I gladly accepted an invitation to dine at Aravina Estate in Margaret River, keen to try the food of one of my favourite chefs in his new kitchen. Aravina’s new executive chef Tony Howell made a name for himself winning a legion of fans and numerous awards overs 15 years at Cape Lodge, listed in Condé Nast’s 2012 Gold List and named Best Boutique Hotel in Australia.
From the moment I arrived, I knew I’d be impressed with Aravina Estate. A red Ferrari in the car park, a cute wooden walkway leading to lush lawns lined with eucalyptus, pretty gardens with two dams beyond, vistas of the vineyard, and a magnificent cellar door and restaurant that would not look out of place in the Hamptoms or on the set of hit television show ‘Revenge’. Outside white wooden railings surround a large alfresco terrace dining area that takes advantage of the stunning view. The beautiful grounds have hosted many weddings, including that of winery owner Steve Tobin just a couple of weeks ago.
Families will love lunching at Aravina. Eat in peace while your kids run around climbing, swinging and playing.
From the terrace, parents can easily keep one eye on the fenced children’s playground that would be the envy of many local councils I’m sure.
My favourite part, the kitchen garden. Executive Chef Tony Howell was almost frothing at the mouth as he talked about the massive ten-bed garden growing seasonable produce including all manner of herbs, several types of lettuce, zucchini, cucumber, beetroot, chilli, capsicum and much more. More fruit trees have also been planted.
“That’s the great thing about working here, [owner] Steve [Tobin] is open to suggestions and when I said I’d love a kitchen garden, he made it happen. Check it out!” Tony said.
“Everything in the salmon dish, except the salmon, comes from this garden, freshly picked just hours before it is served.”
Walking in, the classy white interior, large windows letting in an abundance of light, high ceilings, lantern-style light fittings, Italian tiled floor and French inspired decor is chic, elegant, and inviting.
The wine tasting counter takes centre stage, as it should. Towards the back of the building is an opulent private dining room, perfect for a party of ten.
Private dining or wine tasting room
Shelves containing cookbooks, vases, photo frames, table ware, kitchen accessories and ornaments are gorgeously displayed around the wine tasting area and also in shop floor area beyond.
The restaurant and cafe is beautiful. White linen, fresh flowers, elegant glass ware, and quality cutlery and crockery instantly set the tone for the dining experience to come.
Enter the building, walk past the wine tasting area, past the cafe, through the stunning gift and home ware shop and you’ll find yourself in a sports car gallery. High school memories raced through my head as I clocked a yellow S/LR 5000 Torana, a 1972 Valient Charger, and 1973 GT Ford Falcon.
There’s also vintage Citroen, Aston Martin, and a Daytona Ferrari as well as several of sexy modern Italian makes. The rev-head in me was squealing with delight. Who would’ve thought a posh-looking winery would appeal to car lovers or those of us that keep our inner bogan suppressed?
Wine maker Jodie Opie joined Aravina in 2011 after gaining experience at Lenton Brae and Voyager Estate. I liked all the wines, having said that, tasting wine is so subjective.
The vintage sparkling was light and clean. The Vermintino, and Italian varietal, was clean with an acidic finish. My palate has gone off Sauvingnon Blanc Semillon in recent years, but I really enjoyed the citrus and fresh qualities of Aravina’s. The Chardonnay was my favourite.
Of the reds, I was delighted to see an Italian varietal Nebbiolo on offer. The tannins were tight but with time it will open up to be a beautiful wine to enjoy with winter Italian dishes. The Cabernet Merlot was easy drinking, the Cabernet Sauvignon left a beautiful plummy taste in my mouth, and I really enjoyed the Shiraz Tempranillo blend.
“We’ve planted a special varietal of Tempranillo and Malbec – it’s good to have different varietals on offer, as well as the classic ones the region is known for. It makes us different to the other wineries,” Jodie said.
James Halliday named Aravina Estate as “one of the ten best new wineries” in the 2014 Australian Wine Companion. The wines have also won a multitude of medals at wine shows across Australia.
I put my diet on hold and threw my gluten-free ways out the window when whipped truffle butter accompanied freshly baked bread arrived at the table. We shared a number of dishes so we could try as many things as we could possibly fit in.
The pork terrine, mustard fruits, pickled walnuts and persian feta was fantastic. The terrine on its own was rich, but perfect when mixed with the mustard fruits and the phenomenal pickled walnuts.
The seared Esperance scallops avocado tian, tomato and chorizo crumb were delicate, and cooked perfectly. Everything married beautifully.
The special of the day, ricotta stuffed zucchini flower and house smoked salmon – it was divine.
King fish sashimi, asian omelette and ginger jelly was sensational. The asian flavours were perfectly balanced, it was fresh, light, and I could eat that dish every day and not tire of it. It didn’t look as pretty as some other dishes, that look like art in comparison, but taste-wise, it was perfect in every sense.
Smoked goats cheese. Who smokes goat cheese? Chef Tony Howell, that’s who. And it was nothing short of amazing. I’m told he uses local off cut jarrah wood chips, not oak ones that are used in the wine marking process, to smoke things in-house. Teamed with beetroot carpaccio, sous vide celery, orange and some crunchy brioche, this dish is visually stunning. The smoked goats cheese was so delicious, this wins dish of the day for originality and presentation.
The Shark Bay king prawn, compressed pineapple, green papaya, herbs and won ton was crunchy, fresh, and perfect for a hot summer’s day. The Asian flavours were beautifully balanced with the sweetness of the pineapple. It felt healthy to eat.
Time for a refreshing mouth cleanser. Lemon sorbet with lemon and lime sherbet and citrus peel.
Feeling absolutely full after sharing the above, we just had one main dish, steamed duck yellow curry, crispy skin, fried peanuts, pickled chilli and herb salad. It looked beautiful on the plate, and smelled fantastic too. One of my lovely dining companions, Sandra, loved this dish – for her, it was the dish of the day. For me, it was too spicy and hot for my chilli-intolerant palate. I don’t mind a bit of heat, but I’m a weakling in that department.
How pretty is this dessert? Compressed watermelon, coconut sorbet, herb syrup, lychee foam, seasonal fruit and sesame crisp. Every element was fantastic and it was beautiful and light. The perfect ending to a decedant lunch.
Aravina Estate just completed a new function room that can seat 160 comfortably. It features a bar at one end, crystal chandeliers, Italian travertine tiles, cathedral ceilings, and large bi-fold doors so the room can incorporate the outdoor terrace. Off the function room, past the guest toilets, is a bridal suite, complete with a lounge area, dressing area, and bathroom with plenty of mirrors and bench space for the all important hair and make up touch ups. It’s a stunning space.
Add Aravina Estate to your Margaret River itinerary. Not only are there award winning wines to taste and buy, but you can shop, kids can play, you can wander amongst the vines, admire the vegetable garden, and best of all, have a meal you won’t forget.
Tony Howell is producing food as good as he ever has. Despite the increase in covers, the food comes from the same quality local suppliers, is treated with the same respect and attention to detail is evident in every dish. Do yourself a favour and book in now.
My score: 9.5/10 (just lost half a mark because the curry was too hot for my palate)
Disclosure: Dianne Bortoletto was a guest of Aravina Estate and all reviews are based on merit.
61 Thornton Road, Yallingup WA 6282
Tel: 08 9235 4600
The Cellar Door and Cafe are open everyday 10am-5pm and the restaurant is open for lunch everyday 11.30am-3pm. Bookings recommended.