Growing up in NSW, I can confidently say that I’ve travelled a good portion of the beautiful state. However, I’ve been in Perth for a few years now and I haven’t really made my way around this huge state as much as I’ve wanted. To celebrate our three year anniversary, A organised a weekend away at Foragers in Pemberton, an area I had yet to see. Foragers is run by Sophie Zalokar, a qualified chef who has worked with Maggie Beer and grew up in the Barossa Valley, and Chris Zalokar, who grew up in Switzerland and is a builder by trade. They moved to Pemberton and launched Foragers, a multi-dimensional establishment that houses eco-chalets and farm cottages on a beautiful 19 acre property. There is also a ‘field kitchen’, a cooking school, a large kitchen garden and orchard on site, where they grow heirloom vegetables, herbs, and heritage fruit varieties as well as host seasonal dinners and cooking classes.
On the Friday we left Perth, I had to work a few hours in the morning and only arrived home at 11am. A assured me that it was only a 3 hour drive to Pemberton so I thought we’d have plenty of time. By the time we reached Manjimup, which is roughly 30 km away from Pemberton, it was getting dark and I was keen to reach shelter (as it was also about to storm). Seeing as though A and I only had two nights in Pemberton, we decided to dine in our eco-lodge for the Friday night and then head to the Seasonal Dinner on the Saturday night. The eco-lodge is fully equipped with an excellent kitchen, which includes utensils, pots, pans, an oven, stovetop and dishwasher, as well as salt, pepper and locally made olive oil. When we finally reached Pemberton, we decided that we were both too tired to cook, so decided to buy an array of goodies to create a platter. We then made two very important pit stops: Holy Smoke Gourmet Food Shop and the local IGA.
Finding the Holy Smoke Gourmet Food Shop was integral after hearing excellent things about their range of smoked products. When we arrived at the tiny store, we headed straight to the fridge (see the picture below). There were lots of smoked options, including chicken, trout, salmon and bacon as well as a range of dips to choose from. We chose to buy the Smoked Portuguese Chicken and their Smoked Chicken Pate.
We then headed to the local IGA to grab some local Pemberton avocados, crackers, Margaret River Camembert Cheese, Garlic and Chili marinated green olives and prosciutto for our platter. To finish our evening with something sweet, we also bought one of the new Connoisseur ice-creams to try – the Snowy Mountain Blueberry Crumble. (On a side note, I hear that the three new flavours will be available nationally on the 13 September).
Seeing as though our anniversary was earlier in the week, I had purchased a bottle of wine to drink with our anniversary dinner but we never got to drink it. Instead, we took it down to Pemberton with us. It was a lovely bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir from the South Island, where we will be travelling to in November. I felt slightly odd drinking a New Zealand wine while staying in a wine-making region but alas, it was an excellent wine that was a lovely addition to our evening.
When we arrived at our little eco-lodge, I fell slightly in love. It was a quaint little abode which had an excellent kitchen, lounge, two bedrooms and a large bathroom. There was also a deck outside that overlooked the paddock. In the fridge was a container of ground Fiori coffee beans and a litre of Bannister Downs milk. One of my favourite aspects of our stay was the rainwater. It tasted amazing! I couldn’t get enough of it while I was there and can’t wait to invest in one in the future.
As soon as we arrived, A got to work on lighting the fire and before long, the place was toasty. We then cracked open the bottle of vino and created the platter of our local produce. The Holy Smoke products were amazing. The smoked chicken was strong in flavour but the chicken itself was still really juicy (as I thought it might be dry due to the smoking procedure). The pate was really rich in flavour. The Friday night was spent eating the platter slowly next to the fire and looking out at the lovely view of the paddock while watching the rain. It was something that I have never had the opportunity to do but it was an amazing experience that was so relaxing and definitely memorable.
We woke the next day to a complimentary continental breakfast hamper of freshly made bread, butter, homemade strawberry jam and two bottles of Tangletoe’s soft apple cider. There was also some more ground Fiori coffee beans, so I got to work on making the coffees while A made us some breakfast. While working in hospitality throughout uni and high school, I learnt how to make a good cup of coffee. It had been a while so I spent a bit of time trying to reconcile with the coffee machine before making our first cup. The coffee was balanced, but the milk wasn’t hot enough. After breakfast I gave it a second attempt, determined to make the perfect cup. It was definitely better than some that I’ve bought but it was still not perfect! Very tasty though thanks to the full cream Bannister Downs milk and Fiori coffee beans used. A had made our breakfast using a local avocado from Pemberton, which was served with a bit of salt and pepper. A perfect combination with Sophie’s home-made sourdough bread. The second slice was made with Sophie’s strawberry jam, which still had large chunks of fresh strawberries throughout it. It was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a while with such simple but fresh ingredients (and well made coffees!)After breakfast, we spent the rest of the morning reading the pile of Spice Magazines available in our chalet. After a bit of reading, we headed out for a walk to see the Cascades. It’s supposedly only a 2km walk from Foragers but I think it’s a bit more than that! Maybe it felt longer due to A stopping regularly to take photos of the wildlife and botany (as she is an Environmental Scientist).
When we got back to the lodge it was lunch time, so A made me an open sandwich with the leftovers from Sophie’s homemade bread, avocado and the Holy Smoke smoked chicken. I could eat like that for weeks! We then went for a drive to a few places nearby, including Salitage Winery (which also produce Treehouse wines) and Mountford Winery and Cidery (who make the Tangletoe soft cider that we sampled at breakfast).
The seasonal dinner on the Saturday night was amazing. On the site of Foragers is a “Field Kitchen”, a small restaurant that houses Sophie in the kitchen with her two helpers. The front of house is run by her son and husband, Chris. The small restaurant seats 40 people (and I believe it is full nearly every Saturday evening). The restaurant has four long communal tables and there is a large window allowing the diners to view into the kitchen. I was amazed that a restaurant that sits 40 people can be run by a total of five people – three in the kitchen and two front of house. The restaurant is BYO only so we bought along a bottle of the 2009 Salitage Unwooded Chardonnay which we purchased earlier that day at the winery. It was a beautiful bottle of white that suited our meal perfectly.
Our first dish arrived which was Tea-smoked Trout, Creme Fraiche & Buckwheat Blinis. Sophie described her cooking process of the tea-smoked trout which took a total of 20 minutes in her BBQ. The end result was lightly smoked flavour within the very tender trout on little buckwheat blinis (small Russian pancakes). An excellent starter.
The Farro, Lentil and Leek Soup with Parmesan was my favourite dish of the evening. It was served with a slice of Sophie’s sourdough bread (yum!) and it was so lovely in flavour and texture. The farro (a type of grain) and lentils kept their texture and the flavour of the three main ingredients was an amazing combination. It was a very filling dish and as you can see from the picture it was a very generous serving. Real country home-style cooking at its finest!
The main course was next – Rolled Mt Barker Chicken, Kale Pesto and Local Pickled Walnuts. This was also served with Roast Fennel, Potatoes, Wild Olives, Thyme and Lemon as well as a Spring Leaves and Herbs salad with Mustard Vinaigrette. The rolled chicken was moist and the sauce was full of flavour. The pickled walnuts had the restaurant buzzing with talk. They were sweet and soft – nothing like walnuts! Sophie definitely serves generously, as there was a lot of chicken on my plate. All three plates tasted amazing, with fresh, local ingredients showcased well.
After the main course, Sophie came out of the kitchen to tell us about how she chose the dishes for the night’s seasonal dinner. The majority of the ingredients were all locally sourced, including the Mount Barker chicken, the pickled walnuts from Pretsel Vineyard in Manjimup, the rainbow trout and watercress from Lefroy Brook in Pemberton, the buckwheat from Della Franca Family in Pemberton, the Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Channyridge in Pemberton, the Bannister Downs Dairy from Northcliffe and the Goldrush pears from Newton Bros Orchards in Manjimup.
For dessert, Sophie made Spiced Pear & Currant Tarte Tatin with Mascarpone Ice Cream. When it arrived, it looked beautiful. The spiced pear was full of spices and unfortunately, I didn’t particularly like it the spicy flavour. A really enjoyed it though and I was happy eating the soft, rich mascarpone ice cream!
At the end of the evening, A and I left very satisfied and enjoyed sharing conversations with two other couples that were seated next to us on the communal table. The couple on the left were an older couple from Bunbury who were very lively and funny. The couple on the right were Pemberton locals, who said that they check Sophie’s website weekly to look at her seasonal dinner menu for the coming week. The male (as I didn’t get their names) was currently working as a potato farmer, while his wife’s family are avocado farmers. I spent my time wisely by asking a few specific avocado and potato related questions. My one piece of advice from this conversation is about green potatoes. You know how sometimes you’ll start peeling a potato and there’s a little green tinge to it? Supposedly that means that it’s toxic and you are not supposed to eat it! I’ve been telling everyone I know since, so spread the word!
Unfortunately, Sunday morning came and we were due to leave. On our way back to Perth we stopped at The Red Panda Cafe in Bridgetown for breakfast. There will be a post on that breakfast to follow shortly.
We then stopped In Kirup, as the night before Sophie spoke highly of the fruit and veggies she buys in Kirup. We were a little bit too enthusiastic and bought two beer cartons worth of local fruit and veggies, mince and eggs. Here’s a little pic of our fridge after returning…!
I would definitely recommend a seasonal dinner at Foragers, but a stay in one of their eco-lodges or farm cottages is even moreso recommended if you are into food, wine and beautiful scenery. We had an amazing weekend and it was hard to leave the beautiful surrounds on the Sunday.
And finally, a very special thank you to A for a gorgeous anniversary present! Three years and counting!