I still feel pangs of yearning when I walk past the former Peoples Cafeteria site in Northbridge.
I miss the colourful salads that populated the smorgasbord. I miss the dining room’s share-house-chic aesthetic. I miss the cheery greetings of Minh, Ella, Sophie and the rest of the crew there. I miss the very good bang-per-buck of the sausage rolls, pies, slabs of pizza and other baked goods produced at Big Loaf, the O’Connor bakery owned by Peoples Cafeteria owners and Hot Bread Retail Group partners Lachlan Bisset and Craig Stewart. While we can confidently say that Perth is unlikely to see an eatery like Peoples open its doors any time soon, Bisset and Stewart have transplanted many of its characteristics to their new venture.
Perth, meet Wards Central Dining, an all-day eatery and provedore on the ground floor of Hesperia’s ambitious Victoria House project in Shenton Park. I (fortunately) never visited this space during its Shenton Park Rehabilitation Hospital era, so I’m assuming the eatery’s crisp, white-walled paint job wasn’t there previously and is team Bisset-Stewart’s doing. The gents also scoured antique shops for the weathered knick-knacks and furnishings – teak Indonesian furniture, dishy display cabinets, pews salvaged from Fremantle’s Victoria Hall that have been reupholstered in the tartan of Stewart’s family – that help conjure the room’s “old five-star hotel” aesthetic. But as attractive as the space is, Wards Central Dining is less about design choices and more about choices for diners.
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As it was at Peoples – and, before that, the duo’s original venture, North Street Store – the food at Wards is all about the familiar. The breakfast menu features egg dishes gathered from all over (think three-cheese omelettes and the Arabic baked egg classic shakshuka alongside the usual eggs Benedict and hollandaise offerings) plus Mexican-inspired avocado toast and waffles. Lunch hews close to the cafeteria-style offered at Peoples and features salads – tofu with roasted broccoli, radicchio and a fermented chilli sauce, perhaps – alongside those aforementioned hot pastries and ready-to-go filled rolls. Daily specials such as nasi goreng will be rotated through the menu regularly and the selection of provisions that will be sold is growing weekly. Basically, however you want to eat, Wards wants to help out.
“Like North Street, we want this to be that fantastic shop at the bottom of your street where you know people are there for you,” says Bisset. “It’s that place that can look after you whether you’re hungover, need something to take away for dinner, or need to pick up some bread and butter. It just improves everyone’s life.”
In addition to beefing up the shelves with takeaway items, the plan is to have Wards’ dinner offering ready in time for summer alongside a tight cocktail and wine program. Tea will be another element of Wards, with Bisset hoping that afternoon cuppas of high-grade tea and a slice of cake will become a Shenton Park thing: perhaps out on the sprawling deck. Time will tell whether the space will come and go like the neighbourhood kopitiams (coffee shops) that Bisset grew up around during his adolescent years living in Singapore.
Some former Peoples co-conspirators have also made the move from Northbridge to Shenton Park, including head chef Paddy Ryan and Minh Nguyen, who’s in charge of the coffee side of things. Wards might not be Peoples, but it’s got plenty of its predecessor’s DNA: great news for those craving an accessible, community-minded breakfast, brunch or lunch destination in the inner west.
Wards Central Dining
Victoria House, 4 Thornbury Way, Shenton Park
(08) 9213 4343