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Southern exposure

David Pike returns to an old favourite this week, a South West winery that has long set the standard for top quality food in the State’s premier wine-growing region.

WHAT to do on a warm afternoon in the middle of autumn. With the weather dullsville has been having over the last few weekends you wouldn’t want to be living anywhere else.

Despite this, I found myself with a few hours free last Sunday to relax and enjoy the stunning outdoors.

So, with no convincing needed, I found a couple of friends to join me for an afternoon of autumn indulgence in Margaret River at the Vasse Felix restaurant.

Vasse Felix is celebrating its 35th year in Margaret River and provides one of the most spectacular backdrops to while away the afternoon. The upgrade of the restaurant area and the introduction of a cafe section has created a lifestyle venue popular with visitors to the area.

We arrived quite late in the day and it was refreshing to find that the restaurant doesn’t close until 3pm.

Although we hadn’t made a booking, if you are hoping to sit out on the balcony, then you would be advised to phone ahead. This is especially the case on long weekends and during school holidays.

As it was were able to be shown to a table on the balcony, which looks out over the vineyards and the Wilyabrup Valley. I was a little surprised to find that the winery has been pulling out some very old riesling vines in order plant cabernet sauvignon vines in the vacant space.

Settling in to the afternoon after selecting a bottle of the Vasse Felix semillon, we were left to study the menu. The autumn menu has a collection of appetising entrees, including the chicken brodo with polpetti and truffle oil $15.50. Chefs around the country must have so much fun when they sit down to write a menu. I would love to have a dollar for the number of people who have asked me what this dish is all about. I wonder if more of this dish would sell if it were simply called chicken soup with dumplings.

We, instead, ordered the bits ’n pieces entree $21.00 and added the chorizo sausage with feta and ligurian olives to complement $11.00. Included were the chicken liver parfait and cabernet jelly and some sourdough (a treat), some sushi rolls and a delightful cauliflower frittata with a tasty salsa. The bits ’n pieces is a good introduction to what you can expect to come from the kitchen. It was innovative and presented plenty of flavours worthy of exploration.

The main dishes range from seared scallops, pineapple and hot mint salad with shredded duck $29.50, through to roast pork belly with baked apple and eggplant relish $25.00. There is plenty to explore and a range of styles, with comfort food combined with fusion.

Our table liked the idea of the blackened mackerel steak with succotash and silver beet $29.00. This was a curious mix that worked very well. The mackerel was moist and perfectly prepared, the succotash (lima beans, corn kernels and sometimes chopped red and green sweet peppers) and silver beet complemented the fish perfectly.

The venison from the local farm was served with cous cous and saffron curd $29.00. This dish was very well prepared and, while venison often can be over-prepared, this tender and delightful dish is well worth the temptation.

The coq au vin with porcini mushrooms and jambon $27.00 was comfort food at its best. I felt it could have done with a tad more seasoning, however it still hit the spot and was big enough in size and plentiful enough in its flavours. As we settled into the remains of our bottle of Vasse cabernet sauvignon all at our table were amply satisfied with the selections we had made.

As we were not in a hurry and the staff wasn’t putting chairs up around us, we decided to finish our afternoon with a cheese board. The cheese selected from the Blue Cow cheese company was as good as I have tried. The coffee, which can so often disappoint in restaurants, was the equal of any in Perth’s trendy cafes. The staff members know their food and most seem to be able to adapt to the differing needs of each table. While professional, they are not intrusive, yet are very attentive. Vasse Felix is one of my favourite wineries to dine at, and has been for a long time. It has an atmosphere that is relaxed while providing you with food that is equal to any of the better restaurants in Perth.

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