I've fallen in love at first (and second and third) bite! Sian Lloyd discovers the finest dining in the world… in Western Australia
Mae West once said that too much of a good thing is wonderful.When you visit Western Australia, you know what she meant.
I've been there twice recently, partly because I love the easygoing capital Perth, with its vibrant dining scene, but mainly because come November the best food festival on Earth - Gourmet Escape - is held three hours' drive away, in incredible locations around the Margaret River Wine Region.
So I combined a trip to Gourmet Escape with a visit to Perth, staying at the understated Richardson Hotel in a quiet suburb of the city.
It's a relaxing oasis, with a terrific spa and indoor pool, located about 500 yards from King's Park.
The Degustation Dinner at the Richardson's Opus restaurant is to die for and they recommended lunch at Incontro on the Swan River, where I had roasted grape crostini with feta and thyme truffle honey, boneless rabbit with peach, and Valrhona chocolate doughnuts.
There are a few must-do trips from Perth. My favourite is the Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail - a 20-mile scenic loop taking in wineries, restaurants, artisan chocolate and nougat factories, olive oil farms and breweries.
Then there's Rottnest Island, just a short ferry ride away. It's a leading nature reserve, complete with colonial cottages and cute marsupials called quokkas, like small knee-high kangaroos and unique to the island.
Then I drove down to Margaret River for the three-day Gourmet Escape.
From Rick Stein and Heston Blumenthal to Sat Bains and Hadleigh Troy, it attracts the big names in cuisine. It's where chefs go on holiday and you never know who you are going to meet.
But it's not just celebrity soup, there is everything, from forest feasts and indulgent long lunches in top-notch vineyards like Cullen's and the classy Aravina, to barbecues on the endless white beaches at sunset.
I bought tickets for Rick Stein's Gourmet Beach BBQ at the Castle Bay. Rick was like a child in a sweet shop, tossing chunky dhufish fillets on to our plates and offering up scallops and langoustines aplenty.
No wonder I ended up tripping the light fantastic with Australian dancing star Adam Garcia as the sun went down!
The heart of the festival is the Gourmet Village at the Leeuwin Estate winery. Here, across one action-packed November weekend, you find cooking demos, wine tastings, pop-up restaurants, book signings, quizzes, masterclasses and panel discussions.
There are so many things to taste - grass-fed beef, smoked ocean trout, Cow Bay organic cheeses, chutneys and jams, classy local Bahen & Co chocolate, fruity olive oils and teas and flat white coffees galore.
And then there's the wine. Premium wines are everywhere. But then Margaret River is one of the best wine-producing regions on the planet, with a climate similar to that of Bordeaux.
Then there was a memorable trip from nearby Dunsborough, which combined whale-watching and cookery.
Chefs took us through prepping seafood as we headed out to sea to spot the giants of the ocean.
Back on terra firma, I was taken to the Cape Naturaliste winery in Yallingup, where the chefs from our sea trip created a long lunch, accompanied by wines from the vineyard.
I feasted on Blue Swimmer crab tarts, baked scallops and BBQ Gummy shark.
I rounded my stay off with a trip to nearby Manjimup, home of the coveted black truffle. Oak Valley Farm is planted with oak and hazel trees and equipped with a team of trained truffle dogs. The harvested truffles are immediately prepared, packed and delivered to Perth International Airport so they reach chefs around the world the next day.
A fascinating insight and a great end to a wonderful journey.