Patrick McKendry enjoys great beer and food in Perth
My first experience of Perth came vicariously, via my younger brother who lived there for a while during the mid-1990s mining boom in Western Australia.
He was a driller's mate and used to regale me, in neatly written letters, with stories about being chased out of mining towns by drunk locals, sleeping in the bush under trucks, and resting in Perth during his time off from searching for gold.
I say "resting", but a large proportion of his time in the city seemed to involve staying in an overcrowded flat full of like-minded young Kiwis and spending far too much money on slabs of beer.
I was living in Invercargill at the time and it all seemed impossibly exciting. Perth seemed to me then like a shining beacon of wealthy potential with gloriously warm weather - sort of an Australian Dallas with a touch of the Wild West. I never seriously thought I would get to visit the place perched on the Indian Ocean.
Imagine my excitement, then, when I disembarked from flight NZ175 and collected my luggage alongside the Black Ferns women's rugby team a week out from their test against Australia at Perth's new Optus Stadium, a facility the good people of Western Australia are justifiably very proud of.
My first impressions of Perth were good — helped I must admit, by my staying initially in the Crown Towers hotel, the luxury accommodation a Beauden Barrett kick from Optus Stadium. It is a mightily impressive place and my room had a beautiful view of the city and Swan River in the foreground. I could also make out the floodlights over the Waca cricket ground.
The central city is pleasant, well-planned and has plenty of green space and a feeling of calm. The wide Swan River helps with this. It's an impressive, slow-moving stretch of water, and, allied with the friendly locals it all adds up to a laidback feel that you don't get in cities such as Sydney or Melbourne.
Perth may have been a major beneficiary of mining, but it's a lot more than that now. It's a city undergoing a renaissance of craft breweries and small drinking holes — city regulations have made it easier for smaller bars to open which helps that buzz, and I began my tour with drinks and dinner at The Island, a bar and restaurant on Elizabeth Quay.
Geoff, The Island's chief brewer, talked us through a tasting platter of his beers and showed how he could control the vast vats of the precious liquid with a touch of a few buttons on his laptop. An engineer by trade, he is passionate about brewing and his pale ales, pilsners and lagers were excellent.
Talk about starting as you mean to go on. Quality beer and food would be a theme on this trip. I had a packed itinerary which included a visit to Fremantle to check out the Little Creatures brewery — hosted by the knowledgeable and entertaining Ian — and I also managed to fit in a trip to the Swan Valley where I tasted beers at the excellent Feral Brewing Company.
I toasted the sunset with a cold one at one of the best tables at the rooftop bar of the QT hotel in the city's CBD and dined at Santini Grill, the excellent restaurant below. There I went for the fish, an excellent choice for its exquisite quality and the fact that a night or two later I found myself dining at Hunter and Barrel, a popular restaurant unashamedly designed for carnivores.
All of which meant I was due a little exercise at some point.
It was a good thing that I had a chance to stretch my legs on a Two Feet and a Heartbeat walking tour taking in, you guessed it, a few little bars in the city. The tour also included good historical notes and pointed out a few places which had been the scenes of some historical (and quite brutal) crimes. Vaughan, a former teacher, was a hospitable and entertaining host. Two Feet also do a crime tour, so there is a natural and entertaining overlap.
Vaughan's description of a historic murder, to which he many years later had a link following a mystery phone call, was fascinating. On that basis I would thoroughly recommend both.
I didn't have time to visit Rottnest Island and get what is now considered a mandatory quokka selfie, but it's not difficult to imagine that I'll be back with more time to explore.
Like most big Australian cities, Perth is imbued with a can-do attitude that makes some New Zealand cities look like poor cousins. The construction of the beautiful Optus Stadium is a case in point. If only some of that could rub off on Christchurch.
Turns out I was right all along; there is potential in Perth and it's in its bars and restaurants and the attitudes of its people whether they're taxi drivers, baristas, waiters or office workers. It's a gold standard.
A drinking and eating tour of Perth
1. Visit The Island for a great range of craft beers brewed on the spot in a beautiful riverside location next to the CBD.
2. Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle is always worth a tour. The brewery space used to be a crocodile zoo and some of the original mezzanine floors remain. The main bar space is huge and it's said to provide quite the atmosphere when full.
3. The Feral Brewing Company is in the beautiful Swan Valley and produces an irreverent and extremely drinkable range of pale ales. The 6 per cent Biggie Juice, a New England IPA, is dangerously drinkable.
4. Santini Grill at the QT hotel is a classy and always popular restaurant. I went on a Monday and it was chocka, with an atmosphere to match. One of the other guests was Adam Gilchrist there, the former Australia wicketkeeper.
5. Visit the Swan Valley for the Yahava KoffeeWorks and Margaret River Providore. The latter combines an organic olive grove, orchard, vegetable garden and vineyards. The food is exquisite and they pair particular wines with particular chocolates. It was a taste sensation.