WA s new breed of restaurateurs
Michael Forde and Paul Aron are pictured at El Publico. Picture: Michael Wilson/WA News

They are the new restaurant bosses - entrepreneurs who are changing the way we eat and, in the process, casting aside old paradigms, seeing-off Perth's old-school restaurants and creating a new look hospitality sector in WA.

Between them they own and operate 15 of Perth's most talked-about restaurants and bars.

As their influence and businesses grow, Perth's more traditional dining rooms are feeling the pressure.

Many have simply shut.

The very public closure of CBD restaurant Bar One this month with $400,000 of unpaid debt and the demise of the classic, white glove dining room Chanterelle at Jessica's in the Hyatt Centre are the most prominent examples of a shift away from structured formal dining to easy, fun, share dining.

Restaurateur Paul Aron says at the core of the industry's structural changes has been the dramatic shift in the way West Australians dine.

"When we first served up share plates at Greenhouse (restaurant) five years ago, customers were perplexed," Aron said.

"They didn't like it, but they got used to it quickly.

"In just five years, WA has gone from an entree, main-course dining culture to a fun, share-plate/small-plate culture.

"Share-plate dining started with tapas and spread like wildfire once people cottoned on to how much fun it was."

Aron and his business partner, chef Michael Forde, have been mostly responsible for giving the Highgate-Mt Lawley strip its new-found mojo with restaurants Ace Pizza, El Publico, Mary Street Bakery and Cantina 663 (just sold) at the leading edge of Perth's new style of dining.

No bookings, communal tables, high table seating, share plates, small and interesting wine lists, anytime-dining, modest prices and menus that borrow from across cultures and borders are the hallmarks of the new-style restaurants.

Trustee and Beaufort Street Merchant restaurateur Scott Taylor says the mystery and mystique surrounding cooking has disappeared.

"Customers know their product far better these days and they don't want us fawning over them or conning them with unheard of ingredients and fanciful trickery. That's old school," Taylor said.

"It's about sharing the love of good product with our customers and interaction between the people serving and eating. It's more like a team game now, with everyone playing their part.

"We're going away from cathedral-like silences and the hushed reverence of times gone by."

Paul Aron, left, Michael Forde (Ace Pizza, Mary St Bakery, El Publico), Scott Taylor (Trustee) & Clint Nolan (Pleased To Meet You) are pictured at Pleased To Meet You in Northbridge. Picture: Michael Wilson/WA News

Pleased To Meet You owner Clint Nolan says "people just want to have fun, more flexibility and not be bound to a entree-mains style of dining".

He says dining "old school" takes commitment.

"Modern diners, particularly younger customers, don't want to make a commitment to time, to a three-course dinner or even to a booking in the way that their parents did," Nolan said.

"Customers might meet with mates for a drink and a small bite early in the evening and then move to another restaurant where they'll have dinner with their partner.

"We're seeing much more of this kind of eating."

Scott Taylor flags more tough times ahead for those who don't keep up with their customers.

"We're fast approaching saturation point in Perth, so there's bound to be more heartache for some," he said.

"Only the top 10 per cent will prosper."

The West Australian

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