Freo! Even the nickname for Perth's port city sounds relaxed. Compared with the business-related rhythms of Perth's CBD, Fremantle's heart has a leisurely beat. Dominated by low-rise, elegant buildings of the colonial era, Fremantle – still a working port – is a place for the traveller to chill. And to eat and drink.
Famed for its pubs and cafes, in recent years Freo's food scene has expanded in quality and sophistication. Here are some places to visit beyond the tourist strip.
BREAD IN COMMON
On a back street of Victorian-era commercial facades and new apartments, this restaurant sits within a large industrial space with bare brick walls, dangling light bulbs and long benches. There's a mellow atmosphere in the dimly lit interior at night, with black-aproned waiters serving chatty crowds beneath exposed timber rafters.
As the name suggests, the house-baked bread is spectacular, served alongside innovative share plates such as sweet potato with artichoke, macadamia and capers; salmon with baby peppers and kale; and black vinegar chicken with mizuna, almond and chilli. A long and interesting drinks list complements the food.
43 Pakenham Street, breadincommon.com.au
Fremantle was in the vanguard of Australia's blossoming love affair with espresso-style coffee in the 1980s, so you'd expect it to have good cafes. A fine example is The Attic, in a quieter spot behind the popular "Cappuccino Strip" along South Terrace.
The lofty upstairs seating area is another exposed-brick space, lifted by natural light. The coffee is good, with the menu composed of slick contemporary cafe dishes, including green chilli eggs with bacon and spring onion; an open quesadilla with black beans, egg, jalapeno and avocado; and mushrooms with cinnamon, cumin seed and white cheese.
16 Bannister Street, theatticfremantle.com.au
THE RAW KITCHEN
By now you may be thinking that restaurants inside big old industrial venues is a Fremantle thing, and you'd be right. But The Raw Kitchen is different in serving a completely vegan menu – though it prefers to describe its food as "100 per cent gluten-free, dairy-free and plant-based".
It's both interesting and tasty. Star of the menu are the corn tortillas with tofu, aioli, kimchi and jalapeno; joined by items such as raw nachos; yellow coconut curry; and vegetable-based sushi. Sticking to its guns, the restaurant serves its coffee only with non-dairy alternatives to milk, including a house-made cashew, macadamia and date blend.
181a High Street, therawkitchen.com.au
BALL & CHAIN
Freo's most pleasant public space is The Esplanade, a broad green park between the commercial centre and the Fishing Boat Harbour. Overlooking it is the Ball & Chain, part of the venerable Esplanade Hotel.
Built on an early convict housing site (hence the name), the Ball & Chain is an up-to-date reinvention of the classic pub. Its interior is an eclectic collection of couches, copper-topped tables and bare floorboards, which lends it an energetic, rough-hewn charm. This is the place to try local seafood, with the seasonal menu containing black shell mussels, and crisp-fried Fremantle sardines. On tap are Matilda Bay Brewing Co beers.
Corner of Marine Terrace & Collie Street, hotelesplanadefremantle.com/ball-and-chain
Away from the tourist haunts in a dowdy stretch of shops, this cafe is a great place to take a sightseeing break. Its interior is set with a jumble of chairs and tables in an array of colours and styles, while outside there's a big, pleasant dining area with tables fashioned from the wooden packing crates which lend the cafe its name.
The menu is similarly varied, including creative choices such as "Egyptian happy eggs" with haloumi, asparagus and avocado; and a Mexican-style omelette. At lunch the Moroccan lamb burger is a popular choice. Coffee is good, with prompt service.
177 High Street
After one of Freo's pacey (well, mellow) days, this is where to draw the evening to a close. On a tranquil side street, this bar is a deceptively deep space rocking a modern vibe, with a timber-lined ceiling above black banquettes on a concrete floor.
There are interesting share plates on the menu (burnt eggplant and fetta; grilled octopus, basil and almond) and plentiful beer and wine, but this feels like the place for a cocktail. Perhaps toast Fremantle's unique character with a Strange Brew, containing gin, pineapple, citrus and Hop Hog beer.
5 Nairn Street, strangecompany.com.au
Qantas flies to Perth from all mainland capitals, see qantas.com.au. The weekly Indian Pacific train also runs from Sydney to Perth via Adelaide, see greatsouthernrail.com.au
The Lodging, 215 High St, Fremantle, thelodging.co. Cosy accommodation in a terrace house. From $199 a night.
Fremantle Prison YHA, 6a The Terrace, Fremantle. Atmospheric budget lodgings inside a former prison. Dorm beds from $23 a night, rooms from $68.
Adina Barrack Plaza, 138 Barrack St, Perth, adinahotels.com. Easy walk to the Fremantle train. From $209 a night.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail and Tourism Western Australia.