Well this week marks the end of another awesome year of food festivals. To be honest I’m a little relieved – well my waistline is, my stomach is undecided!
Margaret River Gourmet Escape has to be the top pick and last years post covering the inaugural event was by far one of my most popular as well as a personal favourite.
What I feel sets Gourmet Escape apart from other festivals (aside from the fact that it epitomises our Western Australian summer lifestyle and is held in the stunning setting of Leeuwin Estate and Winery) is that the food is of a much higher standard. It is truly a food lovers dream! There is not a food truck to be seen – not that I am knocking them in the slightest! They just do not hold a place here.
This festival is about quality produce, prepared beautifully by WA restaurants who want to showcase their dishes. And wine of course! Though I am not really a wine drinker, let alone expert, so I will stick mainly to the food side of things!
My Gourmet Escape experience last year was one of my top 2012 weekends and was going to be hard to beat. Suffice to say I am more than a little excited to try… We have tickets to Saturday and were fortunate enough to get some Sunday tickets courtesy of the Beaufort Street festival organisers so there has been only minimal stomach stretching required in the week leading up…
Like a kid a Christmas, wide awake at 5am and waiting for Mum and Dad to wake up, we waited in what felt like the longest line to get parking. Side note: I am very happy to own a bright orange car as we were kicking up some serious red dirt.
I am armed with my Eat. Drink. Blog tote bag, camera and a bucketload of gems (Gourmet Escape Money). We enter through the Pimm’s garden and I am just waiting for the assault on my nostrils of all the amazing smells and I am not disappointed. Meat. BBQ. Need I say more? A quick time out to read the program and menu and we decide our first priority is food (surprise!) and Matt Stone.
The food is hot, the lines are short and we grab a Lamb, Date and Almond Pastilla with freekeh salad, olive tapenade and yogurt from Xanadu Restaurant and beer braised Ox Cheek in a bun with truffle mustard remoulade and pickled onion from Goanna Gallery and Bush Cafe and we head over to the Siemens stage. At this point I’m having major déjàvu – we did not learn our 2012 lesson of sunscreen required at the Siemens stage… It is sweltering hot, my butt is sticking to the chair and Matt Stone is taking forever to come on stage (only because we were early and trying to snag some good seats)! Luckily, we have what turned out to be two of the best meals of the weekend in front of us to take our mind off frying and waiting.
The Lamb Pastilla was my number 1 favourite dish. Crunchy spring roll pastry encasing amazingly tender and flavoursome meat and I LOVE olive tapenade. Absolutely delicious! These guys were the only people that I noticed sold out on Saturday afternoon and I am not surprised as to why, I’d love to know how many dishes they served.
Lamb Pastilla – Xanadu Restaurant
The beer braised Ox Cheek also had incredibly tender meat and the pickled onion added a crunchy, fresh element which I loved. We had pre-decided to share each dish because I wanted to EAT EVERYTHING! But, I had a hard time sharing these two and it was pretty lucky we had them cut in half because it might have gotten ugly otherwise…
Beer Braised Ox Cheek in a bun – Goanna Gallery and Bush Cafe
Still waiting for Matt, I dashed off to get the slow beer braised, sticky pulled Beef ribs, coriander, mint, lime and quinoa salad from Cowaramup Food – this was probably my least favourite dish of the weekend, whilst the meat was tender, overall it lacked flavour and didn’t really come together. The dominating flavour was spring onion which should be there purely to enhance and freshen the other flavours.
Enter the ever endearing Matt Stone who is cooking crickets today! Nutty, crunchy crickets cooked in butter, served on cricket pancakes – not sure how I would have felt about eating them but he assures us they are incredibly high in nutrients and that feeding your crickets left overs helps to close the circle of food production and waste. Joost is also on stage getting his hands dirty making butter for Matt to cook but at some point I went to my foodie happy place and then to deciding whether or not I would eat crickets if Matt Stone offered them to me and I’m not sure what happened after that. Must be time to head to the Rekorderlig tent to cool down…
Matt Stone, Joost Bakker and Poh Ling Yeow
Cider wasn’t enough so onto Simmo’s icecream… Am I alone in believing that vanilla icecream is boring? I have no idea why people would eat vanilla icecream with nothing added. I am a ‘more is more’ kind of girl when it comes to icecream. So whilst I may have eaten a Simmo’s honeycomb icecream, tasted their choc mint and also tried the salted caramel ice-cream from Two Fat Cows I firmly believe that all icecream requires toppings and no amount of good PLAIN icecream will change my mind.
Time to give the stomach a break so we spend some time wandering the stalls and chatting to the vendors. I had a great time talking to the very passionate guys at Essence of Coffee. I don’t know a lot about coffee (other than I like to drink it!) but lately I have been getting snippets of info here and there and it is a very fascinating subject and a serious passion project for those ‘in the know’ – something I would like to learn more about.
The Smoke Shack were busting out some amazing spiced chicken on a spit. They had some pineapple and pork going as well but I managed to keep missing out and I was dying to taste it.
Sue Lewis Artisan Chocolatier was serving her spectacular chocolate and cold brew coffee which went down an absolute treat and there was no way I was missing out on one of her famous salted caramel truffles. Talk about foodie heaven. She is now operating out of MYRE in Fremantle as well as her Shenton Park store.
Bahen and Co. chocolate were offering tastings of their assorted chocolates and I was particularly partial to their chilli and sea salt flavour!
By this time we have caught up with my cousins who have scored themselves a position on the grass steps in the shade so we have dumped our stuff and gone back to mission: eat everything. ‘Big Red’ Pork San Choy Baw from Leeuwin Estate and Palm Sugar and Soy seared Beef fillet on a wild rocket salad from St. Margaret Vineyard – the same dish they presented in 2012 which was absolutely as flavour packed and delicious as it was last year- clearly the reason they decided to run with it again. Melt in your mouth beef, Asian herb salad with crispy shallots on top. So simple. So effective. The Sang Choy Baw was also really good. The pork was a little chewy but perhaps that was bound to happen being eaten directly after the beef fillet. Two very fresh, well executed dishes.
Oops, someone bought back macarons from John Pierre Sancho. Best eat one of those too, you know, in the name of food blogging research. Blueberry flavoured, crunchy to bite into, smooth to touch and gooey on the inside. I am feeling extremely content right now, as is the gorgeous Kobie who has gone into a food coma on my sisters lap. Everybody is happy at gourmet escape!
Here comes Heston!!!! Doing a mad dash up the stairs surrounded by security guards and crazy ladies trying to take photos with him on the run… Whilst going up steps. No easy task!
Let’s talk for a moment about the atmosphere. Carnival, as all good festivals should be! But a lot of the beer and wine stalls have quirky little seating set ups to take a break on. Think stuffed hessian bags to slouch on, wine barrels to place your drinks on and retro beach chairs to take a load off. Individual little chill out zones that add immensely to the over all ambiance and I don’t remember there being as much as that last year.
We are about to wrap it up for the day when we wander past Muster Bar and Grill and see Russell Blaikie on the first line fighting off the ladies going ga ga and getting photos. Ok, I admit, I wanted a photo. He was happy to oblige and I was more than happy to finally get to try his Chicken Liver Parfait with Manjimup Black Truffles, Chardonnay Jelly and JPS baguette. I have been hearing about this parfait from an ex roomy who bought several last year and even bought a couple home (and did not share)! I’m pretty full at this point but I’m rallying, we pull up a section of grass outside the delightfully decorated kids kitchen section and I’m thinking “don’t eat it all, you’ll feel horrendously sick and need to be rolled home”. Oops… Next thing I know I am practically licking the container clean and I’ve run out of bread to slather it on. Why is pate so amazing!? I also think it’s only fair at this point to give a special mention to Poach Pear and their Duck and Orange pate which is absolutely incredible (Dad, I hope you’re not reading this because you’re getting one for Christmas and if you are reading this – you’re in for a serious treat and we are having it for afternoon tea around the pool on super fresh bread – remember sharing is caring).
Kids Kitchen – I really wanted to take part in this… unfortunately I’m too old.
Day one done and dusted, how much more can we fit in on day 2?! Let’s not forget a visit to the Margaret River Fudge Factory on the way home either. I recommend the Irish Creme.
Started the day with a visit to the Margaret River Chocolate Company. Managed a few Christmas pressies and minimal tester destruction. Couldn’t resist a piece of dark chocolate coated cranberry and pistachio nougat, my favourite! Providore, very excited to try their Coconut and Goji berry porridge and Bircher muesli. Nuts and cereals factory – they do great dukkah and honeys nuts, Candy Cow and back to GE.
Mission number one – get the Ginger and Plum Pork medallion with stir fried vegetables and hokkien noodles. Mission number two – get an Espresso Martini.
Pork was awesome. Probably the only vegetables I ate this whole weekend too so thank you Woody Nook Wines and the Nookery for contributing to my five a day! I was blown away by how well cooked the meat was in everything that we tried and whilst I understand that these are professional establishments presenting these dishes, there is still a degree of difficulty involved in serving en masse perfectly and I feel that was one of the stand out achievements of the weekend.
Ginger and Plum Pork Medallion
Clock strikes 12, ok so maybe it was only 11:30 but close enough to cocktail hour for me. Time to go to school! 10 out of 10 for atmosphere at The Classroom! Cranking the old school tunes, the guys are having a ball making the cocktails and Andrew is showing off his fancy pants moves with the bottles, glasses, shakers. He is flipping and tossing and spinning and let’s be fair, it’s pretty damn amazing! I wonder how many hours he spends practising? There is liquid nitrogen everywhere and it truly feels like a bit of a party! We pull up a stool and decide on a lychee mojito as well as their famous espresso martini. Perfect refreshment for a warm day (that started off wet and miserable). What a perfect Sunday. Fun in the sun with great entertainment and a delicious cocktail. This is when you stop for second, breathe it in and think “this is living” – yes, I’m getting emotional and cliche.
Where is everybody getting a pulled pork bun from? They’re everywhere and I want one. It’s not on the menu and I’m sure I’ll find room to put it, but we need to find it first. Few laps later and we discover Ragin’ Cajun – pulled meat seems to be a bit off theme this year. Didn’t quite have the flavour or the refined look of the other pulled meat dishes but it was still a nice way to cap off the day.
Except that we still have a single gem left and the Duckstein Brewery are offering Churroz with Cinnamon Sugar and Chocolate Shiraz. It would be wrong to leave without having dessert! Crunchy, sweet, cinnamon-y, chocolate goodness! Never enough sauce… Do I sound like Manu? Is there ever enough hot chocolate sauce in the world though?
Congratulations to the organisers for another amazing event this year. Let’s start the countdown to 2014!
I would also like to thank Virgin Australia for delaying my flight for an hour and a half, allowing me to make serious inroads towards writing this post.