Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Low places, high points: Seagardens, Prevelly.

I am hurting all over and no wonder.
I have just followed my kids through an ‘adventure cave’ for the second day running. Some caves have gentle slopes, romantic lighting, and guides to get you through safely to the other side. Not this cave. This cave - Giants Cave -  is “self-guiding” which is a diplomatic way of saying “Take this hard-hat and torch and stick to the path”. There’s an 86m descent into complete darkness, then a ½ kilometre journey up and down the dusty gantries to the exit. In between, there are vertical ladders, a rock ‘chimney’, crawl spaces and sliding spaces. In parts, there is no man-made assistance to help the hapless tourist scale the ascents, just your basic manicure-ruining, knee-scraping, denim-tearing climbing of rocks.

The way in.
The way out.
I’m a corporate type with soft hands and even softer sensibilities. My idea of underground is a well-stocked cellar or a below-street bar. This scrambling in the dark is not what I do. Not at all. I have a wibbly moment when I think that I’m never going to get through the chimney, it is so narrow and I’ve convinced myself that I am too wide. Then there’s another instance where I fear that I will have to turn back because I am not sure I can pull my own bodyweight up the rockface. I hardly have the energy to notice the geological wonders that we pass.
He's younger, fitter, and small enough to fit through any gap.
Eventually, we emerge from the maw of the cave into a rainstorm. Immediately all the cave dust turns into mud and streams down my face. I can felt the impending bruises on my knees and bum (damn that last rope slide!). I pull off my hard-hat and reveal the world’s worst helmet hair. I probably look as grubby and miserable as I feel. 12 year old makes ‘Gollum’ noises and I can’t blame him.
I didn't look like this.

The Hardcore Horror Flick That Turns Up In Tomb Raider
More lke this.

However, a long hot shower, several glasses of local red, and a change of clothes later, and I am feeling quite pleased with myself. My fitness must have improved (go one year back and there is no way I would have managed to get even half-way through the cave). I’ve earned mum-points (always important), done something that is way out of my comfort zone (see, I *am* an interesting person with a have-a-go attitude) and my reward is in sight which is a good thing because I am starving (my foodie self is still alive and kicking!). Also, I am above ground and not wedged up a cave chimney (yup, life is definitely good).
I booked my table at Seagardens through Twitter. Chances are that I would have eaten there at some stage anyway – it is the only cafĂ©-restaurant in Prevelly, after all - but I wanted to be sure of a table so I Tweeted ahead and they were good enough, and social media-savvy enough, to take my booking that way.

Prevelly is a curious little township – right on the coast with a cluster of holiday homes clinging to the hillside - one restaurant, one general store and a Greek Orthodox church which is a bright white beacon on the edge of town. Seagardens is at the top of a slope – it’s a wood and glass structure with a large deck out the front. I’ve asked for a quiet table inside in the corner and am pleased to be given one right next to the cosy wood-burning stove – it is still cold and rainy outside and I need food and flame to warm my chilled, bruised bones.

The owner, Gilles, comes to greet us. “So, you must be The Thief?” he says. I love it when people use my pseudonym – it makes me sound so much more mysterious – if felonious – than my workaday self.
“I’m planning to pay for everything," I assure him.

It doesn’t take long for a glass of Leeuwin Estate SiblingsShiraz to come to the table. I’m feeling warmer already. The interior of Seagardens strikes an easy balance between beach-side fish & chip/pizza takeaway joint and local restaurant. The tables are wooden, painted bright turquoise. The floor is tiled (I guess it makes the sand easier to sweep up). Some people come to pick up their snapper and chips while others stay to eat and drink wine. It’s comfortable and unassuming. The menu is, to quote their website ‘sexy and simple’, with the bulk of the produce being either organic or sourced locally or both.

Kid-size fish & chips

Ribs,salad and wedges
Between us we order fish and chips, beef ribs, and goat ragu. The fish and chips are good – light on the batter, chunky on the chips. The ribs are also tasty – a generous serve. They come with a salad (rocket, parmesan, olives, and chimichurri) and a serve of  homecut wedges. I find I want those carbs more than almost anything.

Perfect ragu

Then I taste the goat ragu. It’s been cooked for seven hours and it’s perfect for winter. The meat is tender but still retains its texture, and the sauce, oh, the sauce! I ask Gilles what’s in it – it is such a complex and exciting flavour experience. He’s not giving away any recipes but he tells me that it has onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms. It clicks into place then – it is the mushroom that gives the sauce its almost earthy quality. And, of course, the ragu sits on a bed of mashed potato – more carbs which are a great match to even out the richness of the sauce.

Gilles and his partner, Rachel, have owned and run Seagardens for about 5 years, he tells me. Because I have done my research, I know that Rachel is responsible for the celebrated Seagardens brownies and that is what we order for dessert. 16yrold has a brownie to himself, while 12yr old and I decide to share because we are finally getting full.

The brownies arrive with a side serve of vanilla ice-cream and upon an arabesque of chocolate sauce. They are warm and crumbly and just the right finish to the evening. The second glass of Leeuwin shiraz doesn't hurt either.
As I go to pay, I have a look at the notices. Seagardens not only has its own book club, but also performance evenings (and local acts are encouraged to get in touch and organise to perform there). I love the idea of the upcoming “Soup and songs” night and also the Bastille day breakfast. I get the feeling that Seagardens may be geographically perched on top of the hill but, in terms of community, has positioned itself right at the heart of Prevelly.

Twilight across the bay
 I walk outside into the cold, salty wind. The view from Seagardens’ deck takes in the whole of the bay. It is dark now. There is the great sweep of the Milky Way across the horizon. The white flashes which are the crashing waves out on the reef are marvellously distinct. The boys want a beach hike in the dark. I didn’t think I’d have the energy but suddenly I do, and I put this down to plentiful good food in a welcoming atmosphere.
In fact, I'm feeling pretty great and very pleased with the way the day has turned out. Why, tomorrow, I might even be up for another cave adventure…