Life has been hectic of late. Sarah had her big CD launch at Will & Toby’s, I made the move from Elizabeth Bay to Bondi, and now Lonely Planet has come a’calling, so I’m keeping the boxes packed and preparing to ship them down to Melbourne. So lucky for us that we already had some respite planned out in WA, with the excuse of a friend’s wedding in Perth being the impetus to check out the gastrotentials (yes, that’s a real word… as of today) of the West, from Fremantle to the Margaret River, the Great Souther wineries and back.
But first we needed to learn the local abbreviations, as you do in Australia. So we started in Freo (Fremantle), then hid out in Rotto (Rottnest Island), did a bit of shopping in Subi (Subiaco) and then hit downtown Perth, which inexplicably isn’t called Pertho, Pero, P-Town, Peo or just Po. Pero means ‘dog’ in Espanol, so I’ve taken the liberty to be the first to abbreviate the city name and that’s my pick. I’ll test it out on the locals, while wearing my Sydney Swans scarf of course, and get back to you.
We were on a bit of a mission to get to Rotto, so after touching down on the tarmac, we immediately hopped into a cab and skirted Pero in favour of the 30-minute ride to seaside Freo. Fremantle is a bit of a quirky place, and it grew on us over time. It’s got the working class feel from the docks, a bit of a hippy vibe at the Fremantle Markets (a great spot to pick up fresh produce), and a surprising number of great fashion boutiques. It’s also home to the Little Creatures Brewery, a place that was the obvious favourite from locals and visitors when I was running the yourRestaurants restaurant guide – that and the Must Winebar by and far received the greatest numbers of user reviews and accolades.
So we started by asking the bloke at the front desk of our hotel, “Where do you find the…”. “Little Creatures Brewery, right?” he interjected on autopilot, and gave us directions.
As instructed, we headed towards the ferry wharfs, made a left by the B Shed, traipsed around some industrial buildings, past the reputable Mussel Bar, and then came upon the sprawling and shmicked up warehouse shed, with steam rising from its roof exhausts that serves as the Brewery’s home. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but someone was telling me that the place used to be a massive alligator farm. Which would make the name Little Creatures a bit more interesting to ponder over an ale or twelve.
Either way, there were plenty of creatures in what was supposedly the outdoor holding pen area, soaking up the sun, enjoying a schooner of brew and taking in the restaurant’s tapas and woodfired pizzas. The crowd seemed to be a mix of travellers and working-class locals, although if you’re getting sozzled at 3pm on a Tuesday, I’m not sure how much working is actually being accomplished. We staked out an open bench within the bustling courtyard, then had a Captain Cook inside. There we found soaring ceilings multiple metres high, and heaps more seating, mostly unoccupied, as most customers had opted for sun over shade. But there is heaps of seating indoors, and even more on a mezzanine level that frames the warehouse floor like a prison cell block (the metal fencing is what does it, I think). But in a groovy way. I also had a looksee out back, where construction workers were busy creating a second outdoor space facing the waterfront.
As you’d expect, you can have a peak at the brewing equipment, which is all shiny and stylishly industrial. There’s also a bar where blokes pour several types of grog, from the main Little Creatures Pale Ale to their Light Ale, Pilsener, Roger’s Ale and an instantly forgettable cider (Australian brewers should figure out how to make decent normal – as in non-fizzy, non-alcoholic – cider first and then work on fermenting it). The Pale Ale is one of the best widely distributred bottles you’ll find anywhere in Australia, and even from the source, it’s still by far the best of the bunch. Here it just seemed a bit fuller, a bit fresher, a bit more bitter on the back palate to keep things interesting. Ironically, I found myself more intrigued by the wine list, which had numerous good drops by the glass.
The lunch menu consisted of tapas, different takes on mussels and an array of woodfired pizzas. We took recommendations from the waitress and opted for the kangaroo skewers and shared a pizza with goat’s cheese and sopressa. The grilled roo was juicy but chewy, the pizza doable but kept mindless by a flavourless base. Budding pizzaolos need to understand that wood alone doesn’t make a good pizza.
Still the overall experience was positive and well enough for accompanying a beverage. If you find yourself in Freo, I recommend a visit, but I’d keep the emphasis on the sun and what’s in your glass.