancich, decided to diversify and now also feature Marilyn’s more mainstream cookery and stock a vast range of local jams and condiments as well.

After lunch I walked up the quiet main street and popped into the Nannup Jam Company its shelves stacked with shining rows of pickles, jams, sauces and whatever else can be boiled up and sealed in a jar. A strong hot vinegar smell from the kitchen a the rear testified to something else very tasty soon to be bottled.

The exciting thing about researching regional food is discovering people doing the most difficult tasks, teaching themselves, learning from others, and producing astoundingly good results. Bruce and Jean Wilde at Cambray Cottages and Sheep Dairy are a perfect example.

We were running late by now, and hoped were still in time to taste some cheeses at their property north-west of town. We did better than that. The sheep were just being called in for milking as we arrived (loud pop music from a radio hooked on a post, if you must know) so we watched as they bustled to the stand, had hoses attached to their teats, and in two or three minutes were released again to scamper off down the ramp.

Inside the spotless showroom we tasted several cheeses – a brie, another called Camembray, a traditional Greek-style fetta, and then a manchego-style which was absolutely fantastic too. Another, Friesette, was creamy with a thin rind and I could just imagine enjoying that after a leisurely lunch, spread on crackers with a fine wine.

Time only, then, to hotfoot it to the coast where a bed (and serviced apartment) was reserved at Quay West Bunker Bay As the sun dipped we kept a watchful eye out, scanning the sides of the road. It would have been too bad to spoil such a lovely day by an impact with a kangaroo.

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