Southern Forests

After spending an incredible day attending the Mundaring Truffle Festival, S and I decided we had to see The Wine & Truffle Company‘s operations in Manjimup first-hand. Manjimup is located in the very beautiful Southern Forests area of Western Australia. By car, it’s a four hour drive. But one that is well worth it. The Southern Forests, while not as popular or as widely known (internationally) as the Margaret River region, is rich with vineyards, cute places to stay, picturesque towns, fabulous produce, and amazing scenery. It really is a gorgeous part of WA. Having always stopped at Margaret River, I was kicking myself for not having discovered this area sooner.

S and I had decided, while in the Southern Forests, to check out a new but stunning luxury lodge called Stonebarn, located just 20 minutes from the small town of Pemberton. Stonebarn is really nice. The main building looks like its been there for decades. You wouldn’t guess that it’s really less than a year old. The interiors are reminiscent of the gilded age of travel, with classic, colonial and rustic elements coming together very nicely to create a smart, trendy yet timeless, and very comfortable place in which to stay. Managers Michael Comyns (who is also Stonebarn’s private chef) and his very attractive and stylish wife Alison make guests feel immediately at home, albeit a home in which you are pampered rather poshly.

The grounds are lovely. The lodge, which has just 6 rooms, is located in 160 acres of private forest. A lake sits in front of the property, with a newly planted trufferie flanking the house. The very spacious rooms are in the lodge’s second floor. Each one comes with a kitchenette, a Nespresso machine (that made me very happy), a large well-appointed bathroom with an antique claw-foot tub, an iPod dock, a sinfully comfortable four poster bed, comfortable seating, and a fabulous view (the picture at the top of this post was taken from our small terace).

At Stonebarn, guests are offered an indulgent breakfast and a sumptuous feast for dinner. I was surprised when Michael said that many guests over-eat off-property during lunch and skip dinner–that is a real shame given how well Mr Comyns can cook. Stonebarn really is lovely. Easily the most chic resort in the Southern Forests and a place S and I are already planning to return to, ideally with 5 other couples in tow. We think it would be fabulous to take over the whole lodge and turn it into a private retreat for some close friends for a long weekend. I should also say I am very pleased that Stonebarn has recently become a proud member of Mr and Mrs Smith, the world’s coolest online boutique hotel collection, and one that offers great rates and privileges.

Also near Pemberton is the King Trout Restaurant and Marron Farm. This cool restaurant and working farm is owned and run by the very sweet Dominic Licastro and his wife. The grounds here are gorgeous. Guests can either sit straight down in the restaurant and order up a simple seafood feast, or (the popular option) pick up and rod and catch one’s own lunch. Fishing in Dominic’s well-stocked dammed lake for rainbow trout is one of the most popular activities for visitors to the Southern Forests. And since Dominic ensures that his lake is very well-populated with delicious trout, you won’t be stuck there the whole day waiting for a nibble. Marron–one of my own personal favourite things to eat–are unique to the South-West areas of Australia. For those of you who haven’t had one, they are large freshwater crayfish and they’re delicious! While you won’t be able to wade into the water to catch your own, definitely have one (or more) when dining at King Trout.

S and I decided to sample Dominic’s very famous platter for two. It was a gorgeously over-laden plate with a marron, a whole grilled rainbow trout, a whole smoked trout, and a healthy amount of salad, fruit, and cheese. The food is simple, super-fresh and really (to steal someone else’s slogan) finger licking good. We enjoyed this platter with a Silkwood Pinot Noir. Silkwood is just one of the many local and really popular wineries in the Southern Forests area. While not as famous as Margaret River and nowhere near as touristy, many of the wineries near Pemberton and Manjimup are just as good. Besides Silkwood, some of the other more famous names include Salitage and Picardy. The Wine & Truffle Company‘s wines are also very well popular and are quite good. Pemberton also has a nice wine centre, so if you make it down to the area, it is one of the best places to go to find out more about the region’s wineries and also make purchases–especially because many of the wineries here take visitors by appointment only. King Trout does not sell wine but it does allow you to bring your own. I suggest making a stop off at the wine centre or at a winery with an open cellar door to pick up a bottle or two to bring with you to lunch. King Trout is located on Northcliffe Road (Tel: +618 9776 1352).

Whenever we visit Perth, we make sure to call on Anthony of Man That Cooks and Spice magazine. He had told us that if we were headed towards Pemberton, we had to meet Sophie Zolokar, a former chef (who worked with Aussie food legend Maggie Beer) who now runs Pemberton Breakaway Cottages and makes the most beautiful preserves in the region. Sophie is also the head of the Slow Food Southern Forests convivium. We liked Sophie immediately. She’s earnest, honest, and passionate. I have to admit that I found her older cottages (the ones that she inherited when she and her husband bought over the property) a tad too rustic/basic for my tastes, but I love the new luxury eco-lodges she’s since built. Each one has two bedrooms, a very proper and well-outfitted kitchen, living room and dining area, as well as an outdoor deck with a barbecue grill. The interiors are clean, bright, minimalist, and smart. I love the fireplace in the living room and the choice of neutral colors for the bedrooms. I also like the dark grey exteriors of the cottages, each one offset with an individual accent colour.

If I wanted to cook when visiting the area, this is where I would stay. And given the amazing produce in the area, chances are S and I would want to cook on more than just one occasion. In fact, one of my favourite things about visiting places like this is the chance to work with such amazing local ingredients. Sophie’s guests are also able to place orders for gourmet meal hampers. From what I have heard about her cooking, I’d definitely want to try one of these as well. And, of course, we couldn’t leave without trying some preserves. And in the end, we left with a box of a dozen different kinds–ranging from zucchini bread & butter pickles to green fig jam. Fortunately, you don’t have to drive all the way down to Pemberton to buy her preserves. They are now sold in gourmet stores across WA.

Oh, we did end up making it to The Wine & Truffle Company and even went on a truffle hunt with the cutest black lab. But I’m saving that for my next post.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!