Keeping It Casual

The Margaret River region has an abundance of exclusive dining experiences - but sometimes a no-fuss feed is just what your holiday calls for.

Sometimes you don’t want a fancy dining experience, and only casual will do. Cassandra Charlick went in search of a no-fuss feed for our latest Your Margaret River Region magazine (Winter edit!) and found some absolute crackers.

Summer undoubtedly has its perks; sultry, alfresco evenings, sun-soaked days for long lunches and warm nights that lead into a glamorous cocktail hour through to late-night bar hopping. Let’s be honest though, when the rainy days hit and the cool weather is here to stay, a whole different type of weekend is called for. The winter wardrobe is unpacked and we all breathe a sigh of relief. Pull on your favourite cardie, relax and curl up at one of these casual dining options when feasting in comfort is the aim of the game.

Margaret River has seen several new openings over the past few months that have firmly established themselves as casual dining favourites for locals and visitors alike. Be sure to book ahead for a meal at Pizzica, the most authentic Italian pizzeria and grill experience you will find in the South West. Heck, I’d even go so far as to say all of Western Australia. Owners Ivan and Anna have a deep-rooted passion for bringing their Italian heritage to the forefront and sharing it with the community.

“Sometimes in Italy, you find a hidden spot in a town and you feel that warmth of home. We call them osterias. We wanted to get that feeling at Pizzica. It’s underground, in one of the oldest buildings in Margaret River, and everything is cooked using traditional Italian methods. Even our beautiful terracotta plates and jugs are handmade in a little place in the south of Italy.”

The menu includes a range of wood-fired pizzas, grilled meats and sausages made with only the best ingredients; pizza flour from Italy through to the freshest produce from local suppliers. All dishes are cooked in the wood-fired oven – you won’t find any use for a stove in this kitchen. Perfect for a winter retreat, whisk yourself off to the heart of Italy for one night (or more) in this rustic little Mediterranean escape on the main street of Margaret River.

A little further up the hill and you will find another of Margaret River’s popular new additions. Burger Baby is the new permanent home for burger master Alex Scott whose previous venture, the Margaret River Burger Co, had diners following his food truck throughout the state. With a range of burgers on the ever-evolving menu, there is bound to be something for even the fussiest of tastes.

Burger lovers will be spoilt for choice from the classics such as the beef burger to the vegetarian lentil burger. I’d recommend stretching towards one of the more adventurous options such as a pork belly burger with five spice, caramelised onions and slaw, or a melt-in-your-mouth pulled lamb burger with pickled beetroot and harissa. Wash down the burger-fest with one of the large range of local beers on tap and in cans, or a glass of hearty red wine. Sweet-toothed individuals should leave room for dessert with a dessert ‘burger’ – lamington burgers with ice-cream and other goodies available in chocolate or raspberry.

Scott jumps out of the kitchen for a few minutes to chat. “Burger Baby has quickly become the destination for big groups and families with plenty of large tables and fast service. Our epic collection of games will keep all ages occupied. We love winter too,” he says. “We have three fireplaces.”

Regularly hosting DJs, live music and tap takeovers, be sure to check out their Facebook page for the latest event updates. Fridays are quickly becoming a regular staple for the diary at this fun, casual haunt on the main strip.

Chow’s Table is the newest kid on the block at the northern end of the region and has had locals eagerly awaiting the opening of head chef Mal Chow’s venture since construction began. One of the region’s most highly regarded chefs, Chow honed his skills in some of Australia’s top restaurants including Vue De Monde in Melbourne, Tetsuya’s in Sydney and most recently he could be found leading the kitchen at Studio Bistro in Yallingup.

Nestled among the vines in the House of Cards estate, the views are spectacular but the casual feel reigns supreme. And the food? Well, the food is worth a journey to the region alone.

A modern twist on traditional Chinese/ Malay cuisine, his menu harks back to childhood favourites and draws on the style of cooking he was brought up with by his mother, a fabulous cook in her own right. “The ethos of Chow’s Table is affordable tasty food. It’s food that I cook at home and that my family and friends love to eat, says Mal. It’s food you share when the company is good, the conversation is flowing and above all the laughter is contagious. It is food that will make your senses go wild.”

Be prepared for large and small sharing plates of juicy roast meats, fried wontons, comforting soups, spicy veggies and a menu of mouth-watering dishes that pack a punch of flavour into every bite. Perfect to warm both bellies and hearts in the depths of winter, there is also a takeaway option for those that prefer the ultimate in casual dining at home.

Dunsborough has two new additions to the casual dining approach.

Blue Manna Bistro offers a seafood smorgasbord of options. A family-orientated and Asian-influenced restaurant, fresh seafood is the focus and the surrounds under the peppermint trees are conducive to a lazy day of creature comforts. If you’re dining in the restaurant, the menu includes dishes such as seared Shark Bay scallops, salt and pepper blue manna crab and crispy whole fish.

However, it’s the takeaway options that we love for winter feasting on – either at home or rugged up by the beach nearby. The freshest fish and chips in town, a hearty seafood chowder, healthy sashimi and poke bowls are the order of the day. Grab a bottle of wine or a crisp ale and you have a match made in heaven.

Pop over the road and a very different offering is on the table at Snatchdogs. Hotdogs you say? Perhaps a little too casual? Well, these are no ordinary hot dogs.

Opening its doors in December 2017, owners Nick and Mermaid have been running their own cafés since 2005. Moving to Dunsborough from Fremantle three years ago, they researched the needs of the town carefully and saw a gap in the market in the casual dining offerings provided. Stepping away from the café scene, their unique hotdogs and bao bun offering has proved to be exactly what was needed with a steady stream of customers knocking on the door daily.

It’s not just the food – everything from aprons to pot plants is available to buy thanks to the styling of Mermaid, whose expertise is in customer service and fitting out the design of the shopfront. In the kitchen, Nick has been a chef for over 25 years and it shows; hipster hotdogs with names such as unicorn, hippogriff, werewolf and merman are juicy and include ingredients such as authentic bratwurst, pork sausage, battered fish and accompaniments such as kimchi, sauerkraut, fennel apple slaw and pickled daikon carrot.

Three serves per order of the bao buns are bound to have you returning for seconds with roast pork belly and panko battered prawns served alongside vegan creations that are tempting enough to turn even the most dedicated carnivore. Try the Phoenix – a light as air bao bun with hoisin pulled jackfruit, cucumber, coriander, pickled carrot daikon and vegan mayo.

Serving lunch and dinner seven days a week, along with some of the best sweet potato fries in town, it’s not going to be long until this menu has been sampled several times over.

Where else?

Settlers Tavern

The seasoned pro at casual dining. Warm up by the fireplace and enjoy a hearty meal from their well-loved menu and extensive wine list.

The Brewhouse

The first stop in town. Kids will love the playground while parents and friends are always keen to sample the brews and reliable menu.

The River

Jump into one of the restaurant booths out the front or head towards the back for a Sunday sesh. A classic pub menu with Asian and Middle Eastern influences and international twists on favourites.

Katch-Up

Seafood delights at the top of town in Margaret River.

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen

The local’s local. Find award-winning wines on tap, an eclectic offering of cocktails, craft beers and simple, rustic food to match.

Augusta Hotel

Casual dining down in the southernmost point of the region.

Glenarty Road

The epitome of relaxed dining and holding the trophy for produce-to-plate dining in Karridale.

Cafe Boranup

Open for breakfast and lunch 7 days a week. You won’t go hungry with their generous servings in the tranquil surroundings of Boranup Forest.

Black Sheep Deli

The best breakfast in Cowaramup and tasty and nutritious café food seven days a week.

Fishbone

Sushi devotees, this is for you. Relax with a glass of wine and Fishbone’s Asian-inspired menu.

Olio Bello

BYO and some of the freshest local produce on your plate. With a range of different options, the Italian-focused menu has pizzas and pasta along with a range of other hearty meals to enjoy in their heated alfresco dining surrounds. Try the gluten free pasta option – zucchini never tasted so good.

The Common

Perfect for a bite to eat and a brew after a day at the beach. A hop, skip and a jump from Prevelly beach. Relax by the fire and warm up with some tasty fare from head chef Sean Carter.

Clancy’s Fish Pub

A popular spot in the region for good reason! A regularly changing list of good wine and beers on tap. Casual dining for the whole family and the recent addition of Mala Dumplings to the menu for those in need of a dumpling fix fast!

Al Forno

Busselton’s hidden secret. Amazing comfort food all cooked on site and with a strong Italian focus. Be sure to leave room for dessert.

Peko Peko

Sushi and Vietnamese inspired wraps at this fresh and tasty option in Dunsborough. Get the salmon miso soup!

Amelia Park Tavern

Recently opened and perfect for a day with the family. Let the kids play on the extensive lawns and enjoy some shared food along with a cheeky cocktail from the bar.

Caves House Hotel

One of the region’s oldest and most loved venues. Stay the night at the hotel and indulge in a bottle of local wine with a tasty meal by one of their many fireplaces. There’s live music throughout the week too.

The Goose

Beachside views and good food in the heart of Busselton. What’s not to love?

Swings and Roundabouts

Wood-fired pizza with rolling vineyard views and live music on Sundays.

 Now you know what you’re eating, you’ll need somewhere to stay.

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Cassandra Charlick

About Cassandra Charlick

Cassandra Charlick is a hat collector. Current hats on the stand include freelance writer, singer, actress, communications consultant and marketing specialist at Brillig Communications. Travelling the globe with her career on stage and off she has a deep curiosity and passion for connection and storytelling. After living in London for 8 years, a move to Margaret River saw a shift in pace and she now enjoys travelling throughout the beautiful region and sharing the stories of the people and communities that call this place home. Instagram: @casscharlick Web: cassandracharlick.com

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