Vineyard Kitchen Cafe
Bickley. It’s not exactly the sort of name to conjure up mental images of beautiful scenery or great food and wine, it sounds more like one of those solid boring Victorian era mill towns and I’m equally sure Mr Wallace Bickley (late of Heidelberg), was an equally solid pioneer. It is, at best, a dull name for a beautiful valley in the Darling Ranges, east of Perth. It was not always thus; think of Bickley as our colonial response to the British Royal Family and Windsor. WW1 meant that Germans and German names were a touch tricky, so the very German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha became Windsor and so too, did the beautiful Heidelberg district become Bickley.
Almost a century later, the valley is a relaxing day drive mecca just 40 minutes from the Perth CBD, it’s full of little cafés wineries and health retreats, etc, with seemingly more appearing by the month. German and Dutch people might be very interested to know, there is also a White Asparagus farm in the valley. It’s fair to say that more than a few of these businesses would like to see the area renamed to the far more appealing Heidelberg, all of which segues into a bunch of Germans, an Italian, a Frenchman, a Kiwi and an Aussie or two, taking lunch at The Vineyard Kitchen at the Brookside Vineyard.
It is a very sharp turn off Aldersyde Road into Loaring Road – most cars will need two turns to make it, then a short steep downhill drive leads to the property entrance. It’s beautifully laid out, full of ferns, native trees, a babbling brook and various fruit trees with a gravel road leading in. You actually drive through the outdoor dining area and kitchen / wine tasting building to the lawned parking area on the other side. It’s all set on the picturesque lower slope of the steep valley, utterly hidden from the road, only 200 metres away.
The main building was, I suspect, a fruit packing shed in days of old, these days adapted to house the kitchen, wine tasting and purchasing area and an indoor dining room (in case of inclement weather). It’s rustic, authentic and peaceful. Bookings checked, we’re ushered to our table by the brook and menus and wine lists given out. The reasonably extensive wine list comprises all their own wines – Brookside and our waitress makes an excellent suggestion that once we’ve chosen our dishes, we might like to come up to the building (ten metres away) and do some wine tasting, before choosing our wines.
Courses chosen, we repair to the bar. Our host and hostess are utterly relaxed and want us to try everything, a very civilised and much appreciated approach. The wines are very much in the style of the wines to be found down in the Swan Valley – fresh, with that little touch of vibrant sharpness, a very different style to say, Margaret River or Coonawarra, I have a preference for the more gutsy reds from those two districts and I can struggle to find a red wine to my taste, even in Europe; however they have an excellent Cab Sav Merlot blend that did the job perfectly – the Frog, the Wog and the Kiwi (Christian, Carlo and Greg) spent a very contented Sunday afternoon, consuming a bottle … or two. My German wife, a lover of Champagne and Prosecco, was very happy with Brookside’s Champers and the rest of our party gave thorough approval for the white wines on offer. You can buy everything by the glass, averaging around $12.00, or buy bottles, averaging $25.00 per bottle (the blend we three very contentedly consumed was $35.00 per bottle).
Back at our table under the ferns, the entrees were delivered and they were exquisite, in both presentation and taste, we hadn’t expected quite the level of cuisine we were being presented with! Sure the dishes on offer looked great in print, but sometimes things are lost in the translation from menu to plate. I won’t write down an exact list of every dish, you can look up the current menu on their website if you’re considering visiting the establishment, suffice to say, there was food for every taste, in terms of entrees, menus and deserts. I had Vodka and Beetroot cured Kingfish as an entrée, Asparagus Risotto as a main and Crème Brule as a desert, Christian felt his main course duck was a little dry, but that was the only niggle from any of us. I’ve posted photos of several of the dishes with this review. The service was fantastic, nothing obsequious, absolutely no attempt to hurry, none of that infuriating removal of dishes and glasses before you’re had time to put your fork down. The young ladies serving us were quite lovely, elegant and trained, it felt European. There were ten of us and the total bill (food and wine) came to $611.00, some didn’t have entrees and some didn’t have desserts, most had coffee. Now that’s not an expensive day for ten people, when you consider we’d also been graciously given a very full wine tasting experience.
The Vineyard Kitchen was an astounding revelation – this was a Margaret River dining experience just 30 minutes from home. If somebody had said the wonderful Aaron Carr was in the kitchen, I would not have been surprised – he wasn’t, I went to thank and congratulate the chef, a young guy with a big smile – since when do chefs smile? Often in Perth, our restaurants and cafés are sort of nouveau riche in their approach, you sense that it’s business, formulaic, as a customer, you’re almost in the way; down at glorious Margaret River , it can be a touch snooty – fabulous food and scenery, but not quite relaxed, if you’re not part of the in-crowd. The people at The Vineyard Kitchen have come up with a formula, that’s quintessentially Australian, totally relaxed, while utterly professional, serving exquisite food along with very acceptable wines in gorgeous surroundings, all within a short drive of most Perth suburbs! It was a fantastic find, it’s now our priority restaurant café to take visitors, friends and family. It’s a lovely scenic drive, either up Welshpool Road through Lesmurdie, or up Kalamunda Road. All of us, including overseas visitors and locals agreed this was a knockout, we’d recommend this place to anybody, whatever the weather. I have no hesitation giving The Vineyard Kitchen five stars, it simply doesn’t get any better.