Ah Perth. The land of curious sharks, continental rolls and FIFO workers is an enigma wedged between an endless ocean on one side and an endless desert on the other.
And there's a strong case to be made for exploring both those territories, either hiring a boat for a cruise down the waterways or lassoing a van and heading out to the hills – or flats. To the south, the stunning renovation of Vasse Felix winery strengthens that argument. Go the other way and the French-Vietnamese party that chef Amy Hamilton is throwing down at Liberte in Albany's London Hotel is another good reason to get out of town.
But there's also never been a more delicious time to spend a weekend trekking no further than Cottesloe and Leederville.
Curiously (or not, given the global trend for eateries you don't need to dress up for) a lot of what's at the pointy end of good times in Perth right now is decidedly Italian. It might make for a carby time in the wild west. But hot damn if it doesn't also make for a delicious one.
Fresh off the plane on Friday night, Northbridge is the Fitzroy/Surry Hills of Perth, and also pretty hectic of a weekend. If you want to be close to the action without going full troppo, there's plenty to be said for gearing up at the Mechanics Institute, where they mix a tight classic and have blankets for the rooftop in winter, or easing in with a little more grace at Southern Italian wine bar No Mafia: house of avernas, Margaret River semillons and Marche verdicchios.
If you want to avoid the throng altogether (or just keep the good Italian times rolling), take a short trip out to Claremont for Billie H. Here, one of Perth's hospo heroes, Daniel Goodsell, runs a tight little ship where the turntables are always ready and lambrusco is making a comeback. It's here you'll build a dinner of non-geographically bound wine food from young chef Alia Glorie. So there's spicy chorizo in a skillet of warm honey, devilled chicken livers in a creamy-sweet mess of shallots, brandy and cream, local sardines on loaves from sourdough champions Bread in Common and eggplant grilled to collapse dressed in a sweetish black garlic emulsion with young parmesan. It's a simple room, with wild wines and a team that knows how to use them. Relinquish control and relax.
La Veen ranks highly for all your espresso and specialty coffee needs. But you can't go to Perth and not smash a conti roll, and if you're planning any sort of adventure (the Calamunnda Camel Farm just a half hour drive from the city lets you do treks or mountain bike through the red-earthed forests), it's the travelling food of choice. Since Di Chiera Brothers deli closed last year, the equally historic reigning champ of West Australia's regional sandwich is the Re Store in Leederville (there's also a branch in Northbridge). You can pick your own combination of meats from mortadella, coppa, and salami and whatever pickled vegetables you want on your crusty roll, but for the gold standard ask for mixed meats with the works, where it's layered up with olives, artichokes and pickled peppers.
Back in town, The Shorehouse offers a break in your Italian agenda. It's the bright, striped beachside venue of your Instagram story's dreams. This is a beachside restaurant that knows how to white linen and sunglass it up. Buttery black kingfish crudo is marinated in mandarin and finished with toasted pumpkin seeds, dill and shiso. A nicely cut beef tartare comes with all the right stuff (chopped shallot, pickle, a perfect egg yolk), including a really rich and briny oyster cream. And while service can be a little distracted, an impressive cocktail and wine list more than makes up for it.
Spend the afternoon at Safari's Record Shop or have a nap. You'll need it. Then consider dropping in on David Thompson's Thai street food party Long Chim, if only to get a good look at the beautiful State Buildings and the vaulted basement where the restaurant lies. Chilli and basil seed spiked cocktails and a round of school prawns captured in whorls of spice-flecked batter will snap you to attention. Sure you could stay and play with the fragrant curries, duck fried rice and the buzz, but pre-gaming is acceptable.
And probably necessary heading into Lulu La Delizia, chef-owner Joel Valvasori Pereza's lacy-curtained jewel in Subiaco's crown. The service is fleet of foot. The wines tend towards skin contact and crunch drawing from the wilds of WA for Xabregas rieslings and amato sauv blancs, and from Italy for grippy Lombardia fizz. And while there's a serious amount of flex in the Not Pasta field, ranging from standard plates of salumi to a helluva chicken foot (rendered down to a supple, sticky vehicle for a vinegary plum reduction, set ablaze with fresh horseradish), it's the fork-and-spoon action you're here for. Squid ink bigoli, aka fat spaghetti, gets a crunchy fish crumb for texture. Slippery saffron pappardelle captures a bright and chunky chicken farce in its supple web.
Consider taking a stroll through Kings Park and hauling yourself up 242 steps of Jacob's Ladder. It's packed with the sweaty lycra set but also gives you a good view of the city and harbour.
For breakfast, you need to leave the CBD, a ghost town on Sundays, and trek over to Fremantle. On the outer edge of Fremantle Markets – Perth's oldest, on the corner of South Terrace and Henderson Streets – you'll find Bread in Common doling out the best sourdough loaves and pastries in Perth (fired in volcanic rock ovens) and solid espresso on the side. That sets you up for a couple of hours buying handicrafts, mettwurst and gozleme from the Yard and the Hall in the markets proper.
From here it's a matter of rolling your way along the shoreline to Cottesloe Beach where having a swim in the rolling waves (if it's warm and un-sharky enough) then wandering up to Il Lido for a spritz and a tour of Italian varietals (this red check-clothed beauty with wine racks from wall to wall has a drinking agenda steered by Dan Wegener, who used to tread the boards at Sydney's Quay) is the only smart thing to do between noon and sunset. As is ordering a bowl of chilli-laced clams, maybe a whole grilled fish if you're still in a carb fugue from Lulu or just summoning the Italian farmhouse cheeses until it's time to go to the airport.
Mechanics Institute Rear 222 William Street, Northbridge, mechanicsinstitutebar.com.au
No Mafia 189 William Street, Northbridge, nomafia.com.au
Billie H 34 St Quentin Avenue, Claremont, billieh.com.au
La Veen 90 King Street, Perth, laveencoffee.com.au
Re Store 231 Oxford Street, Leederville
The Shorehouse 278 Marine Parade, Swanbourne, shorehouse.com.au
Long Chim State Buildings, Barrack Street & St Georges Terrace, Perth, longchimperth.com
Lulu La Delizia Shop 5, 97 Rokeby Road, Subiaco, lululadelizia.com.au
Bread in Common 43 Pakenham Street, Fremantle, breadincommon.com.au
Il Lido 88 Marine Parade, Cottesloe, illido.com.au
The Good Food Guide goes national this year with hats awarded across Australia. The Good Food Guide 2018 will be launched in October with our presenting partners Citi and Vittoria and will be on sale in newsagents and bookstores.