Yagan Square, the city's new inner-city precinct named after the eponymous Nyoongar warrior, finally opened on the March long weekend to moderate fanfare and the moderate confusion of many Perth eaters unsure what it actually is. Food hall? A collection of fine-dining restaurants? Should they come at breakfast, lunch or dinner? Is it licensed?
The head scratching is perhaps understandable. One month in and it seems Yagan Square is also trying to work out how it fits into the CBD picture.
You can go for breakfast, for instance, but the main hall doesn’t open until 11am. Go somewhere that’s open early, and you may struggle to find seating or eat from a plate resting on a stone bench. The official FAQ says you can visit 24 hours a day, but it’s not clear why you’d be there at 2am on a Wednesday morning.
Of course it’s not all bad. Early dining highlights include Latin-fusion, coffee and cocktails from Big Els X The WKND, entertaining Japanese yakitori restaurant Hiss & Smoke quality seafood (check out the lobster roll) from Josh Catalano’s Fish Boss and decent pasta in a hurry from Wheat St. A 185-seat farm-to-table casual dining venue, Fiscus, is set to open in June.
The quantity of seating is an issue inside and out the complex, and comfort in general needs some work. Looking for a bathroom? Keep looking.
On a summer’s day, it can get hot inside too, which plays havoc with some foods. The mist-spraying fans – there is no air conditioning – don’t do much except raise the humidity, causing problems for those in the specialty coffee space. As for the social issues of a licensed late-night space between the train and bus stations? Time will tell.
And on the subject of coffee, there are four cafes in a row on the city side of the square where you can get a brew, depending on your preference for Fiori, Five Senses, Pound or Toby's Estate. Primal Pantry is about to join the party, and will no doubt serve coffee as they do in Brookfield Place.
The Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority (MRA) can't be blamed for taking on tenants, but some of them (and their disinterested staff) really look out of place. Business is business, but it’s hard not to be concerned for some of the ambitious food-truck and pop-up operators presumably now lease-locked. Perth Gourmet Trader’s high-end delicatessen is nice to look at, but with nearby parking fairly limited how do you get your meat and cheese home?
Kings Square vendors have already struggled from a lack of customers, although they may be saved by flagships Market Grounds and Ippudo. With the Melbourne Hotel now open, Hibernian Square opening later this month and Raine Square bringing cinema back to the CBD mid-year, there’s going to be plenty of competition for the city’s dining dollars.
Once Yagan Square gets a clearer idea of what it wants to be and how to get there, the precinct will be better positioned to be part of the action.