Western Australia's Margaret River region, for those who haven't been, is no slouch when it comes to places to dine as well as wine. Wills Domain. Cullen. Leeuwin Estate. The new, as-yet-unnamed restaurant that long-serving Vasse Felix chef Aaron Carr is opening in November: all entirely worthwhile pit-stops for travellers heading to Australia's south-west.
Following the arrival of young Baxter Newstead in town, locals and visitors now have another place to add to their to-eat lists: Knee Deep Wines. Or should that be, re-add.
While many talented chefs have cooked at Knee Deep - we're looking at you, Brad Hornby and Ben Day - there's something about its new head chef that screams "watch this space". It might be Newstead's 25 years of age. It might be the entries on his CV (most notably: Noma Australia, Vue du Monde, Wildflower and Mathias Dahlgren and Farang in Stockholm). Or it might just be that he's slinging damn good food that's imaginative in design, yet startlingly focused in flavour.
As Newstead's resume might suggest, native and wild ingredients play a starring role in his cooking. Thus, elegantly cut wedges of rockmelon seasoned with wild fennel and salt, and raw marron and katsuobushi crackers are among the flurry of snacks that might preface lunch. Sweet raw Esperance scallops are contrasted against the pop of finger lime, fermented apple, anise myrtle and verdant ice plant; pickled quandongs and pristine vegetable flowers help beautify a thick slab of oxheart tomato grilled over jarrah. And so it goes, all the way through to dazzling finales like an Instagram-ready "rose" of white plum dusted with powdered rosella, chocolate and macadamia, and fun petite fours, not least the eucalyptus leaf-shaped Valrhona Dulcey chocolate perfumed with eucalyptus oil and dusted with Fisherman's Friend.
It's a welcome return to form for the Knee Deep kitchen and an exciting sign of things to come.
"I came here with an open mind and no menu idea," says Newstead who moved down from Perth in late January. "For the first few weeks, I just wanted to get a feel for Margaret River and tried to base the menu off the south-west. After finding the Wagin duck and Pemberton marron, putting together my core menu was pretty easy."
Run, don't walk (or perhaps more accurately, drive, but don't speed) and, as always, put your faith in Knee Deep's Trust The Chef menu. We reckon something special is getting ready to happen in this corner of Margaret River.
Knee Deep Wines, 160 Johnson Rd, Wilyabrup, WA, (08) 9755 6776, kneedeepwines.com.au. Open for lunch daily, noon-3pm.