Albany and all of its charms

Spending a few days in Albany a couple of weeks ago allowed us to experience the charms of one of Western Australia’s most attractive cities – the quite stunning harbour, wonderful old pre-Federation buildings lining Stirling Terrace, conspicuous waterfront Entertainment Centre and, of course, the restored pubs, top quality restaurants, and wineries not too far away.

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The Great Southern is one of the most diverse wine regions in the country – made up of five sub regions – Albany, Denmark, Mount Barker, Porongurup, and the Frankland River – with Albany as the only city in the region, and centrally located, making it the perfect place to set up and explore; Mt Barker, Porongurup and Denmark are each only a 30 minute drive away, and the Frankland maybe 30 minutes more.
On this visit, however, we decided to stay close to Albany and what an enjoyable visit it was.

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We stayed in the Dog Rock motel right in the heart of the town – the Dog Rock is a bit of an icon with the rock itself a tourist attraction. The motel is one of our favourite spots to stay, comfortable and so close to all the bars and restaurants. And, of course, it houses one of Albany’s most awarded restaurants Lime 303. This is a nicely set up room with a wine lounge alongside, a well curated wine list, and very good food. My Arroz Caldos a Spanish influenced seafood soup was sublime – fish, scallops, prawns, squid, mussels, rice in a mildly spiced broth; great food, great wine, great place.
Stirling Terrace has some of best preserved buildings in the city – and since the two old pubs have been renovated and cleaned up, has become a prime entertainment area. The Royal George, long a rundown and uninviting feature of the streetscape has been reinvented as Six Degrees – and with the brewery pub White Star alongside – provides a central and appealing focus to the area.

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Due South Tavern is perfectly positioned behind the Albany Convention Centre on the waterfront with views across the bay and along to Anzac Peace Park. Large, well-lit by extensive glass and with seating both inside and out on the decking, they serve very good quality pub style food, and have a well put together wine and beer list. They also boast an excellent bottle shop which has an absolutely outstanding array of Great Southern wine. A must for wine lovers. Featured here succulent kimchi steamed dumplings with chilli soy dipping sauce. Due South should be on your list when in Albany

Further along Stirling Terrace, across York Street, stands the old London Hotel which now houses one of, if not the, best eating houses in Albany – Liberté – the room at the back of the place – resplendent in velvet and leather furnishings, ornately carved wooden tables, marble-topped coffee tables, chandeliers, large wall mirrors – has the feel of a salon from another era and place – and of course it dishes up the simply outstanding French Vietnamese fusion food of the amazingly talented Amy Hamilton; this is a must for any lover of good food and drink and each time we have delved into the food has been a delight. One dish you should not miss is the signature dish chilli crab and garlic noodles, slippery and delicious.

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And even further along and closer again to the water is the cellar door of one of the region’s best wineries – Alkoomi – where you can sample and buy excellent wine.
Majuba a French inspired bistro in Albany’s York Street is an intimate, and very popular, addition to the dining and drinking choices. Clever wine list – although I would have liked a local rosé by the glass – and very good food. Scallops with fennel and anchovy oil stood out.

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Another welcome find was trattoria and pizzeria Little Italy in the heart of York Street. Even on a Monday night we were very lucky to get in without booking but they scraped together a table in the naughty corner and within 45 minutes every table was full. Lesson for next time. We enjoyed a pizza – fluffy crisp base – with capers, olives, anchovies – all the salty delights – and chilli on the side. A bottle of local winery Wignalls Cabernet Merlot a fine companion. The menu was extensive and the dishes going past looked inviting.

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Around the bay, over Mt Adelaide, Middleton Beach, one of the most popular swimming beaches, has a number of top places to eat and drink –one of which is Rats Bar – it has a fabulous wine list, largely featuring local wine, very good coffee (I know me drinking coffee in a bar but we did get there reasonably early) and a small but changing menu. The local chilli mussels with a side of Californian Reaper chilli oil were tops.

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Of course a trip to Albany would not be the same without visiting a winery or two – this trip we headed up the road to the Porongurups where we stopped in at two excellent places – Dukes and Zarephath – both producing outstanding wines and the latter also boasting a popular café. And when in Porongurup Road it would be foolish to miss out on one of the best eating houses in the region.

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There are 4 Thai restaurants in WA that I rate above all others – 3 are in Perth but one is in a much more surprising location – on the meandering Porongurup Road weaving its way along the bottom of the ranges of the same name. Rolling paddocks of grazing land and crops are interspersed with some wonderful wineries and beautiful forest and among all this a bamboo nursery and Thai restaurant – Maleeya. Peter Form and his wife, after whom the restaurant is named, have created a little paradise here. I have been coming to Maleeya for almost 20 years and the food never ceases to amaze. From her kitchen Maleeya turns out the best Panang Prawn curry I have had – plump crunchy prawns in a delightfully spicy sauce – just delicious. The curries are mid-range spicy but you can dial it up to what Peter calls Thai hot and of course I did. Definitely zesty but beautifully integrated spice makes for dining pleasure!

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Unlicenced but we asked for a chilled bottle when we bought wine earlier at Zarephath and enjoyed that crisp, dry rosé with our meal. A small place – maybe 2 dozen seats – so book ahead. They also have a fabulous chalet to stay – but again very popular so long range booking essential. And lastly they run Highland cattle so you will see these shaggy beasts lolling around the paddocks. For us, Maleeya is an essential stop in the Great Southern.

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Albany is truly one of the most inviting and appealing towns in WA, and the food and wine in and around the town and the wider Great Southern region second to none. We love it.
A final thought, journeying the five hours each way down and up Albany Highway we could only reflect that the reinstatement of a passenger train service to this unique area could generate even more tourists and tourism dollars – and gazing down to the pretty train station which now serves as the Visitor Centre served to reinforce this as only freight trains rumbled past – what an opportunity in these isolated times when people from WA are discovering more of their own State and at the same time create construction, hospitality, retail jobs and more. Come on Mark……

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