Experience Fremantle’s buzzing food scene

There’s a new kid on the foodie block, and her name is Fremantle.

Fishing boats and trawlers at western australia fremantle harbour.
  • Penny Watson
  • June 2018

In recent years, Freo, as it’s fondly known, has undergone a major food evolution, if not a renaissance. Freo was the only Australian city to appear in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Cities 2016. Writing for Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016, Charles Rawlings-Way waxed lyrical about Freo’s “live-music rooms, hipster bars, boutique hotels, left-field bookshops, craft-beer breweries, Indian Ocean seafood shacks, buskers, beaches and students on the run from the books.” And who’s to argue?

Established in 1829 as a port for the Swan River Colony, the city’s maritime ties and convict past have endowed it with the world’s best-preserved 19th century port streetscape, made up of almost 3000 heritage buildings, 150 of them classified by National Trust. The restoration and preservation of these buildings has effectively made way for museums, contemporary galleries, eclectic boutiques and retailers that have imbued the place with a designer-cool modern glow. Adding to the buzz are places of historical intrigue, such as the Fremantle Prison, where you can explore tunnels 20 metres underground, and stunning inner-city beaches just a few minutes from the main street. Meanwhile, the food scene has been infiltrated with some very hip, independent eateries.

At Fishing Boat Harbour, fish and chip joints have long been popular, as has Little Creature’s Brewery, but the city’s latest venues have upped the ante, bringing unique flavours, wholesome produce, culinary creativity and a palpable joie de vivre to the culinary landscape. Justin Blackford, Food Loose Tours co-founder and guide, has recently added the ‘Fabulous Fremantle Frolic’ to the company’s tour options. “While there are obvious places to eat and drink in Freo, it’s the interesting, quirky and out-of-the-way places that caught my attention for the tour,” he says. “You wouldn’t necessarily spot them right away.”

The coffee scene

Red and green Italian-themed cafés hide under heritage verandahs on the famed Cappuccino Strip (or South Terrace), Freo’s atmospheric centre, which is perfect for wining, dining and people watching. But in a very Melbourne kind of way, the real coffee is found in streets off the main drag. Hush Specialty Coffee opens in new window, in one of the city’s many converted warehouses, is perfect for the modern caffeine fiend, with exposed brick walls (naturally), pressed metal ceilings and a mezzanine floor overlooking a counter top piled high with fresh muffins, madeleines, panini and wraps.

The barista is quick with a brief 101 on local coffee: “a long mac three-quarters is the WA equivalent to Melbourne’s three-quarter latte,” I’m told. But it’s the cold brew coffee that catches the eye. Poured from brown medicine bottles into squat glasses filled with chunks of ice, it looks rather like an early morning cocktail. Sipping while sitting on leather-topped stools outside, the taste is surprisingly mild. Justin tells me it’s because the cold neutralises the sensors. “But it packs a wallop of caffeine that is just as strong, if not stronger, than regular coffee,” he says. You’ve been warned.

Modern dining

When staff from famed Copenhagen restaurant Noma toured Australia to research ideas for its Sydney pop-up restaurant, they dined at Bread in Common opens in new window in Pakenham Street. It might have surprised Perth peeps (who are a half-hour’s drive away), but not locals. With a working kitchen garden presiding over the pavement, the action happens indoors. Pendant lights dangle from high, corrugated ceilings and a rustic brick wall sections off an open kitchen, bakery and small deli. Shared tables foster the idea of communal eating, as does the home-baked, long-ferment bread, which is served paired with oil and a medley of seeds and nuts. The idea is to break bread together first, then follow with feel-good farm-to-table dishes such as a salad of broccoli, celeriac, cured apple, walnut and raisin or pork belly served with pickled kohlrabi, radish and pear.

Pizza too is getting a makeover. Manuka Woodfire Kitchen opens in new window, a known pizza specialist, is wowing hungry crowds with toppings such as roast pork and onions with miso and daikon.

For a Japanese hit, don’t go past The Modern Eatery opens in new window, a casual and understated joint specialising in Aburi sushi whereby the sushi is partially torched or grilled giving it a unique flavour.

Sitting at stools along a stainless steel counter, part-owner and head chef, Seiya Kurogi tells me this culinary concept – from his hometown, a little-known province in Japan – is a first for Western Australia. “We want to change the way people think of Japanese food so they don’t just think of udon noodles and chicken teriyaki,” he says. “We want to modernise the dishes and show that Japanese dining comes with new experiences, like when we buy the best fish whole and slice it up right in front of guests.”

Collaborative spaces

Not far from the Cappuccino Strip, Freo’s lovely old market in a Victorian heritage building has 150 stalls selling everything from handicrafts, ornaments and clothes to fresh produce and juices. Pop in to imbibe the atmosphere but save your appetite for an oh-so-hipster warehouse conversion known as The Mantle. This collaborative space is home to work hubs and food and wine venues such as Don Tapa opens in new window, a modern South American eatery with salami and jamon dangling behind a charcuterie counter, and Short Order Burger Co opens in new window. Justin says the pop-up shop stuck around once locals cottoned onto the merits of a burger made with brioche buns, candied maple bacon and homemade patties.

The Raw Kitchen opens in new window has also re-invented its warehouse space, with a yoga studio, a boutique store and restaurant where plant-based cuisine such as raw nachos topped with jalapeños, walnut refried beans, guacamole and cashew sour ‘cream’ are enjoyed by diners.

The drinking scene

Don’t leave town without going to Strange Company opens in new window. Entry is via a sneaky roller door and inside it’s sleek and moody with wood fittings. Mixologists here use drippers, strainers and flame torches to conjure up specialty cocktails with names like Paper Plane, Bee Knees and Fancy Free. I ask the barman if he has any tips for amateur cocktail drinkers: “If the ice is hand-shaved, you know you’re onto a good thing”. So, it seems, is Fremantle.

Freo’s 2029 bicentennial has ambitious plans – and AUD 1 billion of private and public investment – for projects such as the reconnection of Victoria Quay to the CBD, an expansion of Fishing Boat Harbour and the redevelopment of Kings Square. With new residential and commercial spaces on the cards, Freo shows no signs of slowing down.

Want to experience Western Australia for yourself? Check out our cheap flights to Perth now!