Amy Hamilton’s Liberté was somewhat of a leader 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 giving to leisurely comfort with low tables and deeply studded lounges, emphasising a relaxed spirit.
The fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisines is, of course, a melding that has significant history, but Hamilton isn’t replicating dishes shaped by colonialism, but 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 and are moored to a simple principle. “Keryn [Giles, Bar Manager] and I choose wine first and foremost we like to drink ourselves,” says Hamilton. “We have a strong focus on local producers, but we also feature wine from other regions in Australia and overseas as well. While all our wines are easily enjoyed without food, we like to make sure the list has a symbiotic relationship to our menu… We like to play around with wines that can stand up to spicier and bolder menu choices.”
COVID-19 conditions: Liberte is back to near-normal trading, with the crisis allowing them to expand their takeaway offering, which has been going strong post lockdown, means that they’re more accessible than pre-COVID.