Meet WA’s dining future. They’re young, passionate, wine-savvy and want to raise the State’s hospitality game.
Caitlin Webb, James Gentile and Sofia Giros are in the vanguard. A mix of fresh investment in high-end locations; some bold restauranteurs prepared to take a punt on the ‘kids’; and, the maturing of Perth’s dining scene has convinced generation next to make their careers here.
Gone are the days of the hospo brain drain to Melbourne or Sydney – or overseas. In fact, Giros – who was born into a hospitality family in Spain and is now steering the ship at Shadow Wine Bar – is reversing the direction. Webb, who cut her teeth at Lulu la Delizia, Il Lido and the Boatshed Market Wine Loft, personifies this trend. The former chef, who now oversees the dining room and wine list at Tiny’s Bar in the Harry Seidler-designed QV1, has the world at her feet. A dab hand at languages who speaks Italian, Webb travelled in Europe for several years soaking in as much food and wine inspiration as she could. She could have easily stayed. But she notices the change in her home-town.
“People are coming back to Perth more, which didn’t use to happen,” she said. “I think that there’s a change in the scene at the moment. The people who are working in it want to push it, they want to make change, they want to make it better. There’s still a long way to go, we’re only a relatively small place, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
It’s a view shared by Gentile, the bar manager of the Heritage Wine Bar just down the Terrace.
“I couldn’t have envisaged something like (the Brookfield development or the Treasury Buildings) seven years ago,” he said. “The new investment has facilitated careers, because if you have those people who are budding bartenders, or chefs, or waitstaff, that want to push themselves more, if you don’t have the venues that require that, then they are not going to push themselves or they are going to do that thing where they leave and go to Melbourne or Sydney. It’s the people who have the money to invest in me and others in the industry, because they are trusting ‘kids’ and it’s really good to see.”
The names of these cutting-edge owners are peppered frequently in Perth circles: the Forde’s, Aron’s, Freeman’s, Nolan’s, Fini’s, Sullivan’s, Wolkowinski’s and Trimboli’s. And more. We should thank them all. While he’s anchored to Perth, Gentile says travel is essential – as well as veracious reading and relentless tasting of new wines – to keep skills sharp.
“You have to keep your palate active,” he said.
“I try to get over to Sydney and Melbourne at least once a year. Last year I had the absolute pleasure of dining at Attica with a friend of mine, and I took so much away from that experience, not just the food and how they delivered it, but hammering this service point: super-friendly and approachable and not at all what I was expecting – I was expecting the stuffy formal service.”
Giros, a native of Barcelona who recently gained her Level 3 WSET wine credentials, likes what she sees in Perth.
“I really like how wild winemaking in Australia is … while it is changing overseas, the industry is still very controlled there,” she said. “Here it is very experimental, and they try to do things differently and grow different varieties – it is very creative.”
And even in her three years in Perth, she’s seen an evolution of the local dining scene.
“There are more small bars opening … and they are all different and it’s nice to create this culture which reminds me a little bit of home,” she says. “Where you don’t just go and sit in one restaurant for the whole night … you start in one place and have an aperitif, walk to another place, have a drink and something to eat, then walk to another one. It makes for a richer experience.”
All three nominate minimal intervention wines as among their favourite tipples at the moment.
“I think that’s a great thing for the wine industry – everyone has to be a little more upfront and honest about the things that they do now,” said Webb. “That’s a cool thing for consumers, in helping them to have a greater understanding.”
And we’ll leave the last word to Webb, about how the industry – and customers – can share the responsibility for making the local scene even better.
“Obviously the economic times are not the best, but I feel there needs to be a shift in people’s mindset, and a shift in the industry’s mindset,” she said. “We’re not in boomtimes anymore, we need to cut things back a bit. We’re not paying the rents we used to so why are we still charging what we used to? If we all band together to improve (affordability), maybe we get people who were going out once a week going out twice a week. That can make a massive difference.”