Take in the fin de siècle room lounging in the restaurant or lodged in the bar, and you can eat and drink just as well in either, with snacks or a deeper investigation into French and Vietnamese fare, sometimes kept well apart, and sometimes meshed.
The nuts & bolts
Amy Hamilton’s Liberté was somewhat of a Western Australian pioneer at a time when Perth was still yet to fully flex its dining muscle. That Hamilton had set up shop some 500 kilometres south of the capital, in Albany, says even more about what a trailblazer her modern nod to the nexus of French and Vietnamese cuisine is.
Hamilton cut her teeth at Russell Blaikie’s ground-breaking Perth institution, Must Winebar, working her way up from dishwasher to chef, before a trip to visit her mother saw her put down roots in Albany. Hamilton describes that as an impulse move, seduced by location and lifestyle – a common tale, but this was no holiday fling that faded when the sun stopped shining.
Hamilton eventually took up residence in the old London Hotel, launching Liberté in 2014 as a tribute to the intersection of French and Vietnamese cuisines, as well as the incredible bounty of the Great Southern region and the catch from the Indian and Southern Oceans.
The dining room is a mashup of Belle Époque triggers, with gilt armchairs, tasselled lamps, Persian carpets, rich velvet curtains and gleaming chandeliers setting the scene. And though there are classic Parisian café tables with bentwood chairs in the bar area, much of the space is given to leisurely comfort with low tables and deeply studded lounges, emphasising a relaxed spirit.
“Our front bar holds up to 30 people comfortably, 40 with standing room,” says manager Hester van der Straaten. “We offer our full menu in the front bar too so you can come in just for drinks, drinks and a snack or the full lunch or dinner experience without a booking … as long as there’s room!”
The fusion of cuisines is, of course, a melding that has significant history, but Hamilton isn’t replicating dishes shaped by colonialism, rather using it as inspiration for her own creative meanderings. Produce driven from the start, Hamilton riffs on classics, like a steak tartare with crisp shallots and a sesame cracker, as well as dishing out a typically fragrant beef pho, while her crab and garlic noodles are an immovable menu item, affectionately dubbed “crack noodles” by Brave New Wine’s Andries Mostert.
The compact wine list has always paid tribute to the best of the Great Southern, but the listings are fluid, moored to a simple principle: wines they love. “We offer a good selection of local wines, while also selecting a few bangers from around the place,” says Van der Straaten. “We have a love for new wines, brave wines and those that are damn tasty. We like to offer classics and skin contact and brave blends. Every wine is chosen to match our food.”
And if you happen to be about on the last Friday of the month, Albany’s first Gay Bar, Liberge, takes centrestage in conjunction with Albany Pride.