The Margaret River dining scene has improved immensely over the past decade, says David Pike, as he enjoys the culinary delights down south.

Food lovers’ guides to Margaret River and surrounding areas these days stretches along a 100-kilometre strip from Busselton right through to Augusta. Given the pioneering days of Margaret River in particular, you would have been more than happy with a steak sandwich down at the local, washed down with a middy of Swan Lager.

Steadily over the last decade, as wine tourism has gained momentum, the number and the quality of the dining scene has undergone an epicurean transformation and a number of the restaurants would challenge any of the delights created in the noted Perth restaurants and, for that matter, further a field in the other capital cities.

Margaret River has been blessed with an infrastructure that has enabled many wineries to grow and prosper.

As a lifestyle, wineries these days often incorporate a restaurant or at least a café. Indeed, many wineries regard the restaurant as a vital addition to their operations, enabling further brand building and recognition. It is interesting that although many of these attached restaurant operations would struggle to run at a profit, they are regarded as an important part of a winery visit.

On a busy long weekend you will often need to book at many of the established restaurants in the area, such as Clairault, Flutes at Brookland Valley and Vasse Felix.

Having spent more time in Margaret River than Perth over the last month, I thought it was time to investigate a few places that have been recommended to me over the last few weeks.

Most of my spare afternoons have been dedicated to exploring the gourmet delights of the region and it has been the balcony at Vasse Felix that has tended to have got a very good work-out. However, it was a visit to the Cullen Café that provided the gusto for this review.

A picture-perfect day in Margaret River at this time of the year is one with those California Blue skies and little or no wind and lunch out. Cullen provided all of this and more on a Sunday just past. If you haven’t been into Cullen to eat then you need to do yourself the favour and book it in to your tour itinerary next time you are heading down to sip a few wines. It is a casual dinning experience with some outstanding dishes to explore.

We took up residence outside, overlooking the vineyard, after a refreshing tasting and having placed our order with the kitchen.

The menu, if you are looking for it when you arrive, is only printed on the black board that is situated just inside the front door. After placing your food order I would advise popping back over to the tasting counter and selecting a bottle or glass of wine to accompany your meal and would add that the 1997 Cullen Chardonnay in Magnums at $120 is worth driving down from Perth for.

Cullen have got one of the best and biggest “Vineyard Platters” in the district and, at $24, well worth a thought if you didn’t want to settle into one of the more traditional main meals.

The Vineyard Platter is laden with delightful cold meats, a good selection of cheeses, seasonal fruits, homemade chutney and preserves – it really is a good meal to graze on over an afternoon.

We didn’t partake in the platter, yet were surrounded by families that did.

The afternoon we visited empty seats were filled quickly and the outside seating was eagerly snapped up.

The set-up at Cullen makes it accessible for children, as the outside seating opens up on to lawn that gives the kids a chance to escape the dreary of having to sit with mum and

dad while they are finishing their bottle of wine.

As we settled into the afternoon and a glass or two of Cullen Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, our dishes the Mt Baker Chicken and Margaret River Venison arrived.

The Mt Barker Chicken was pan roasted in the oven, with diced tomato, eggplant and baby onions, with a tomato chilli jam and cost $24.50. Roasted to perfection, the chicken was tender with flavour, the accompanying fricassee of diced tomato and eggplant complemented the dish and the chilli jam provided an extra dimension to the flavour spectrum of the dish.

The Venison was a delight, it is always welcoming to see a few dishes on a menu that make use of not only local produce but are removed from standard menu items. These Venison ribs at $24.00 were a heavenly dish for dinner. I thought the ribs were very well prepared and seasoned with fresh turmeric, the meat tenderly fell off the bone and the sesame rice with greens made this a memorable dish.

I would happily return for the ribs again and again. However, I would love to have tried the Goose Confit, which also looked a very tempting choice.

Cullen Café is open daily 10am through 4pm and on weekends it may be advisable to book – especially if the sun is shining. Telephone: 9755 5656.

Business News reviews are independently conducted and paid for by Business News.

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