Just recently I have been to New Caledonia and its capital, Noumea, the Paris of the Pacific as it was once known. There be no doubting that the French influence in this Island paradise is still so very strong from the ever attractive accent in their speaking to the many ways they enjoy themselves. It is so odd to be so close to Australia (only 2 hours from Brisbane) and yes to have such vibrant French culture – which I love.
Naturally, I had to observe the food and the drinking habits – and so a beer (Number 1 is the local brand and damn fine beer at that) at mid-afternoon was crucial before settling into one of the many eateries on Anse Vata, the beach and tourist part of Noumea. The dining at the Hilton was first class with excellent food and very French service at The Terrasse. I was trained in French cooking and have loved the French forever and so, I am overjoyed to have had such an experience so recently.
It would seem that I could not get away from the French as I travelled to Western Australia and to the Margaret River where I stayed one night at the exclusive and stunning Cape Lodge on Caves Road in Yallingup.The General Manager is Drew Bernhardt and the staff, including restaurant manager and sommelier, were both French. Boy, the service was excellent. However, it was the food from the hands of Executive Chef Tony Howell and his dedicated team that was outstanding. Heavily featured was Margaret River produce and seafood.
No matter where I went with my host, Ian Parmenter (famous for his TV cooking shows called Consuming Passions on ABC TV for 9 years and for having kicked off Tasting Australia and subsequently, G’day USA) and his partner Ann, the emphasis was on local produce and all restaurants and pubs featured MR produce. The apprentice Chefs at the local TAFE have an exercise where they design the menu and cook the dishes for 30 people at the Harvest Lunch, held monthly at the small dining room in the campus.
As Drew Bernhardt pointed out to me, the array of produce in the MR is second to none – a proud boast and certainly proven at the Cape Lodge Restaurant. That regional attitude is alive and living and well in Perth too where excellent restaurants and loads of fun abound.
I came away from WA thinking just how brilliant a destination it is and with so many varied dining experiences showcasing the excellent produce of the WA and also the very fine cooking skills of the people who use them. Long may regional foods and attitudes reign.
By Peter Howard AM