Imagine sitting in a restaurant and reaching for a cigarette. As you raise it to your mouth a black-suited waiter runs over from the other side of the room to light it for you. No? But then you probably can’t imagine silver service, white gloves or breadcrumbs being brushed from linen tablecloths either.
In the 1970s and 80s such over-the-top rituals were the hallmarks of sophistication in Perth’s grand hotel dining rooms – the Garden Restaurant at the Parmelia Hilton, The River Room at The Sheraton (Pan Pacific), Gershwin’s at The Merlin (Hyatt). Then, like dodos, pterodactyls and fondues, they died out. Along came café society with its focaccia, bruschetta and boutique beer. The hotel dining room became as daggy as a buffet breakfast.
But just when you thought you’d never see another serviette twirl, resplendent hotel restaurants are back. Big time. Not so much with a vengeance as a brand new image. And this one is super-cool. There’s been a not-so-quiet revolution happening through Perth in the past year. As classy signature restaurants open one sleek door after another they boast internationally known chefs, sassy food and exquisitely curated interiors. This time there’s nothing starchy about their approach to dining
Bringing in a big-name chef like Guy Grossi has certainly worked for the Westin group with Garum, a contemporary Roman dining experience where there is currently a wait list of two weeks to score a table. General Manager, Peter Brampton says the customer mix is around 90 per cent of non-hotel guests for lunch and around 80 per cent for dinner. With the restaurant being awarded one hat in the Good Food Guide list it confirms they were on the right track
“Hotel restaurants had become a little predictable,” he said.
Hotels needed to become adventurous and think outside the box with regards to their restaurant designs and concepts. Partnering with established chefs had proven to be successful in the eastern states and south east Asian gateway cities too.
Globetrotting restaurateur Robert Marchetti, does the same with Santini at the newly opened QT Hotel, on the old Cinema City site in Murray Street. Then there’s the Cantonese opulence of The Grand Orient at the newly refurbished Melbourne Hotel, where former Asian Chef of the Year Chan Kwok churns out dumplings with caviar and truffles, double-boiled abalone and braised sea cucumber. Last year, the InterContinental Hotel gave an upmarket shout-out to Spain when it opened its posh Iberian restaurant Ascua Spanish Grill, while a few blocks away there’s still a flurry of excitement at Como, The Treasury where Long Chim, Wildflower, Post and Petition Kitchen draw regular crowds. And let’s not forget Crown – Guillaume, Nobu, Rockpool and Silks. And the boutique hotels which were at the forefront of the renaissance of the fine dining room mirroring their European counterparts.
Opus at The Richardson, a recently closed five-star hotel, was an early one, its Mediterranean menu offering fine fare to rock stars including Rod Stewart. In 2014 when Shadow Wine Bar opened at Northbridge’s Hotel Alex that seemed to change everything – an in-house dining room serving great food and encouraging non-hotel guests to come and play. Looking back, it seems like a no-brainer. But Howard Cearns, one of the owners, recalls the extensive research the group put in to creating what, five years ago, seemed like a risky venture.
“It was probably us wanting to be a little bit different,” he said.
“Shadow was based on the perception that a hotel restaurant was more of an amenity than anything else. We wanted to make sure the restaurant was as good as anything in the market, with its own personality and its own product. In Europe you find that hotel guests feel like it’s their uncle and auntie running it, people who have a devotion to the role with good food and wine.”
So began the renaissance. Bradley Woods, CEO of the Australian Hotels Association WA, says the trend come from hotels catering to the modern demands of discerning guests.
“Perth’s dining scene has evolved and matured remarkably in decent years and this has been largely driven by hotel developments that include outstanding restaurants,” he said.
Jeremy Cariss, chairman of Restaurant and Catering WA, agrees.
“I think it’s great that these grand rooms are coming back and restaurateurs are taking advantage of it,” he says. “For the hotel, having a big name and a hot-ticket restaurant adds a bit of lustre to their product. And from the restaurant point of view they get added security and a guaranteed level of foot traffic. Also you are more likely to get permanency of staff as they are guaranteed more work.”
Sounds like a win-win situation, with Perth punters enjoying the benefits.