Tell us about your journey into the role of chief lifestyle and features writer, and food critic at The West Australian?
After knocking around university publications, including the annual Prosh charity newspaper, I took over the Wired music column in The West Australian on Thursdays around the same time as Celine Dion was going on about her heart.
Foot firmly in the door, I bounced around various part-time, full-time, casual and permanent roles ranging covering film and television, music, food and “social affairs”, whatever that was (seemed to range from mobile phone technology to French circus troupes).
In March, 2002, I was appointed music editor and this would be the role that would define the next two decades. Brilliant job.
In the past few years, the role became less specific and I found myself again pinballing between writing about entertainment, arts, hospitality and craft beer. I established True Brew, which has been an annual magazine and a regular column before morphing into my current weekly column, Bar & Bites.
In May last year, I began my latest chapter focusing on dining and drinking – hospitality, in general. I’ve taken over the role as The West’s food critic, reviewing a restaurant each week and covering movements in the industry.
I still do the odd entertainment interview and reckon I’ll never completely step away from that side of things. It’s too much fun.
What does a typical day in your role look like?
I roll out of bed at the crack of noon, decide which black t-shirt to wear and then think about thinking about writing something.
Sorry, that’s Jack Black.
I tend to be juggling a number of stories, features, reviews and half-ideas at the same time. The most pressing deadline tends to determine which one gets tackled first, or if there’s nothing super urgent I tend to go with the one that feels freshest or that I’m most excited about.
I have weekly deadlines for restaurant reviews and my Bar & Bites column, so I like to get those done and dusted with plenty of time up my sleeve. Especially if my review needs to be checked by a lawyer.
I also tend to scan social media and news in general to see what else is happening in hospitality and entertainment.
There’s always stories in the pipeline or half-ideas that I might put out the feelers – send an email to a source or have a dig here or there.
Lately I’ve tend to spend less time in the office as I don’t seem to unearth too many stories at my desk.
On the odd occasion, I also get asked to write a profile and then spend too long doing it.
What restaurant, café or bar do you believe is a hidden gem that everyone needs to know about in Perth?
Well, then it won’t stay hidden… will it?
These aren’t really hidden gems, but we (my family) live in Northbridge, so I love the tori paitan (chicken broth ramen) at Tosaka, the Hainanese chicken rice at Tak Chee House and the bun bo hue at Tra Vinh.
While Fleur at the Royal is one of my favourite fine-diners, I reckon the pub grub upstairs on the hotel balcony is top notch. Very good parmi.
And it’s worth a drive out to York to devour a lamb shank at the Imperial Homestead.
What is one of the biggest and most exciting stories you’ve covered while working for The West?
I’m relatively new to the food critic role so all my big stories are music-related, from interviewing Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Mavis Staples, Elvis Costello and Weird Al Yankovic, to covering the Eurovision Song Contest (Tallinn, 2002 and Riga, 2003), and immersing myself in huge music festivals from the Big Day Out and Splendour in the Grass to Fuji Rock in Japan and Exit in Serbia.
I’ve also loved covering the WA music scene and seen bands such as Tame Impala, Eskimo Joe, the Sleepy Jackson, Little Birdy, Spacey Jane and more go from shaky early gigs to national and international tours.
One of the toughest, but best stories was a forensic examination of the wreckage caused by COVID, not only to the bank balances of promoters losing millions of dollars literally overnight to the harrowing personal stories of roadies, technicians, caterers, drivers and more faced with destitution – all set against the backdrop of indifferent government. (This ran in Business Insider in March, 2021.)
I also once wrote about a cat with a passport. On Christmas Day.
In your opinion, how has the food scene in Perth evolved in recent years?
I recently had lunch with a contact from Sydney. It was her first visit to Perth, and she said that her colleagues back home had described our dining scene as “supercharged”.
For folks in Sydney to even acknowledge we exist is remarkable, so this was something else. Not that we need approval from the other side of the Nullarbor.
Perth dining feels grown up. Hospitality is finally seen as a career rather than something to do while you wait for your big break in a “proper” profession.
The food scene is more serious, but doesn’t take itself seriously.
Hospitality has become less compartmentalised – while cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants once stuck to narrow lanes, now you can eat and/or drink at most venues.
Fancy fine dining and interminable degustations have had their day. Perth diners want casual, fun and approachable food. Pubs and brewpubs have stepped up to satisfy that demand.
Perth is exciting. There are new places to eat and drink opening every week. The small bar and pub scene is, yes, supercharged.
It’s still a cut-throat industry. Rising costs, especially of transport and staffing, combined with punters copping cost of living increases will put the squeeze on a lot of places.
That said, spending figures suggest we’re not letting Philip Lowe and the Scrooge McDucks at the RBA get in the way of a good feed and a good time.