Precinct to trea­sure

This im­pres­sive Perth pro­ject is one man’s vi­sion of the good life, with hos­pi­tal­ity the key

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - JOHN LETH­LEAN

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

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