Review: Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale, Western Australia

Harriet Harcourt

JARRAHDALE, Western Australia — The narrative is irresistible: a chef who grows almost every ingredient on your plate, who saves seeds from year to year, and coaxes beautiful meals from the same verdant land you gaze upon as you eat.

This is the story of Millbrook Winery and its chef, Guy Jeffreys. Millbrook is on a 300-acre winery of the same name in Jarrahdale, Western Australia, about a 50-minute drive from Perth. Mr. Jeffreys took over the kitchen at Millbrook nine years ago, and has attracted much attention for his food and the fact that he buys no produce for his restaurant. Almost all of it — fruit, grains, vegetables and herbs — is grown on the grounds by the chef and his kitchen staff. Oil is made from the fruit of olive trees on the property. Meat and fish, bought whole and butchered at Millbrook, come from nearby farms and fisheries.

In an age where words like local and sustainable are thrown around with abandon, this type of operation is a rarity, the far end of a very broad spectrum.

The Millbrook land has been farmed since the 1860s, and has been a vineyard since the 1990s, when it was bought by the Fogarty family — the first of four wineries owned by the Fogartys, who say they produce roughly 17 percent of the wine in Western Australia. The founder, Peter Fogarty, said he spoke to about 20 chefs before he found Mr. Jeffreys, who had both the culinary skill and the passion for gardening required to run the restaurant and gardens.

The property is almost entirely surrounded by the trails and forest of Serpentine National Park. The drive in is lovely, as is the walk from your car across a bridge and through the manicured grounds to the large winery building. The ground floor is where wine tastings take place, and up a staircase is a wide dining room with windows on all sides looking over the property.

Millbrook serves only lunch, from Thursday to Monday. Early-summer meals were a riot of color and texture. Softly smoked pink trout came showered with sugar snap peas cut into sweet, crunchy slivers, garnished with nasturtiums in a sunset’s worth of orange and red hues. Duck hearts cooked to a perfect bouncy pink were matched with orange segments, succulents and a flurry of popcorn.

If you were helicoptered in while blindfolded, told everything was grown on site and asked to speculate about where in the world you might be, it would be hard to guess. Many dishes have a Mediterranean bent, like shaved rare beef covered in a sauce made from peas, mint and Parmesan. Others seem Californian at their heart, like a startlingly good plate of avocado and housemade cottage cheese, paired with a toasty savory granola. Only the wines might give away the location — the bottles produced here are deeply Australian, all rich chardonnays and fruity shirazes.

On Mondays, Mr. Jeffreys serves what he calls his no-waste Monday meal, which has to be one of the best fine-dining deals in the world: $50 Australian gets you a multicourse lunch made up of the ingredients left on hand after the busy weekend service. There is no menu, and dishes vary from table to table as the kitchen uses up everything it has on hand. (Other days the food is à la carte, and a $75 three-course tasting menu is offered.)

The pastoral wonder of a meal grown almost entirely on the premises is impressive — so impressive that it’s practically impossible. Serving local food is hard and incredibly expensive. In fact, if Millbrook were a normal restaurant, adhering to normal market realities, it could not exist in its current form.

This type of food production needs a benefactor of some sort, or at least a larger business with a broader aim. The restaurant at Millbrook exists as a marketing arm for the winery, drawing people to the property and raising the profile of the business as a whole. The cost of real estate (and land to grow ingredients) is not a part of this restaurant’s equation, or its prices.

You’ll find similar economic arrangements at other restaurants that emphasize food grown there: The farm that supplies Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York operates as a nonprofit, with a $300 million endowment from the Rockefeller Foundation; the restaurant at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee acts as a draw for its overnight guests who pay up to thousands of dollars each night for meal-inclusive accommodation.

This dynamic reinforces a truth the food world has grappled with since the early moments of the locavore movement: that to grow and serve the freshest food is a prohibitively expensive undertaking, and that morals, aesthetic preferences and economics don’t always play nicely together. This, in turn, usually means that only the very wealthy are able to partake in meals with such rigorous restrictions on the provenance of its ingredients.

That you can eat a meal at Millbrook, one that expresses the specific terroir of this lovely pocket of Western Australia, for as little as $50, is somewhat of a miracle. It could not happen at a regular restaurant. It could not happen without a chef and cooks willing to work double-duty, in the kitchen and in the field. It could not happen on land that wouldn’t support such a huge variety of fruits and vegetables.

In other words, it could only happen here.

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