Backyard gardens are everywhere in the Cockburn region, once a thriving market garden hub for the state. Lemon trees heavy with citrus loom over fences. Grapevines drape along walls. I just drove past a house with a couple of llamas tethered to a stake in the wire fence backyard, grazing on grass.
Over the last two years, locals may have noticed a new backyard garden materialising on Cockburn Road across from Coogee Beach. Once upon a time, this corner of Western Australia was the Coogee Hotel. Prior to that, locals knew the establishment here as the Four-Mile Hotel (guess how far the hotel was from Fremantle). Come the end of February, the site will be home to Coogee Common, an ambitious neighbourhood venue comprising public bar, dining room, kitchen garden and cooking school. And like its predecessors, Coogee Common is all about making friends with the neighbours.
Coogee Common is a team effort from general manager Scott Brannigan, restaurateur and co-owner Nic Trimboli, and property developer Adrian Fini (of State Buildings fame). “We want to do something that the community will love and want to belong to,” Brannigan told Broadsheet when we broke the news about the hotel in January 2018. One month out from opening, the signs suggest that locals are going to like what they see.
Coogee Common’s new look both flatters and modernises the building’s Heritage-listed bones. Old window-frames separate the semi-open kitchen and high-ceilinged dining room, with vintage teapots and bevelled mirrors through the public bar. The former hotel rooms have been converted into small, private dining rooms.
But the garden is Coogee Common’s hero. In preparation for the restaurant’s opening, Brannigan and his gardening team have spent the last year tending citrus trees, plucking carrots and nursing herbs on the property and getting to know the soil. Diners and chefs at parent restaurant Bread in Common in Fremantle have been the big winners of these trials with frigatello peppers, radishes and summer squashes among the ingredients to have made the trip from Coogee to Freo.
The menu at Coogee Common will reflect the morning’s pickings and have a strong plant-based focus: think kohlrabi served with housemade rye miso, or pan-fried padron peppers. House-made sausages will be flavoured with hyssop and other garden herbs. Two pastas will be offered each day and the kitchen will make its own fresh farm-style cheese. Juicing, fermentation and pickling will be utilised extensively.
“The vision is that we showcase the garden as much as we can,” Brannigan says. But there’s also plenty of scope to highlight West Australian produce and producers committed to organic, thoughtful farming. Local seafood, naturally, will feature.
Keeping it local is one of his main goals. “The fish will [be sourced] from [the region between Freo], down to Mandurah and out to Rottnest: that’s the sort of triangle we want to focus on,” says Brannigan, his arms outstretched towards the Indian Ocean. “We want to keep the food miles down. It comes from [the ocean], goes to Fins Seafood, and then comes to us. Okay, we won’t be able to do it all the time, but we’ll do it as much as we can. We’ve got an opportunity to learn from what we’ve done at Bread in Common and try and make things better.”
Although Brannigan is driving the food philosophy, the day-to-day running of the restaurant will fall on the shoulders of head chef Nathaniel Murray (a former member of the Vue de Monde kitchen in Melbourne) and venue manager Joel Peach, a long-time part of Clint Nolan’s Lavish Habits group (Joe’s Juice Joint, Alabama Song, Henry Summer).
Coogee Common opens at the end of February.
371 Cockburn Road, Coogee