September 06 2011
It was a surprise to discover how much south-west Australia actually produces in the specialist food stakes, as the population is not exactly burgeoning. One place that let me in on the secret was Stonebarn, a rural retreat set in 160 acres of young oaks, karri and soaring jarrah forest. Dion Rangé, who, along with his wife Sharon, built it from scratch a few years ago, even created a lake for marron (a local crayfish that is sweeter than lobster) to lazily await their fate, while rainbow trout (second picture) hang out in the Warren river nearby. As a small-scale guesthouse, Stonebarn doesn’t have a restaurant, but with gregarious manager Walter Brown marshalling the kitchen, I could tell we wouldn’t go hungry.
To reach this bucolic retreat, we had driven through Pemberton, a small town which is rapidly gaining a big reputation in the epicurean domain. At Stonebarn I found similarly high standards: collapsed on the veranda after a long day’s drive, we salivated over the Gourmet Goodies menu of local produce. Smoked trout, smoked salmon and smoked duck headed the charge, followed by pâtés, venison chorizo and venison and kangaroo salami. This last offering was the one that immediately sparked my curiosity thanks to its obvius Aussie connotation. It had a seasoned, gamey edge which I loved, and complemented the smoked trout. But my enthusiasm tailed off with the local cheeses, as they did not quite meet exacting European standards. Walter also produced with a flourish their own wine (a complex Shiraz at A$28 a bottle).
At breakfast (one of the most luscious I have ever indulged in) I ate eggs straight from the henhouse and fruit from the orchard. What I didn’t taste were their truffles, as it was not the season, but I gathered that the oak and hazelnut trees are fostering them well: their first season had already produced a substantial number of the black diamonds.
I found Stonebarn relaxing, electic, yet refined. In the downstairs sitting rooms with their glowing jarrah-wood floors, a zebra skin lay yards from a faux Louis XV chair upholstered in purple, and an Aboriginal painting. The six suites were design-led yet comfortable, with modern king-size four-posters and roll-top baths (where you are washed by filtered rainwater). But this is Australia, so I knew my place: back on the veranda, listening to the cackle of kookaburras, watching the flight of black cockatoos.
From A$345 per night for a suite for two, including breakfast.