Artisan Home, Meet Margaret River Township
Margaret River manages to retain a small town feel even though it’s gone from being relatively unknown to a name that people from London to Los Angeles know for wine, surf and a pristine environment that still inspires awe in me daily. It has a laid-back surf vibe, where walking barefoot is commonplace and artisan virtues run through my favoured places.
As someone who makes a living from writing about food and drink there’s no better place to be. When my day isn’t quite going to plan, living in a place that people tell me is their dream destination or a place they long to come back, acts as a reality check.
As a local to the region Margaret River is my go-to for everything from the weekly groceries, the library, bookstore, good coffee and a place to meet friends. For many there’s no question that getting groceries is a chore. It was something I always saw as a mission. Get in and out as quickly as possible, whether in a store or online. But here it’s different, and is a pleasure and an opportunity to connect with growers and retailers with a passion for food. Now it’s a part of my week that I look forward to. Saturday mornings see the Margaret River Farmers Market pop up until midday, starting from 8am in winter or 7.30am over the summer months. It’s a chance to grab a couple of boxes of vegies, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry, bacon and sausages, free range eggs, and when in season, organic avocados and weekly finds of something new.
Wherever you travel in the world, markets tell you something about the community in which you’re spending time. I think the farmers market would tell you that we eat well here, we have an abundance of great producers and artisans, and we take time for the things that matter. It’s free of whatever the market equivalent of trolley rage is. If you’re not staying self catered in the region it’s also a great spot to pick up a few indulgences: a couple of bars of Bahen & Co chocolate, a jar of local honey or a selection of cheese from Cambray Cheese or Koonac.
From the market it’s on to 34 Degrees Blue (31 Station Road). While a fishmonger may not be an obvious stop when you’re taking a break, for those that are self-catering or wanting to make use of a communal barbeque, this is the place to pick up a taste of the oceans that border the region. The team here supply chefs across the south west, sourcing directly from fishermen at Gracetown (on the Indian Ocean coast), Augusta (where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet) and Windy Harbour (on the Southern Ocean near Northcliffe). This is how things should be: local, fresh, seasonal and sustainable. There’s always an explanation of what’s in and where it’s come from. So if it’s got more miles on it you can make your own choice.
At Riversmith (122 Bussell Highway), ex-winemaker Lachlan Macdonald is one of a growing band of young entrepreneurs making the south west his home. There was a time when talent, whether in hospitality, design or the wider creative arts couldn’t easily survive here, but things have and are continuing to change. The airy converted garage, that mixes art deco curves and modern stripped back design has become a hip haven in the centre of town; a place where you can grab a coffee and smashed avocado or as the day travels, a pulled roll and a local beer or wine. More than just a café, a large retail space to the rear is a trove for those looking for something to remember their Margaret River experience.
Across the road you’ll find the family-owned, Margaret River Bookshop (109 Bussell Highway), a prime spot for whiling away time and a place I have to remind myself is a shop not a library. Browsing is fine, but buying is preferable. A great place to pick up locally-published works.
At the Margaret River Bakery (89 Bussell Highway), plans of just picking up bread or a coffee to go regularly go awry, as sweet and savoury temptation calls from every cabinet and a second or a third coffee is called for. It’s a hive of activity on both sides of the counter and while this may seem like a boho café that’s bakery in name only, don’t be mistaken. Eat in and then take away a loaf or a baguette for later. It’s one of the best around.
If after a day of wine your thirst is for something different you’ll find it on tap at Morries (149 Bussell Highway) or Swings Taphouse (85 Bussell Highway). Billy Phillips of Morries was crowned WA Barman of the Year in 2015, beating off stiff competition from Perth’s strong bar scene. He is behind a WA first, introducing cocktails on tap. At Swings Taphouse, while they serve wine on tap it’s my go to for a rotating tap list of local beers like Colonial Brewing Co, Eagle Bay Brewing Co and Cheeky Monkey.
A raft of small wine labels are making their names in the region, but many don’t have a cellar door. The answer is Settlers Tavern (114 Bussell Highway), or “the Tav”, a quintessential Aussie pub that seems an unlikely place to find an award winning wine list. But owners Karen and Rob Gough are serious oenophiles. Rob a one time Sommelier and Karen a wine exporter met in San Francisco before making their way to Margaret River. The vision at the Tav was inspired in part by the city by the Bay; to offer an unpretentious menu with wines that you’d expect to find in a premium wine region, but rarely did. The pair haven’t stopped at wine, with the opening of a coffee shop, Sidekick and a brewery Margaret River Ale Co. But it’s championing winemakers at the smaller end of the market that has seen them become a hub for the local winemaking community. It’s the place to find the likes of Si Vintners, Dormilona, LAS Vino, Blind Corner, Ipso Facto, Domaine Naturaliste, Marq and a host of others. Ever changing, it’s a true taste of Margaret River.