The New York Times Australia critic, Besha Rodell, looks ahead to a year of eating and exploring in WA.
In April of this year, as part of my work as global critic for Food & Wine magazine, I had reason to call many of the world’s best chefs and ask them where they most want to visit once travel returns to normal. I got enough tips and reveries to make a long wish list of my own, but the response that struck me the most came from Noma’s René Redzepi. “I want to have a barbecue on Smiths Beach in Western Australia, to look at that incredible blue water,” he said. “It is just one of the most magical places.”
I tend to agree with Redzepi – Western Australia is one of the world’s most magical places, even if it’s a magic I never had the chance to experience when I was growing up in Victoria. It wasn’t until I returned to Australia as an adult, after more than two decades living in the US, that I finally made it across this wide continent to stare at the stunning azure Indian Ocean from the cliffs in Margaret River and wonder how I’d never known anything about what is undoubtedly one of the most stunning corners of the world.
My first trips to Western Australia were to seek out restaurants and food to cover in my New York Times column, Australia Fare. What I found, in Perth and Margaret River and in between, was a food culture in the midst of a major transformation. It seemed to me that large and often corporate restaurants, fuelled by mining-industry money, had dominated Perth’s dining scene for years. Some of them were (and remain) very good. But a new sense of independence was emerging, flourishes of personality and quirkiness that showed up in smaller, chef-driven restaurants.
What I found, in Perth and Margaret River and in between, was a food culture in the midst of a major transformation.
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I was also pleasantly surprised by the pockets of distinctive food culture that rarely make it into national rankings and guides: the continental rolls at Re Store (which I would kill for here in Melbourne); the zhu sheng mian at Noodle Forum.
Every time I left WA, flying home across the continent, I couldn’t wait for another excuse to get back.
Which is why I’m so eager to be joining the reviewing team for the WA Good Food Guide. Food scenes like the one I’ve described, which are in the middle of becoming something new and unique, are the most exciting and interesting to cover. As much as I love my hometown of Melbourne, its culinary personality is so well-defined it’s sometimes hard to find true innovation here. That isn’t a criticism – a distinct style is what makes many of the world’s great food cities shine. But newness, freshness, a city or region truly coming into itself, becoming what it will be – for a food writer, there is no greater subject matter.
Were it not for the pandemic, I already would have spent part of this year in Western Australia, eating and drinking and soaking up more of that excitement. As it stands, if things go as planned, I’ll have to wait for next year. Just like Redzepi, I cannot wait.