Every year in our restaurant guide, the South West hits hard, with the region continuing to land high on the list of essential destinations for locals and travellers alike. Keen to explore? Here’s where to start.
With endless beaches, stunning caves, vineyards for days and strong local spirit, Western Australia’s South West region rightly draws visitors seeking a taste of a unique eating and drinking destination. Whether it’s winery fine diners, casual burger spots, brewpubs, farm-to-table restaurants, seafood specialists or wine bars, the range is impressive, the quality always high.
As we wrap the heavy hitters from out latest restaurant guide, even more excitement is on the way, with the likes of Normal Van set to launch a permanent venture for their levelled-up burgers, Alberta’s in Busselton adding dinner service to their winning brunches, and leading chef Brendan Pratt soon to finish up at Vasse Felix to launch a drive-through coffee and sandwich stall that’s sure to punch well above its weight. For now, here’s where to keep on your radar in the months ahead. For more reviews in all of WA, be sure to check out our Top 100.
Vasse Felix, Cowaramup
Paul Holmes à Court’s Vasse Felix restaurant, like the renowned wine brand behind it, is a case study in refinement. Evolution, not revolution. The virtues of this elegant, relaxed eyrie above the vines and sculpture garden have been recounted so many times, and deservedly so, meaning for Vasse it’s a matter of maintaining standards, and they do.
The menu changes frequently, but the ethos of a simple plate representing craft, thoughtful combinations and maturity, and dishes that work with wine, are the restaurant’s central pillars.
Equally, the kitchen keeps stretching itself without necessarily stretching the diner. The menu changes frequently, but the ethos of a simple plate representing craft, thoughtful combinations and maturity, and dishes that work with wine, are the restaurant’s central pillars. We’re thinking dishes like the cured scallop with apple or the mortadella-stuffed char siu glazed quail. Or braised beef rib with oyster emulsion and a black caviar sauce. Distinct and clever flavours and textures in harmony, not contest.
And then there’s the craft of the restaurateur, too, the little things that drive the experience: the hospitality, service, and amenity of an à la carte or tasting menu choice, not the didactic approach of so many in the South West. In short, one of the state’s very best restaurants remains exactly that, an achievement worth celebrating.
Cnr Caves Road and Tom Cullity Drive, Cowaramup; vassefelix.com.au
Wills Domain, Yallingup
Change is afoot at Wills, with former Wildflower and Hearth chef Jed Gerrard stepping in to run the kitchen. Across seven courses it’s clear his signing has been fruitful, with clear ideas pulled off with finesse.
A dish of chilled scallops plays with temperature as well as texture, the flesh topped with crisp kohlrabi and served alongside wasabi snow.
The presentation, too, is striking. Cultured butter is moulded into the shape of a beehive and drizzled with estate honey to go with house rolls. Carrot macarons are piped with chicken-liver parfait and served on an upturned nasturtium leaf. A dish of chilled scallops plays with temperature as well as texture, the flesh topped with crisp kohlrabi and served alongside wasabi snow, while pressed potato with Gruyère is served with intense preserved truffle.
This is cooking outside the box, pulled off with exactitude – smoked duck breast is crisp-skinned next to a sheet of beetroot; ginger custard and desert lime sorbet is given acid and crunch from native fruits and ribbons of youlk. Wine sticks to the Wills roster, but service is worldly to match world-class views over vines and a near-unrivalled experience on the plate.
17 Brash Road (cnr Abbey Farm & Brash Roads), Yallingup; willsdomain.com.au
Frui Momento, Wilyabrup
Perhaps the best, most exciting aspect of this big-hitting lakeside, vineside restaurant run by Seth James in collaboration with Larry Cherubino, is how it breaks the South West paddock-to-plate mould and dedicates an entire section of the menu to seafood.
Marvel at the sweet funk in the XO sauce capping crisp battered squid.
Whether you’re dining underneath the vaulted ceiling, or in the al fresco section (where the fruits de mer are the bulk of the offer along with a cute chicken skewer and a gorgeously light taramasalata), it pays to load your table with at least a couple of picks. Do it if only to experience the joy of folding (peeled!) charred octopus into roasted seaweed and topping it with pickles and ssamjang. Or to marvel at the sweet funk in the XO sauce capping crisp battered squid.
The menu proper holds appeal, too. In lamb, served raw and seasoned with soy and black bean, or ruby-centred wagyu rump with daikon for freshness. Props, too, for serving koshihikari rice with miso pumpkin as a thoughtful vegetarian main. Graceful staff, meanwhile, know their way around a stacked wine list confident enough to look beyond Cherubino drops. A dreamy newcomer, on its way to becoming one of the West’s defining restaurants.
3478 Caves Road, Wilyabrup; fruimomento.com.au
Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River
Leeuwin offers its pampered diners several back vintages by the glass; it’s not the only sign of maturity at this iconic Margaret River estate. Britpacker Dan Gedge, now in his fifth year at the helm of the kitchen, seems to have found the holy grail: the intersection of creativity, technique, fine local produce and a canny reading of his audience.
But the bottom line really is that skill and mature ideas make a meal here a perfectly pitched, start-to-finish, tour de force.
In short, the food at Leeuwin has never been better. The subtle melding of apple, raw scallop, crème fraîche, kohlrabi and horseradish, for example, or a memorable snack of baked brioche with cheddar custard and truffle, like bread and butter pudding. Sublime. Given Gedge’s background in the UK with Rick Stein, seafood is a real strength: a hapuku dish with smoky bonito sauce, mussels, leek and finger lime is an absolute standout. Saucing – with mushroom and celeriac – plays its part superbly with local wagyu sirloin too.
But the bottom line really is that skill and mature ideas make a meal here a perfectly pitched, start-to-finish, tour de force. The “three-course” tasting menu with extra snacks, and petit fours, is also outstanding value for money. Service staff know their stuff and the location is idyllic – just a touch more love for the dining room itself would seal it.
Stevens Road, Margaret River; leeuwinestate.com.au
Cullen Biodynamic Wine Room, Wilyabrup
Most West Australians have had a memorable experience at Cullen, one of the Margaret River’s founding wineries, and by far and away the leader when it comes to sustainable and provenance-led winemaking. While the wine game has been unwaveringly impressive, the food offering at the winery restaurant has ebbed and flowed over the years. However, the menu is blossoming under newly appointed head chef Ben Day, who is leading a lean and creative kitchen built around the biodynamic garden.
The food here matches the energy and vibrancy of the wine and the terroir from which it comes.
Day’s influence is already evident in clever snacks such as taramasalata on a paper-thin artichoke crisp, or line-caught Augusta pink snapper, plated with a perfectly balanced trio of eggplant purée (charred over coals and smoked with oak), a gentle kick from a kutjera harissa and a creamy labne. Arkady lamb is served with a heady jus, garden-fresh broad beans and a herbaceous lift from a simple broad-bean-leaf garnish. A subtle, yet clever touch to tie the dish in seamlessly with its suggested wine pairing, a glass of Diana Madeline, obviously. The food here matches the energy and vibrancy of the wine and the terroir from which it comes. Time to book your table.
4323 Caves Road, Wilyabrup; cullenwines.com.au
Glenarty Road, Karridale
Pull into Glenarty Road, and Sasha and Ben McDonald have planted out the front with extensive vegetable gardens. Broad beans are in bloom, sugarloaf cabbage is pert, and behind the beds sheep roam the paddocks. Roll up for your booking early, and you might be directed to the counter right in the throng of the rustic shed dining room to taste the admirable and approachable Glenarty Road wines, often by someone with their own connection to the property.
It’s this spirit and energy that make eating here such a pleasure, with staff genuinely excited to share the exploits of the kitchen.
It’s this spirit and energy that make eating here such a pleasure, with staff genuinely excited to share the exploits of the kitchen, a casual tone that extends to the setting and diners who are happy to relax into the afternoon. Things might kick off with a lobe of fried bread piped with chicken-liver parfait before the farm plate lands, each cut of charcuterie – lamb sausage, perhaps, or black pudding with vibrant salsa verde – made in-house with their animals.
The main event is most often a plate of Glenarty lamb in elegant jus, but it’s the sides that bring it home – that cabbage with bacon in anchovy dressing, especially, rocks. Gingerbread and mandarin pudding, like the rest, is charming, well executed and certain to inspire return visits.
70 Glenarty Road, Karridale; glenartyroad.com.au
When the head chef and gardener from Noma, the world-leading restaurant, moved to pint-sized Busselton, it came with raised expectations. Would their project be equally ambitious, raising the stakes not just for the West but for all of the country? It’s fair to say no one was expecting Alberta’s.
Pickles and preserves are their own, bread is housemade, smoked eggs are gooey, greens (from Gunyulgup Farm) are fresh, and anything hot is most likely heated in an inviting hearth.
Here Ben Ing and Kirsty Marchant have taken it slow. More café than restaurant (at least for now), a chalkboard menu might feature just two plates plus sweets, propped up by infusions, teas and Five Senses coffee. But look closer, and it’s clear that every facet has been given fierce attention: the room, for example, is elegantly Nordic, shelves lined with plants, dry goods and plates collected from op-shops.
Pickles and preserves are their own, bread is housemade, smoked eggs are gooey, greens (from Gunyulgup Farm) are fresh, and anything hot is most likely heated in an inviting hearth – and that’s just for the farm plate. A cup of broth reveals layers of complexity, and a pear and almond cream tart lets the fruit bring most of the sweetness. Service, too, is elevated, and as good as it is already, the recent launch of dinners suggest there’s plenty, plenty more to come.
3/55 Queen Street, Busselton; instagram.com/albertas_busselton
There’s a moment as you drop down into Yallingup on the coastal road, when you see the ocean, surfers paddling out and waiting for a wave, that your mood instantly lifts. Lagoon just serves to carry that feeling further. At first glance it may seem like a smart coastal kiosk pumping out cut-above breakfast and hundreds of coffees a day – and in the mornings it is – but come lunch a seafood-forward menu that’s modern, casual, shareable and perfectly pitched for the locale takes over.
Roast garlic, a punchy prawn oil and saltbush elevate without taking away from the hands-on joy of coal-roasted prawns.
The ocean trout sausage roll – fatty within, crisp without – drizzled in fennel ketchup has fast become a bite-sized local favourite. Roast garlic, a punchy prawn oil and saltbush elevate without taking away from the hands-on joy of coal-roasted prawns. Cos salad could be an afterthought, but instead it’s given room to shine: there’s generosity and smarts in crisp well-dressed leaves tossed with dainty onions and dill. For the rest, chef-owner Ben Jacob might dress sardines with escabeche, or fried fish wings with Sichuan pepper caramel, at each turn giving personal attention to each preparation. Service is quick and personable. And wine? The suggestion of a drop from local small-batch winemaker Tripe Iscariot proves they’ve got a handle on another of the region’s draws.
2/6 Dawson Drive, Yallingup; lagoonyallingup.com.au
Chow’s Table, Yallingup
There was a time when Chow’s Table was a local favourite, its reputation with visitors to the South West just developing. Times have changed. Chow’s, as you’ll more often hear it referred, is now one of the region’s most well-regarded restaurants and booking is very recommended.
Chow’s, as you’ll more often hear it referred, is now one of the region’s most well-regarded restaurants and booking is very recommended.
Mal Chow draws up on his own heritage with a menu that leans to Chinese-Malay cuisine. Ordering from the well-priced set menu there’s guidance from front of house either to add some greens or drop one of the meat dishes. Starters are opening salvos of punchy flavour, from sesame-coated squid toasts with elegant dabs of citrus mayo, to plump pork and chive dumplings that swim in a dressing of Chinese black vinegar and chilli oil good enough to drink. Well-spiced chicken ribs come with a verbal warning: the chillies are not for consumption.
In building a roster of shareable mains, there’s plenty of dishes like the steamed egg “mapo tofu” or the duck-fat fried rice, but the non-negotiable is the signature Chinese-style roast duck that you’ll spy hanging in the kitchen as you first enter. Like Chow’s, it’s an antidote – if you need one – to the culinary affectations of so much of this region’s fine dining.
12/5 Quininup Road, Yallingup; chowstable.com.au
Miki’s Open Kitchen, Margaret River
Have you even been “down south” if you’ve never been for a meal at Miki’s Open Kitchen?Capturing the essence of Margaret River, Miki’s is a pilgrimage for those that value experiential dining; here a sense of place marries artful Japanese dishes with local produce. While the restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere (in part thanks to the calm, if slightly theatrical attitude set by Miki in his open-plan kitchen), the attention to detail from service through to menu execution is sound.
Capturing the essence of Margaret River, Miki’s is a pilgrimage for those that value experiential dining.
Choose from the seven- or eight-course dégustation, with a six-course option for kids. The flavour and texture journey is carefully mapped, from a zippy palate wake-up of nashi pear, yuzu powder and gel, through to umami earthiness of shiitake and miso soup, finishing up with a dive into rice nori tempura topped with salmon caviar. Local producers are given the spotlight, such as Farmhouse pork wrapped in nori served with Manjimup cauliflower.
The drinks list is smart and the staff know their stuff. International wine options nestle among quality locals, with sake, gin and whisky pairings also on offer. Above all, a visit to Miki’s is a lesson in hospitality, with the venue’s energy and tone set by the man himself. Margs is lucky to have him.
131 Bussell Highway, Margaret River; mikisopenkitchen.com.au
Eat and Drink Like a Local
A little off the beaten track, Beerfarm is a destination for beer lovers looking for a quality feed centred around the barbecue smoker. With a vast rustic indoor and outdoor dining area, guests can perch at one of the communal benches or find a spot of their own. Kids (and dogs too) are welcome inside and out – the pool table and pinball machines will entertain if it happens to be a rainy day, with the slip ’n’ slide a drawcard in warmer months.
Understandably meat plays a sizeable role on the menu – crisp-fried lamb ribs, smoky hot wings and pork-belly tacos are made for sticky-fingered sharing.
Burnt Ends Smoking Co has collaborated with Beerfarm on the culinary front, with most dishes enjoying an element of smoky goodness from the barbecue, including the Angus burger in which a smoked tomato jam elevates classic flavours. Beef is sourced from the cattle on the working farm that the brewery sits on, and other local producers are listed on the menu. Understandably meat plays a sizeable role on the menu – crisp-fried lamb ribs, smoky hot wings and pork-belly tacos are made for sticky-fingered sharing. Firecracker cauliflower has the fat-salt-sweet ratio nailed – perfect drinking food for vegetarians – and the richness of charred South West octopus is nicely balanced with kipflers and hummus. Non-beer drinkers, meanwhile, have a good selection of local wines and softs. With a solid following, this Metricup mainstay demands booking ahead, or you’ll likely miss out.
177 Gale Road, Metricup; beerfarm.com.au
Market Eating House, Bunbury
Even with a good playlist or podcast, there is almost nothing redeeming about the drive down south from Perth on a Friday afternoon – until you get to Bunbury’s Market Eating House, that is. Don’t punish yourself deliberating over the main menu when the “feed me” option delivers six mezze plates, one main from a choice of five, plus three sides, and an optional dessert if you haven’t already overdone it, much of it kissed by wood fire.
Slather fluffy housemade Levantine-style bread with lashings of what may well be WA’s most inventive hummus, peppered with pickled octopus, prawn and fennel.
Slather fluffy house-made Levantine-style bread with lashings of what may well be WA’s most inventive hummus, peppered with pickled octopus, prawn and fennel. Take a trip to the seaside with crisp sardine and prawn fritto misto served with tangy caper mayonnaise. Then pick the slow-roasted lamb shoulder as the main course, which comes with a crisp Lebanese-style cabbage salad featuring cucumber, radish and pomegranate, and a plate of fragrant jewelled rice.
Locals and visitors alike celebrate with a dozen-strong cocktail list, an exclusively WA beer list and mocktails, including an alcohol-free Paloma. Then, of course, there’s the extensive wine list that stays loyal to locals, apart from a few interstate and international bottles. It’s all good value, generously proportioned, and almost impossible to finish; don’t be afraid to ask for takeaway.
9 Victoria Street, Bunbury; marketeatinghouse.com.au
Burger Bones, Busselton
On the main street of Busselton, Burger Bones has become an essential part of the region’s dining scene thanks to “Coops Deville” Cooper and his quest for burger perfection. Buns are fermented for 24 hours before steaming and toasting, which results in a superior bun with integrity and structure to hold up to the juicy (local, grass-fed) chuck patty. The classic burger – The Yellow – is built from a balanced ratio of meat, American cheese, dill pickle, salad and mustard mayo. Other picks include the Sauerkraut Royale, with a healthy dose of pickle, mustard and Dunsborough ’kraut, and the Dirt Box, complete with maple-bourbon bacon.
Buns are fermented for 24 hours before steaming and toasting, which results in a superior bun with integrity and structure.
Of course, a burger experience isn’t complete without fries, and they don’t disappoint – fluffy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, and dusted with an addictive secret seasoning. The attention to detail extends to house-made condiments and a selection of drinks spanning local softs and US imports. There’s generosity, too, in the vegan offers and the option to BYO, although there’s hope to soon stock craft beers and local wines to drink-in. The menu may be small, but it’s perfectly formed with the star of the show the unadulterated burger.
55 Queen Street, Busselton; facebook.com/burgerbones
Lady Lola, Dunsborough
“It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, except for Lola”, to quote the famous song by The Kinks. Maintaining consistency has been hard for many venues during Covid, but offering a concise, seasonal menu has worked for Dunsborough’s Lady Lola; there isn’t anything that seems mixed, muddled or shook up here between summer and winter visits.
Michelle Forbes conjures beautiful Euro-inflected dishes full of robust flavours from the tiniest of kitchens.
Amber glassware and light fittings add to a retro feel, although there’s nothing dated about the cooking, with Michelle Forbes conjuring beautiful Euro-inflected dishes full of robust flavours from the tiniest of kitchens. Nab a spot at the bar and Forbes plates wafer-thin slices of prosciutto and capocollo with baguette and salted French butter. Albany sardines come with piquillo pepper, cucumber, olives and fennel – a refreshing, tart counterpoint to the charcuterie.
On a cool night in the courtyard, a warm, rich beef ragù with gnochetti fortifies the soul, as does Marinela Antonic’s extensive, expressive drinks list. It leans Euro, or Euro in style, with a focus on small-batch wines and those made with minimal intervention. Aperitivi, Gin and Tonics and amaro star, too. A refined, thoroughly enjoyable addition to Dunsborough, hitting its stride.
4/16 Cyrillean Way, Dunsborough; ladylola.com.au
Like these? Don’t skip The Settler’s Tavern for local flavour, no-fuss pub fare made with top-notch ingredients, and one of the state’s all-time great wine lists.