grapes, honey & nougat
A mere ten minutes drive and I feel like I’m on holiday. Along the picturesque West Swan Rd, identical rows of lush grape vines and fresh fruit stalls wizz past us. It’s amazing how forgotten this place can be. It’s closer to my mum’s house than the city and about ten times as fascinating. I’m not much of a wine lover, but Swan Valley isn’t just about the vino. There are some fantastic places tucked between the vineyards.
Our first stop is our yearly pilgrimage to The Grape Place. Driving into their somewhat iconic carpark of pergolas heaving with vines, people are constantly arriving for their fresh grapes. We’ve been getting our grapes here for as long as I can remember (20 years? Now I feel old). Grapes are sold in a big shed which backs onto the vines from which the grapes are plucked. Can’t get fresher than that! Behind the counter, ladies patiently groom through the bunches of grapes, removing all inferior globes of fruit before each bunch goes on sale.
Fresh from the vines.
The grapes are so so fresh, there are no comparisons – worth every penny of the prices, which are a tiny bit more expensive than the supermarkets. The shop assistant cuts a few grapes for us to taste and they are fantastic. Grapes fresh off the vine have an aroma which soon disappears after picking. It’s the smell of the sugar, sunlight and the vineyards. The grapes sold here are perfectly ripe – the fruit is crunchy (unlike the limp supermarket ones which merely pop, if you are lucky), super sweet and the stems vibrantly green and supple. We buy kilos of green seedless, red flame and dark red globes. We smell the melons before we can see them and we pick up a couple for later.
We drive around the back roads for awhile, munching on the grapes, complete with white mould from the vineyard. In the middle of seemingly nowhere, it’s hard to believe this is our own backyard.
We eventually get on to the Great Northern Highway. The drive is not as quaint as West Swan Rd but there are some wineries along the highway worth exploring. However we are looking for honey! The House of Honey is a flat topped shed next to the highway and is unexpectedly nicely decked out. A shop and cafe specialising in the honey (what else), there are multitudes of honey products to be bought. Honey lip balm, honey vinegar, beeswax and more. There’s a frame of honeycomb attached to the wall, where bees are free to fly in and out and customers can watch the fascinating bees doing their curious business.
Bees working hard – they are free to fly in and out via holes in the exterior wall
There’s a tasting station with pump bottles of honey and we taste a few of them, testing our tastebuds and differentiating between different flowers. The Karri tree flowers intermittently, so I’m not sure how long the honey will be available for – the light amber Karri honey is wonderful – there is a certain clarity and sweetness to it. The Jarrah honey has medicinal properties to rival Manukah honey and has a very strong taste with dark colour. Tasting honey is like tasting the essence of that one particular season’s flowers, as each season is different and of course dependent on weather and other factors – I guess it’s a lot like wine in that sense.
The House of Honey doubles as a cafe and there’s some alfresco seating for cups of coffee and gobbling down the adorable bumblebee cupcakes. The people who run the shop are very friendly but the prices are aimed at tourists, if you get what I mean. I’d still recommend a visit – it’s especially good for visitors to Perth and kids will love the tasting station (plus it’s educational).
Mondo’s Nougat. Through the window is the factory space.
We do a hasty turn on the Great Northern and eventually find (quite frenetically as I’m not keen on doing U turns on a highway with big trucks and massive roadworks!) the Mondo Nougat Factory. It’s nougat heaven here – customers can peer into the factory (unfortunately there was nothing exciting going on the day we visited) and of course, there’s lots of fresh nougat to buy. We settle in for some coffee and have a rum baba, a strong latte and tiramisu gelato. The gelato had good flavour and texture, my only whinge was by the time I was halfway through the tub, I was also halfway into a sugar coma. Mum’s rum baba is one of the most authentic we have eaten in Perth – a bubbly sponge, it was absolutely drenched in a sweet rum syrup. A shot of rum and coffee is just what we need to perk us up. Mondo Nougat originated from italian patisserie roots, so I’m betting the other cakes in the display case are fabulous too.
A must-have when in the area – not the gelato – The Food & Wine Trail Map! Maps can be found at various locations in the valley. Lots of interesting hidden locations and places to eat.
Deliciously potent rum baba
Nougat IN A JAR!! YUM!
After shamelessly purchasing many bags of nougat (totally adore the soft cappuccino nougat) (for the nut intolerant there are jars of creme nougat – how good does that sound!) we head off to West Swan Road for one last stop. Examining the signs by the side of the road we finally spot the yellow Allwest Apiaries sign. It directs us to a house with two horned cattle in the front yard. Before I can look at the creatures closely and possibly get myself gored, a man pops out of the house and welcomes us. We are in a bit of surprise as the place is tiny – basically the shop is in a small room attached to the house – quite different from the other places we visited today. But we are in luck as this is possibly the best place to buy honey in Western Australia.
We are guided into the small shop lined with shelves of honey originating from all over the state. In this shack of a shop, the variety of honeys is impressive – from york gum, to coastal blackbutt to Kimberley wildflowers, Allwest has honeys from all over the state. We taste a few honeys – jarrah, wildflower and a special honey from the remote Kimberley derived from chia flowers. The guy (sorry didn’t catch his name but after visiting the website I think it’s Phil) explained to us that the chia honey, as well as being his favourite, is derived from the large chia crops being grown in the Kimberley region. The honey has a very clean taste with its unusual flavour lingering for awhile afterwards. I think it’s my favourite too and buy a bottle.
We also get another tub of jarrah honey – same size but $10 cheaper than the House of Honey – and walk out of there smiling. I guess there is no substitute for friendly passionate service and quality product at good prices. Definitely our find of the day.
Heading home, we spot a few more places to explore and also return to on our next visit. Any excuse will do – I’m eager to replenish our honey supplies, fill up on grapes before the sunny season escapes us and look for some farm fresh eggs. And we’ll probably drop into Lamont’s for a bottle of wine. And do a coffee tasting session at Yahava. We could so easily spend a whole day eating our way through the valley…
Katich’s The Grape Place, 899 West Swan Road, Caversham WA 6055
T: 0412 242 696
House of Honey & The Sticky Spoon Cafe, 867 Great Northern Highway (cnr River Rd), Herne Hill WA 6056
T: 0417 988 440
Mondo Nougat Factory, 640 Great Northern Highway, Herne Hill WA 6056
T: (08) 9296 0111
Allwest Apiaries (Windarra Honey), 5 George Street (off West Swan Rd), West Swan WA 6055
T: (08) 9274 6649
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