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Regional Australian Cuisine Is on the Menu in Perth


In Perth, a slew of dining spaces is putting Western Australia on a plate. GRACE MA spends a weekend grazing the city's best regional fare.

Published on Sep 27, 2018

 

IT WAS MY FIRST DINNER on my second visit to Perth. I had just popped a mouthful of roasted peppers at Ascua, a Spanish-inspired restaurant in the InterContinental Perth City Centre, and the silky strips were among the sweetest I had ever tasted. "They're from Gingin," the waitress said of their origin, a town 67 kilometers north of Perth. "They're really good, aren't they?" That was an understatement. Served alongside an equally flavorful beef rump cap, which has been cut from grain-fed cattle from the southeast Stirling Ranges, the peppers were just the beginning.

The InterContinental Perth City Centre is surrounded by stately architecture.
The InterContinental Perth City Centre is surrounded by stately architecture. Courtesy of InterContinental Perth City Centre.

Isolated from the rest of the country, Perth has access to some of the most biologically diverse produce from across Western Australia, the largest Australian state. The opening of the InterContinental in October 2017 coincided with the debut of many regional-focused restaurants in 2017 and the hotel forms the perfect base from which to start my feasting journey.

Ascua is one of two restaurants located within the hotel itself. The other is tapas and raw bar Heno & Rey. A Spanish take on "hay" and "king"—the names of the streets forming the intersection where the bar is located—Heno & Rey, like Ascua, embraces the Spanish style of cooking to make local ingredients sing.

"We felt there was something missing from the market and Spanish cuisine would be a great addition. But we also wanted to keep it regional with our own spin on it," says chef de cuisine of both restaurants Nicholas Trezise, who grew up in Pemberton, a small town southwest of Perth.

The dining room at Ascua, where Spanish cuisine gets an Australian approach.
The dining room at Ascua, where Spanish cuisine gets an Australian approach. Courtesy of InterContinental Perth City Centre.

Trezise worked the Australian-Spanish combination into each restaurant's menu distinctly. My Ascua dinner is refined: Shark Bay scallops (from the World Heritage site at Australia's westernmost tip) are complemented with two types of jamón: serrano crisps and ibérico crumbs. Dessert is a rich chocolate pudding made from handcrafted chocolate by a Margaret River chocolatier and paired with ice cream made with turrón, a traditional Spanish nougat.

Heno & Rey's offerings are more relaxed. I share the space with happy locals celebrating Australia Day, and polish off plates of Australian tuna ceviche, acorn-fed cured ham, and marinated chicken thigh with romesco sauce. I sit alone, but the boisterous Aussie crowd, pumping music and house-made sangria on tap make me want to skip up from my table.

 

A SHORT WALK FORM the hotel, at the basement of an old bank building, is Fromage Artisans. Opened by Danicia Quinlan and Michael Taylor, who also founded the city's only cheese festival, the fromagerie not only showcases the region's best dairy produce but is licensed to sell liquor and has a serious dress code—no activewear, sandals or ripped jeans allowed. "Our travels interstate and overseas made us realize that there was nothing [in Perth] that showcased amazing artisanal cheeses in a way that was so appealing as it is in these boutique places," Quinlan says as we stand in the century-old former bank vault that's now a cold room filled with more than 40 types of cheese.

A peek at the tasting room at Fromage Artisans.
A peek at the tasting room at Fromage Artisans. Courtesy of Fromage Artisans.

Here, the tasting boards feature the best table-aged cheeses paired with artisanal liquor. Today I'm presented with rare goat and sheep cheeses from Toodyay and Nannup ("small communities with a strong focus on artisanal produce and sustainable farming practices," Quinlan says) alongside a Sartori BellaVitano, an American-made sweet cow's milk cheese rubbed with roasted ground coffee.

"The goat cheese from Gidgegannup [near Toodyay] is one of our biggest sellers, but there are days where the owner gets busy with the goats and finds it hard to deliver to us," Quinlan says. "When you're running an establishment and people are expecting to have the same thing in a consistent way, relying on small local producers can be challenging. But while you may not know what cheeses you'll get, you know it will be of good quality with a great story."

No matter, busy goat owners are easily forgiven when you can also order from a menu of decadent bar bites—the 10-cheese toasted sandwich, which melts a secret mix of high-end remnants of the day (some costing as much as A$120 per kilogram), is best eaten with a dab of spiced tomato chutney made by a Peppermint Grove Beach producer southwest of Perth.

 

GOING BIG ON WESTERN Australian produce seems the intuitive way to go, and Market Grounds, a massive 780-seat restaurant, bar and beer garden, does this as well as celebrating the city's past. Fashioned after the old Perth Market that operated here from 1897 to 1937, the complex sits within King's Square, a commercial precinct at the heart of the Perth City Link, which was constructed over a railway that had previously separated the CBD and the Northbridge neighborhood for more than a century.

Fremantle octopus, chorizo and pimento caponata on toast, a hearty lunch at Market Grounds.
Fremantle octopus, chorizo and pimento caponata on toast, a hearty lunch at Market Grounds. Courtesy of Market Grounds.

The multi-million dollar venue provides distinct places to dine: go for a grazing menu at the sunken lounge, small bites at the bar or shared plates at the 75-seat main restaurant. Menus are broken down into butcher, baker, grocer and fishmonger sections—a connection to the old market halls—and ingredients are sourced from farming communities located within a 200-kilometer radius of Perth: fruits and vegetables come from Wanneroo; meat from Dardanup; seafood from Fremantle.

It's the ultimate modern pub, says Adam Kapinkoff, group operations manager of his family's Ark Hospitality Group, which launched Market Grounds in December 2017. "As pubs evolved in the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a serious shift in providing restaurant quality food in a relaxed casual setting. We're all proud Western Australians who want to support the local suppliers. With such great access to quality local produce, it'd be silly not to."

It's the same pride I encounter as I round off my trip at a weekend brunch with local friends at Island Market Trigg, a bright beach diner clad in pink and marble with Mediterranean vibes and a Levantine menu. The minds behind the menu, executive chef David Coomer and head chef Sunny de Ocampo, have cooked in some of Perth's best kitchens and are long familiar with the West's bounty.

Sunset vistas at Island Market Trigg.
Sunset vistas at Island Market Trigg. Courtesy of Island Market Trigg.

"We don't want to import from overseas when the availability is out there," de Ocampo says. "It's also about putting what’s fresh and in season on our plates and supporting our local farmers." Summer plats du jour include seasonal fruits to balance richer flavors: watermelon brings sweetness to a feta salad, while nectarines add a zesty spritz to wood-fired roast duck. Close relationships with the producers also mean getting first dibs on the most interesting harvests of the day—think local shellfish "honey bugs" from Perth's offshore Rottnest Island, and Manjimup figs from the southwest.

As we look out to views of sparkling Trigg Beach, our party of four passes plates of latkes topped with hot-smoked salmon, dill and capers; breakfast pide, a Turkish pastry filled with sausages, egg, peppers and haloumi; and shakshuka made with free-range CharCol Springs eggs from the Southern Forests region. In Perth, it seems like every plate is an ode to its neighbors.

 


THE DETAILS

STAY
InterContinental Perth City Centre
Located within the King Street Precinct, this five-star hotel was designed with the Western Australian landscape in mind—the entrance features locally sourced natural timbers and stones. The well-connected Club InterContinental team can organize exclusive local experiences in the city. intercontinental.com/perth; doubles from A$245.

EAT+DRINK
Ascua
Wood-fired meats are the main event at this Spanish-style grill-house at the base of the InterContinental. ascua.com.au; mains from A$28.
Fromage Artisans Offering a range of tasting boards, wine and cheese masterclasses and bespoke artisanal cheese hampers, this boutique bar answers all dairy cravings. fromage.com.au; cheeseboards from A$22.
Heno & Rey As well as a diverse tapas menu, this lively spot at the InterContinental serves sangria on tap, Latin beers and top Spanish sherries. henoandrey.com.au; tapas from A$13; drinks from A$6.
Island Market Trigg The bright and airy dining space here has views of Trigg Beach with a relaxed yet refined menu. islandmarkettrigg.com; mains from A$16.
Market Grounds This two-story eating-anddrinking complex offers several bars for an after-work tipple. Our pick is the outdoor garden bar—perfect for summer sundowners. marketgrounds.com.au; mains from A$19; drinks from A$9.

The limited edition Avo Splash cocktail at Market Grounds blends avocado with a dash of tequila.
The limited edition Avo Splash cocktail at Market Grounds blends avocado with a dash of tequila. Courtesy of Market Grounds.

 

 

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A taste of Spain at Heno & Rey. Courtesy of InterContinental Perth City Centre.
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