From under-the-radar bistros to Instagram hotspots, these foodie hangouts serve up a pretty taste of local life.
1. Yarri Restaurant
“You shouldn’t come to Margaret River and eat Tasmanian salmon,” declares Aaron Carr, and he should know – the big-name chef has learnt a thing or two about the region’s flavours during his time here. Having recently left the kitchen at Vasse Felix’s onsite restaurant, marking the end of his two-decade-long, multi-award-winning streak, Aaron opened new restaurant, Yarri with intentions to stay very local indeed. The smart, bright eatery (located in Dunsborough) features a locally-made fit-out, locally-made tables of locally-grown wood and locally-made crockery by a local potter – and we haven’t yet mentioned the food! Already drawing critical acclaim, Aaron’s seasonally changing menu pairs modern tastes with native Australian sensibilities, creating a restaurant experience that’s not just joyously local but arguably world class. Come for a special night out, or drop in for an easy lunch; this upmarket casual eatery caters to both.
2. White Elephant Cafe
Look familiar? You’re not wrong: with its prettily presented food and a beachfront location at Margaret River, it was only a matter of time before White Elephant cafe became an Instagram sensation. Despite Insta hotspot status, however, the Gnarabup beach eatery remains a laidback brunch spot for locals. So make like they do and take yourself for a morning dip in front of the café before queueing, barefoot and dripping, for your coffee and a natter. Hungry brunchers will also be well rewarded; virtually everything on the wholesome beachside menu is made from scratch, including sauces and chutneys. Our pick: the smashed pumpkin on toast, with a poached egg topper.
3. Olio Bello Cafe
You wouldn’t know it were there if you didn’t peek beyond the olive trees lining the bush-quiet acreage, but Olio Bello, near the township of Margaret River, will reward your curiosity. Each morning, owners Suzi and Sam rise early to prepare for the hungry gourmands who visit their casual Italian-inspired restaurant, in a vine-twisted terracotta villa. During lunch, sit down to a house-made, hand-rolled pizza, featuring delectably scrumptious toppings like blue cheese, pear and salty prosciutto (which comes serves on a herb and garlicky base). Alternatively, order one of their big, slurpable pastas, which mix local ingredients with Italiano flair to create dishes like Shark Bay crab and lime angel hair, served with a creamy white wine and chili sauce. Afterwards, snap pictures of the prettily arranged pots with flowers tumbling out of their tops, or peruse the range of cellar-door goodies, such as house-pressed oils, and creamy handmade soaps. Alternatively, walk off the meal with a wander through the property’s 9000 olive trees; each and every one is certified organic.
4. Pepper & Salt Restaurant
Denmark locals know precisely what the good life looks like – and so will you, come Friday lunch at Pepper & Salt. Regulars fill the clothed tables of this fine dining hotspot with committed enthusiasm, thanks to the cooking of chef and owner Silas Masih. Fijian-born but a longtime Denmark local, Silas’ warm, generous food, spiced with his creole upbringing, combines chunky, spiced chutneys and buttery flaking pastries with the region’s gorgeously fresh produce for special-occasion meals to remember. Conveniently, the restaurant is located at Forest Hill Winery, directly above its cellar door – though shopping downstairs after lunch would be dangerous indeed. Request a table next to the ceiling-height glass windows, if you can – offering a dramatic perspective of the adjacent forested mountainside, it’s the perfect position from which to drink it all in.
5. Mrs Jones Cafe
Fairy lights, almond milk and lashings of green juice: Mrs Jones might look like Denmark’s unofficial hipster capital, but friendly staff and a down-to-earth atmosphere ensure this neighbourhood brunch spot is as unpretentious as they come. Settle on the open-air wooden verandah for a cup of excellent morning coffee, or stick around for a wholesome café lunch: fulsome bowls of Thai green curry come served with freshly poached chicken and fragrant herbs, while the house Croque Monsieur – an oozy, cheesy affair– is flavoursome, generously portioned and slathered with Dijon. Denmark’s most famous export, its freshwater marron is served by several eateries in the area, but at $22 a plate here, served with Asian-style slaw and lashings of flavour, it’s an absolute steal. Afterwards, wander round the corner and perhaps pick up some produce from the local IGA, marvelling that virtually everything on the shelves is organic and locally grown.
6. Wavecrest Bar & Bistro
The tiny beach town of Hopetoun (population: 550) might be best known as gateway to the wonders of Fitzgerald River National Park, but if you’re pulling in here for the night, don’t miss a meal at Wavecrest Bar & Bistro. Alongside traditional pub meals (think steak, mash and slaw) you’ll find a more exotic selection – think huge, steaming portions of butter chicken (served with two kinds of rice, chutney, sweetly accented yoghurt and pappadums) and bacon-wrapped scallops with a generous smear of parsnip and spinach puree. But the best thing about this place? The giant map attached to one wall. Grab a pin and add your home town to the constellation; it’s amazing how far people have travelled to get to this relatively remote spot. After dinner, head to the water’s edge and admire the scenery lit by moonlight; kids can burn off extra energy by the great playground equipment in the centre of town (don’t miss the giant, multi-coloured bouncing cushion).
7. Taylor Street Quarters
Is it a wine bar? A restaurant? A cocktail spot or a pub? It doesn’t matter: with its hanging greenery, strings of fairy lights and buzzing crowd of regulars, Taylor Street Quarters caters to everybody, in a smart-casual encapsulation of everything that’s great about Esperance. Located in sight of the town’s famed baby-blue waters (right by the Taylor Street Jetty), “the Quarters” slings out seasonal, modern meals and an embarrassment of great wines from its glam location in a converted weatherboard. Sit on the wraparound verandah and order share plates in stages, or come for brunch on a weekend and soak up the sunshine. Fun fact: the historic building was previously incarnated as a beloved local icon, the Taylor Street Tea Rooms; in this hip new version, the legend lives on.
8. Downtown Espresso Bar
Far and few between are Melbourne-grade cafes outside of Australia’s cultural capital, but Downtown Espresso Bar manages to infuse Prahran’s urbane polish and Fitzroy-worth coffee into one tiny-but-mighty spot on Esperance’s eat street. Join the queue of coffee-crazy locals – there are plenty of them, as you’ll soon see – and order your beverage of choice before finding a seat at one of the tightly held, mostly communal tables. A selection of buttery, flaky pastries and a light-lunch menu completes the entire food offerings, but the café’s good looks are also worth savouring (think bright, white and beautifully glossy). Bonus: all coffee is served in biodegradable takeaway cups, so you can grab and go as you please.