Till this day, my mum still reminisces about a Leeuwin Estate seafood bouillabaisse so exquisite at a dinner which dates back to December 2004. To me, this must surely be the definition of an “unforgettable dish” at a restaurant.
For many years, I have admired the style of Leeuwin’s Art Series cabernet sauvignon for its earthiness and complexity. Mushroom-y forest floor and sweaty horse saddle are hallmarks distinctively different from most others in Australia.
The Art Series chardonnay has been consistently rated as one of Australia’s finest with its toasty, nutty notes layered by a malolactic, buttery mouthfeel with incredible balance between oak, mineral and fruit.
Artworks at the art gallery showcases some of Australia’s greatest artists. John Olsen’s famous frogs are among the inspiration on the bottle label for Leeuwin Estate’s riesling.
And after more than ten years, Mysaucepan and I come with high expectations for a Boxing Day lunch with her mother, my sister Alice and nephew Jack.
I can’t help but feel stately when driving through this sprawling estate. Row after row of chardonnay, cabernet and pinot noir grapevines greet us as we approach the winery and restaurant.
It is a cool and slightly overcast summer day … just the kind of day to laze on the lawns, wild away an afternoon with a bottle of your favourite Leeuwin and some soft camembert.
Perched above ground, the restaurant has panoramic views of its lush greenery and a concert stage which has hosted such music luminaries as Sting, Diana Krall and James Taylor to name a few.
After so many years since our last visit, we eagerly dwelve into the menu to check out what’s cooking.
The restaurant is almost at full capacity when we arrive for our lunch booking at 2pm.
Most of the tables on the terrace overlooking the sprawling lawns are occupied.
The Art Series cabernet sauvignon that I first tasted was the 1995 vintage back in the late 1990s.
I remember this wine to be relatively “big” at 14.7% alcohol content. It costs about $50 back then while the current 2012 vintage (13.5% alcohol content) retails at $64.99 per bottle at Dan Murphy.
“Not bad value” I thought to myself.
Hints of cassis and dark fruit are predominant and tannins are soft after a few minutes in the glass. Oak is subtle and the finish is long and lingering.
Mysaucepan‘s glass of 2013 Leeuwin Estate Art Series chardonnay ($29 per glass) is a little too young for my liking. Citrus notes and oak are subtle but way before its time.
We decide to kickstart our Leeuwin sojourn by sharing a couple of entrees.
Caramelised Augusta green lip abalone, scallop, yuzu, miso
Slices of abalone are tender with nuances of sweet teriyaki.
Scallops are presented slightly seared and sashimi style with a citrusy yuzu cream.
Split barbeque North West prawns, xo butter
Though a little small the split barbeque prawns are beautifully charred with smoky aromas. The XO butter is decadent with seafood and chilli flavour and we order a few slices of sourdough to mop it all up.
This is a great start to our Leeuwin experience after so many years … or so we thought.
Grilled goldband snapper, coconut, pumpkin, carrot, broccoli, coriander
On arrival of this snapper, my first impression is this establishment has gone backwards in the last twelve years since we were here.
If Leeuwin claims to be the top-notch establishment that it is, then show us some cooking finesse with a fish fillet that is square or rectangular in shape. Trim off the tail end to make us the beautiful bouillabaisse we had in 2004.
Pan sear snapper, salmon and barramundi are great opportunities for a chef to showcase deft skill with a crispy skin side up. This snapper looks like the $12 one I had at a roadside fish and chips van on the way to watching whales at Kaikoura in the South island of New Zealand … amateurish at best.
Apart from pumpkin being Mother’s favourite root vegetable, this dish looks like one from a good Sydney RSL club.
45 days dry aged Black Angus sirloin, anchovies, cumin, eggplant, wagyu fat, heirloom tomato
My sirloin is a complication of flavours with overpowering anchovy aromas. Which restaurant of good standing adds cumin to a good steak unless it is Indian or Middle Eastern-inspired? This steak reminds of flavours from a A & W Coney Dog.
My preference for this sirloin is to let the produce speak for itself and not complicate flavours with the multitude of unnecessary side shows – like a fishy anchovy puree and eggplant tapanade.
This may not allow the steak to command a premium price but purist steak lovers will bestow respect because less is more when it comes to a good piece of meat on a plate.
South West marron, Wagin duck, plum, Szechuan butter
The only other place that purportedly beats West Australian marron is Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia.
Mysaucepan and Alice find the marron tender and succulent.
Though slices of plum are a good pairing, the pulled duck is rather dry on its own. Perhaps a sweet and tangy plum sauce a la Kylie Kwong and bits of crispy duck fat for textural contrast might have got them a little more excited.
Special – 800 grams rib eye on the bone
Our friendly waitress Ashley quips to Jack the special rib eye is pretty big and meant for two people. Then again, our nephew is a strapping young 21-year old with a huge appetite at 2.30 pm after only an apple for breakfast this morning.
And as promised, an 800 grams rib eye arrives on a huge platter with a generous dollop of Dijon.
Personally, I totally dislike my steak sliced up by the chef. Why do chefs insist on slicing up a steak when each meat lover might have a different way of doing it at his or her own pace? To me, a good steak should always be presented as one well-cooked and rested piece of meat. And if it has to be sliced up by the chef for whatever reason, it should at least be rearranged to resemble the cut of meat that it was.
In this case, the poor rib eye has been butchered and piled into a heap that looks like offcuts for a dog’s breakfast. I might forgive this kind of presentation if it was a casual neighbourhood pub but for an establishment like Leeuwin, I give it a firm two out of ten.
As we all help Jack fulfil his challenge of finishing this huge pile of meat, we soon discover an overpowering aroma wafting from either one of our steaks.
French fries, bay salt
The French fries accompanying the rib eye are thin and crisp.
And I am all for rustic, unpeeled fries in a casual and grungy café in Sydney’s Newtown. But for an iconic, 100-bucks-per-bottle-of-red establishment, presenting unpeeled shoestrings is like bringing a takeaway sandwich to a smorgasbord.
“Does anyone smell blue cheese?” someone asks.
After a few slices of this rib eye, I cannot decide whether I am eating a piece of beef steak that is way overcooked at some parts or a medium rare piece of beef laced with gorgonzola with undercooked and cake-like fatty bits still coagulated and barely caramelized.
Worse still, some slices remind me of tough, chewy and jaw-breaking biltong with a foul odour. Texture and taste-wise, giving this piece of so-called meat that cost $144 a rating of one out of ten is being too generous.
Poor Jack is still hungry despite an 800 gram steak meant for two and why wouldn’t he be? Little did our waitress Ashley know he was only being kind and gracious in conceding defeat when she noticed hefty chunks of meat left on his plate.
Baked chocolate cheesecake, brownie, nectarine, blueberries
This dessert is exactly what it says on the menu.
Four different things that happen to be assembled on the same plate minus any form of creative integration.
We raise the rib eye issue with another waitress who appeared oblivious to the fact the meat was tough with a strong and unpleasant odour. She proceeded to explain the process of drying meat which we know all about.
I am not sure why so many patrons and food bloggers are waxing harmonious lyrics about this restaurant. The entrees are reasonably good as they should be at these prices. But the rather expensive mains are a true test of kitchen alchemy and they are struggling to beat the best from Sydney’s good RSL clubs.
Will we come back again? It is a definite no because as I write this blog post, I am reminiscing our meal yesterday at another one of Margaret River’s iconic winery that truly blew us away.
Our meal at Leeuwin today resembled the great one here back in 2004 because it was also truly unforgettable albeit for all the wrong reasons.
So dear readers, which is your favourite winery restaurant in Margaret River?
Stevens road, Margaret River
Tel: +61 8 9759 0000
Opening hours: Open daily for lunch and Saturday evening for dinner
Cellar door hours: Daily 10am – 5pm