There’s nothing like getting travel advice from a local. And when that local happens to be one of the country’s top chefs, then it’s worth paying attention. Aaron Carr helms the kitchen at lauded Dunsborough diner Yarri, after a couple of decades (yes, a couple) at Vasse Felix. Here’s his guide on where to eat drink and make merry in Margaret River.
Firstly, you can’t see Margaret River in a weekend. It’s just too big. I tell friends to divide the region into three and do those three sub-regions a day at a time. Don’t try and drive down Caves Road stopping at all the wineries and beaches along the way, you’ll just miss out on seeing so much of this amazing part of OZ.
So, onto what I call the three sub-regions.
Northern end – Yallingup to Willyabrup
On the edge of Geographe Bay, the beaches are not to be missed, from Eagle Bay to Meelup and Castle Rock. When “The Doctor” (the south-westerly sea breeze) comes in, these little bays are great for a swim. One of my favourite spots is Eagle Bay Brewing Co. The guys are brewing some of the best beers in the biz, and the view isn’t bad either.
Caves House is a must especially on a Sunday arvo, with one of the best beer gardens in OZ. Grab a few beers or wines from the bottle-o and head to Yallingup Beach for the sunset. Sit on the lawn and watch the day go down. Even better, if there’s some swell running… this is the true West Oz experience.
To eat, Chow’s Table (on the same site as House of Cards winery) is one of the region’s best restaurants, or try Yarri (of course), Barnyard 1978, Blue Manna Bistro, Eagle Bay Brewing Co, Meelup Farmhouse and Wild Hop Brewing Co.
For cellar doors, the guys at Windance Estate are killing it, and Marq has awesome wines and probably the best vineyard platter in the region (but don’t tell too many people – it’s a local’s secret). Ben Gould has an almost cult-like following at Blind Corner, and Deep Woods has some of the region’s best cabs and chardies – Prince Julian (Langworthy) knows what to put in a bottle. Windows Estate is another gem, making small-batch boutique wines.
Wilyabrup Region – Wilyabrup to Margaret River
Home to the oldest vines in Margs, this is where shit gets real. Think chardonnay and cabernet at its finest. You could easily spend a whole day here, so don’t miss it. And don’t try to do it in two hours. Vasse Felix, Cullen, Moss Wood, Woodlands, Hay Shed Hill, Arlewood and Amelia Park, to name a few.
If you don’t go to Vasse Felix, you’re missing out. If not for the wine and food, then just to visit the estate, with one of the most beautiful cellar doors in Australia. Right next door is Cullen – pioneering bio-dynamic and organic wines. Also a must.
Mark Messenger has been hiding under the radar, producing some of the best wines going around at Juniper Estate. Snake & Herring are legends and definitely worth a look. Try the ‘Bizarre Love triangle’ (pinot gris, gewürztraminer, riesling) and ‘Hallelujah’ Chardonnay. Grace Farm are just f%$king awesome, so give them a crack.
In the arvo, head to the Wilyabrup Cliffs with a bottle of chardonnay to really get the true Margs experience, sitting on the rugged cliffs looking out at the wild Indian Ocean.
If beer is your thing, head to the Beer Farm, one of the region’s best breweries. Not to be missed. It’s also a great spot to eat, or try Cullen, Vasse Felix, Amelia Park or Olio Bello.
Southern end – Margaret River to Augusta
This is also a huge region, and there’s something for everyone. From mountain biking to exploring the caves and walking through the Boranup Forest, there’s almost too much to do… I don’t really know where to start.
Go to Leeuwin Estate, just to tick it off. Best chardonnay in OZ, so don’t miss this one. Right next door is Voyager Estate, and in my opinion the best restaurant in the region at the moment. Allow three to four hours, and don’t take the kids! Both also have great cellar doors, and give Cape Mentelle a go, or if you’re heading to Augusta, swing by Mr. Barval.
If time is not a problem, then Glenardy Road is definitely worth the trip – paddock-to-plate dining at its best. It’s pretty much a working farm with a restaurant on it. Everything is grown on-site and you can literally taste it.
Other top spots to eat are Leeuwin Estate, The Arc of Iris, Colonial Brewery and Settlers Tavern in Margs town, which also has a great beer garden and the wine list is the region’s finest.
If you’re lurking around Margs town at night, Yonder is a must for a cocktail or beer, think dive bar done right. It’s only a 25-person bar, so get there early. If you’re looking for the region’s best pizza, then you’re in luck – give Pizzica a crack.
Aaron Carr is the Head Chef and Co-owner at Yarri Restaurant & Bar in Dunsborough, Margaret River, in partnership with Snake & Herring Wines. Carr was the Head Chef at the iconic Vasse Felix winery for 21 years. During his tenure, the restaurant was widely acclaimed as one of Western Australia’s finest, winning an uncountable number of accolades. With a firm focus on local and ethically sourced, grown or raised ingredients, Carr opened Yarri in 2018.