Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Venison Among the Vineyards of Margaret River

South of Perth, on Australia’s wild western coastline, Margaret River is a region of natural abundance. Blessed with a maritime Mediterranean climate, its renowned vineyards thrive within the bush landscape, bordered by a river on one side and untamed coastline on the other. Local produce is king here, and the perfect match for the area’s fine wines is venison, the meat of kings.

With its rich agricultural soils, lifegiving river, dense bushland, and isolated setting on one of Australia’s wildest stretches of untouched coastline, the commercial development of Margaret River was destined to evolve much more slowly than its natural industry. Alfred and Ellen Bussell built the first homestead here in 1875, but it was another 55 years before a scant collection of three houses allowed the area to declare itself a town.

The shoreline of Prevelly Park, on the Margaret River Estuary
Little has changed in the last 100 years. Though it now boasts a population of 11,000, the area is still dominated by farming and viticulture. Beef cattle, sheep, and deer graze in and around one of the nation’s largest wine regions, farmed to feed the appetites of the questing gourmets who flock here each year to devour their favorites among the Margaret River delights.
It’s the deer farming that inspires some of the area’s greatest culinary experiences. Local couple Graham and Cynthia Morrison established their farm here in 1977, when few people were aware of the combined great taste and health benefits that venison had to offer, but from its humble beginnings the venison farm has gone on to supply its lean and sweet meat to chefs in the local area and across Australia.
Local cooks now serve up tender venison dishes that lend a new richness to old favorites, such as venison spare ribs, slow-cooked in a sticky-sweet barbecuestyle sauce, or elegant venison carpaccio teamed with capers and Kalamata olives. Wintry venison osso bucco with chorizo and beans is ideal sustenance after a day spent relaxing on Margaret River’s worldrenowned surf beaches or trawling the cellars of its many internationally acclaimed wineries.
It is this diversity that propels the region from being a one-day stopover to a multidimensional vacation destination. This is a place to indulge every facet of your personality: the wine aficionado, the adventurer, the surfer, the artist, the naturalist, and the adventurous gourmand. Because as much as the region is a haven of natural splendor, it is the focus on food and wine that makes it stand out among the nation’s coastal hot spots. Margaret River provides a heady change of pace – and tastes – from everyday life.

The fine local venison and wines of Margaret River combine in dishes such as roasted venison with red wine and cranberry coulis

Best Places to Eat Venison

Voyager Estate

Just as the glorious natural surroundings of the Margaret River region amaze visitors, so too does the Voyager Estate. The combination of atmospheric grandeur, striking rose gardens, and gastronomic excellence – all wrapped up in a pretty Cape Dutch architectural package – is almost too good to be true. And the food is as magnificent as the surroundings. Chef Nigel Harvey does his utmost with the astoundingly good fresh, local produce that comes under his fingertips, including, of course, Margaret River venison, farmed a mere cork pop away. Harvey’s deft touch makes the meat shine, in dishes such as his delicately sweet venison carpaccio, matched innovatively with the fresh spiciness of radish and watercress and the bite of Manchego cheese. It is a dish complemented by the blackberry, dark-chocolate, and oaky aromatics of the estate’s well-regarded Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend. Dishes change with the season, so prepare to be surprised.
Lot 1, Stevens Road, Margaret River; open 10 AM–4:30 PM daily;
Also in Margaret River
Go to the source at Margaret River Venison (; inexpensive) where you can pick up venison steaks, sausages, or marinated kebabs to cook on the barbecue. For something a little more formal there is Must (; expensive), a stellar wine bar and restaurant where venison takes on a more sophisticated tone.
Also in Australia
In the small South Australian town of Mount Compass, Judith Phillips is renowned for the venison meat pies she makes and sells at Mount Compass Venison (+61 8 8556 8216; inexpensive). In Victoria, relish autumnal venison pithivier crammed with mushrooms and chestnuts at Gigi’s of Beechworth (; expensive) in this historic gold-mining town.
Around the World
The reindeer is native to Finland, and there are few better places to experience superbly cooked venison. The top spot in Helsinki is the two-Michelin-starred Chez Dominique (www.; expensive), where venison and oyster tartare is a must. Also in the capital but lower on the price ladder is Lappi (www.; moderate), where traditional sautéed venison comes with mashed potatoes and lingonberries, served in a chic update of the traditional Scandinavian log cabin.

The restaurant at Vasse Felix has beautiful views over its vineyards, which were the first to be established in Margaret River
Margaret River Wines
Wine tasting is a feature of any trip to Margaret River, and most vineyards offer tastings alongside gourmet nibbles or elegant lunches.
Vasse Felix ( is the region’s oldest vineyard and its wines are some of the most acclaimed. You can enjoy a tasting in its subterranean Cellar Door tasting shop, or try them with food in the winery’s elegant restaurant, which has gorgeous views over the vines. Leeuwin Estate ( au) lays claim to one of the region’s best Chardonnays – which is no mean feat, given that the region is famed for its Chardonnay grape. Tasting is a must. Bootleg Brewery (www. offers a change for those nearing vineyard saturation. Its awardwinning ales and lagers can be enjoyed at tables outside in its large and pretty grounds.
Three Days in Margaret River
The Margaret River region is characterized by its fantastic blend of natural beauty and phenomenal food and wine. Take it all in, but remember that distances are long and journeys can take time.
DAY ONE : Hop on to the food and wine trail: join one of the many guided tours available in the area, or take a Bushtucker Canoe Tour along the Margaret River to experience native Australian bush foods.
DAY TWO : Head south, exploring the rugged beaches and spectacular caves – the Lake, Mammoth, and Jewel show caves – that crop up along the scenic drive to Augusta. Have a picnic lunch in the Boranup Karri Forest, and finish the day with a visit to the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse and have fish and chips on the beach.
DAY THREE : Go west to the coast at Prevelly for an ocean-view breakfast, then admire the surfing on nearby Gnarabup Beach. Head back to town for an afternoon viewing artisan workshops and galleries or get back to nature at the Wildlife Center featuring displays from Australia’s largest collection of birds of prey.

Getting to Margaret River

Fly to Perth International Airport then rent a car for the 3½-hour drive south to Margaret River, or take a bus with Southwest Coachlines.
Where to stay in Margaret River
Adamsons Riverside Apartment and Motel
Accommodation (inexpensive) is on beautiful grounds by the river and forest, a short stroll from town.
Basildene Manor (moderate) offers stately accommodations close to town, surrounded by a huge and pretty garden.
Merribrook Retreat (expensive) offers every conceivable luxury in a stunning rural setting.
100 Bussell Highway, Margaret River town;

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