Precinct to treasure
This impressive Perth project is one man’s vision of the good life, with hospitality the key
In Perth’s newly opened State Buildings, the city has a genuine new food and wine precinct. Multiple destinations for eating and drinking, from dawn until past midnight, all part of the same network.
Take what Sydney’s Hemmes family did at Establishment or the Van Haandel brothers in Melbourne with The Prince, and you may see some inspiration; this is on an altogether different scale.
Perth businessman and property developer Adrian Fini has gone long on this one. The “simple” recipe was this: take three magnificent old (140 years) public buildings, all linked, with more heritage considerations than the Sistine Chapel, throw a staggering sum of cash at them (about $110 million) and create something commercial yet public.
The three interconnected buildings known as the State Buildings sit on the corner of St Georges Terrace and Barrack Street. In their time, they’ve been used as public offices, a police court and cell block, treasury, survey department, GPO, immigration offices, office of the premier and cabinet, lands department and titles building — but have been empty and unused since the government vacated the premises 20 years ago.
“What inspired me was the heritage buildings that I’ve seen revitalised over the years,” says Fini of the grand idea. “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been to Italy a lot, my wife’s from Rome, and just travelling there, I’ve seen so many exciting examples of great reuse of heritage buildings.”
The core of the precinct is a glorious, vast central public atrium with stunning restored stone, plaster and metalwork and barrel-vaulted ceiling windows the likes of which you will rarely see in Australia. It is central to the project’s ethos.
“When we tendered on the project,” says Fini, “our philosophy from day one was that all the doors would be open to the public. That the building itself and the precinct would have a permeability and transparency. And we respected the building possibly more than (State) Heritage did, so we didn’t really have any problems. Everyone was supportive.”
One man’s instinct, and budget, has driven the creation of a zone with identity, all the better for the single-mindedness of the project.
“In reality, food and beverage is the only thing that people drive to,” says Fini. “They have to participate in the whole thing. Lots of retail areas are at risk into the future … so we saw food and beverage as a great way of using readapted spaces and making sure the building has a new life, an animated life.”
The “anchor tenant” is Australia’s first Como hotel, a predominantly Asian brand popular with Australians in Bali and Thailand and one that has done well with its food and beverage reputation. Think Aussie chef David Thompson’s Nahm in Bangkok, for example. It is a very elegant hotel.
Como offers two food options: at the high end is Wildflower, an architecturally contemporary restaurant perched on the hotel roof, with spectacular views of the Swan. Chef Jed Gerrard does modern food with a focus on West Australian ingredients. His manager is David Best, who did four years with Rockpool Bar & Grill at Crown Burswood.
The hotel also has its own, elegant Treasury Lounge and Bar, a facility primarily for guests yet open to the public.
On the ground floor, Como’s cafe/bistro is Post. Like several other businesses at the State Buildings complex, it abuts the public atrium. It is here you’ll find the coffee vendor Telegram dispensing caffeine from a fold-up “pod” that is one of the neatest pieces of commercial industrial design we’ve encountered.
Downstairs, in a barrelvaulted ceiling basement, is where the second Long Chim restaurant (after Singapore) has opened. Long Chim is a Thai street food diner fronted and directed by David Thompson with a variety of backers including Como Hotels’ Christina Ong.
At street level is the raucous and popular bistro Petition Kitchen, a shared-menu approach run by former Cumulus Inc (Melbourne) chef Jesse Blake. Adrian Fini is a partner in the restaurant, as well as its siblings Pet-
The State Buildings; a dish from Long Chim, below; and the subterranean bar Halford