For George Kailis, the relaunch of Kailis Fish Market Cafe Fremantle is deeply personal.

Kailis was 12 when he pulled on the gumboots for his first shift at the family’s Fremantle seafood destination (“It was the only way I could see my dad,” he recalls). By the time he was 22, he was managing the bustling waterside destination. Last week, following almost a year of planning and a month-long makeover, the 41-year-old managing director of the Kailis Hospitality Group (Shorehouse, Island Market) unveiled Kailis Fish Market Cafe Fremantle 2.0, a fresh-faced and accessible take on the waterside seafood restaurant.

Drawing inspiration from NYC Jewish delis such as Katz’s and Russ & Daughters, Kailis and the team at Mata Design have conjured a bustling, instantly familiar space that feels like it’s already been around for decades and is going to be around for decades more. Dark timber, brass accents and arches create a timeless aesthetic. Tasteful neon lighting and show tunes maintain the illusion.

If the crowds during (soft) opening week are anything to go by, Fremantle has already given the renovation the thumbs up, as has Kailis’s father, Victor: the man that opened the original market in 1986.

“My dad was really emotional [about the opening],” says Kailis. “He’s given me the nod and as good a blessing as he can. While it’s super important to impress the general public and our existing market, I was really pleased that dad liked the place. He’s quite a critical individual – in a good way.”

Just as the space has changed, so has the food. Enter stage left respected Perth seafood chef Peter Manifis. As you’d expect from a man that grew up in a seafood family – Manifis recalls a childhood of baths in fish tubs and being surrounded by fish “breakfast, lunch and dinner” – the cooking is a cut above your neighbourhood fish and chipper.

Those ordering from the fry section (the largest of the market’s four dedicated counters that also include a combined raw bar and grilled section, a dessert bar, and the wine bar) can choose from seven different fish fillets. Fremantle sardines and Shark Bay king prawns – shell and head on – are in the whole-seafood fry section. A fish fillet burger headlines the appealing “in-a-bun” section that features, among other things, the criminally overlooked chip butty.

From the raw bar and grill station, in addition to classic cold seafood (shellfish, crabs, shucked-to-order oysters), guests can hook into bright crudos – big eye tuna, perhaps – dressed with olive oil, finely diced red onion and parsley. There is also a rock lobster and lettuce salad, grilled Shark Bay cuttlefish, and the uni waffle – an Instagram star-in-waiting that plays the oceanic savour of creamy sea urchin against crisp, fluffy waffle. Not that Kailis 2.0 is all about big-ticket seafood. Fish wings are among the items guests can order deep-fried, as are whole Rottnest Island herring. A full-time filleter ensures chefs in the kitchen have access to plenty of fish frames and scraps.

“We want to focus on reducing our wastage by making fish stocks and bisques out of offcuts and using under-utilised fish species like sardines and mullet,” he says. “Our ethos is fresh, simple and tasty. I feel the menu we’ve created at Kailis Fish Market is showcasing local WA seafood in a way never before seen.”

The drink list has been put together with speed and accessibility in mind. There’s a gin and tonic on tap, and three house-bottled cocktails (Espresso Martini, Cosmopolitan, Negroni). A sharp 50-bottle wine list from sommelier-to-watch Nina Throsby offers sharply priced Vouvray and Beaujolais by-the-glass. By-the-bottle prices start at $23.50, and recommendations for wine and seafood matching are available.

It might be early days, but the new Kailis Fish Market Cafe already looks and feels like a game changer for Fishing Boat Harbour and big-volume dining (between the indoor and outdoor areas the space can seat around 550 guests and is home to, according to Kailis, the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest electronic paging system). But For Kailis, the opening – and the current state of the industry – is indicative of something more.

“There’s enormous opportunity in the changing of the culinary agenda for the next generation of diners in Perth,” he says. “You go to Sydney and Melbourne and it’s so competitive and so brilliant and there are so many great venues. There’s a real scene emerging now in Perth with a lot of cool venues opening, but over the next 10 to 15 years it’ll only get better and grow. We’re just at the start.”

Kailis Fish Market Fremantle
46 Mews Road, Fremantle
(08) 9335 7755

Daily 11:30am–9pm

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on October 1, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.