It’s situated at Point Zero – the point from which all distances from Perth are measured – but despite this iconic status as the geographical heart of Perth, the State Buildings sat unloved and unused for 20 years. Happily, the painstaking restoration which has seen the former government buildings reopened to the public has brought Perth’s heart back to life.
But for many of us, negotiating what at first seems like a complex maze of new places to eat, drink, shop and play can be a bit overwhelming. So, I decided to check into the spectacular COMO the Treasury hotel and spend 24 hours unraveling the mysteries of the iconic buildings.
History & Restoration:
The State Buildings are comprised of 3 different buildings, bounded by St Georges Terrace and Barrack Street. The first was built more than 140 years ago and over the years the buildings have had many incarnations, including being used as the Post Office, Police Court, Treasury, Lands and Titles departments.
The $110 million, eight year restoration of these historic buildings has already won a swag of awards, including construction, architecture and historical awards.
Eating & Drinking:
There’s an overwhelming number of places to whet your whistle and satisfy your stomach at the State Buildings, so let’s start at the top and work down:
Contained inside a newly constructed glass box which almost seems to hover over the top of the State Buildings is the modern fine dining restaurant Wildflower. If you like food that looks more like a work of art, then this is the place for you. The menu changes six times a year, to reflect the Indigenous season changes, and the food is vibrant, creative and almost impossible to fault. The wine list is extensive, and if you’re like us, you’ll need to call the sommelier over to help you negotiate it.
Moving down to the Ground Level off the main Postal Hall, you’ll discover the Post restaurant, so named because it’s where the franking room at the original Perth General Post Office used to be located. Post is part of the COMO hotel, and is where hotel guests are served breakfast. The restaurant is also open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is delicious - healthy, fresh and made with flair.
Behind the Post toward Barrack Street is the COMO Treasury Lounge Bar. True to its name, it does feel a bit like a lounge room (albeit a very classy one), with couches, open gas fires and original artworks adorning the walls. If you’re looking for somewhere a little quieter to have a chat, then this is a comfortable place to do it.
On the other side of the Postal Hall is the first of the Petition outlets (there’s three of them). The Petition name is a historical shout-out to the petitioners who would gather over 100 years ago at the State Buildings to lobby for various causes. When you enter the Petition outlets, you’ll notice a distinct change in architecture, from the classic to the industrial.
Petition Wine Bar and Merchant has an extensive wine list and a selection of delicious cheeses to go with it. In the colder months, there’s a delightful little a pop up bar serving mulled wine, and musicians take to the upper balcony, the music sprinkling down over the Postal Hall like a light dusting of snow. Petition also doubles as a wine merchant which stocks many labels you won’t find in your average bottle shop.
Behind the wine bar is Petition Beer Corner (also accessible via Barrack street). It has a completely different feel to the sophistication and elegance of the Postal Hall, with an industrial vibe, exposed brick and pipework and a slightly rowdier atmosphere. They take their craft beers pretty seriously, and there are 18 beers on tap which are constantly changing. The Beer Corner also has its own menu, stocked with food suited to accompanying a good ale.
At the other end of the Beer Corner is Petition Kitchen, a sit down restaurant with high chairs and tables in the centre and an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs ply their craft. The food is rustic, colourful, and most of all, tasty. There’s heaps of options for sharing, as well as several substantial mains. They have a decent wine list to match the food, or you can order a beer from the adjoining Beer Corner to go with your meal.
If you’d rather a caffeine hit than an alcoholic beverage, try Telegram coffee, which is just off the main Postal Hall. The tiny shop is built in what appears to be an old restored sea container, which unfolds like a pop up book in the mornings, and is packed neatly back up at night. One of the crank wheels that facilitates this amazing feat once maneuvered one of the dumbwaiters in the original buildings 135 years ago.
Next to Telegram are the stairs which will lead you down to discover Long Chim, a casual restaurant serving spectacular Thai street food. Owner David Thompson is known all over the world, and Long Chim is his first Australian offering. The food is rich and fragrant and the flavours are explosive. The restaurant has a distinctly urban feel, with street art on the walls, exposed brickwork and corrugated iron ceilings. And if you’re in a hurry at lunchtime Long Chim has also opened a Tuck Shop in the courtyard, which serves delicious curries and rice on the spot.
Also underground, with its hole-in-the-wall entrance opposite the new Perth library, is the Halford bar. Walking down the stairs will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you’re greeted by the 1960’s décor with a few modern twists. Halford feels like two bars in one, with the slightly blokier public bar at the front opening up to a more feminine, dimly lit, velvet-filled lounge bar. Leading even further down a small set of stairs, and behind a mysterious curtain, is the tiny ‘strong room,’ which was once where all the important land titles and documents were held. But the most important document there these days is the extensive cocktail and wine list, which also features a range of easy to eat food options available till late.
COMO the Treasury has recently won Gourmet Traveller’s awards for Australia’s Best Hotel and Best New Hotel, and as soon as you step into the elegant, understated arrivals lounge, you can see why. Instead of walking up to a formal, unsightly reception desk, stepping into the Como is like entering someone’s lounge room (well, someone’s exceptionally luxurious lounge room). Everything at the Como has been hand selected, and doing a tour of the property is like a tour around the world, with chairs from Italy, rugs from Nepal and tiles from Turkey.
The COMO only has 48 rooms, each beautifully and elegantly decorated, perfect down to the last minute detail. The décor is neutral without being plain, and everything in the rooms look like it belongs exactly where it’s been placed. The bathrooms are enormous, featuring huge stone baths and monsoon shower heads recessed into the ceiling. The blinds are all electric, with blackout options which allow you to shut the world out with the touch of a button.
The building is a fascinating juxtaposition of the old and the new, and architect Kerry Hill has created a modern space, while paying the ultimate respect to its history. Much of the flooring in the hotel has been salvaged from the original buildings, with hundreds of restored jarrah floorboards lining the corridors, and the original concrete still flowing down the stairways. When you walk down them, you know there’s 140 years of history beneath your feet.
One of the modern additions to the building is the glass-encased pool area, which looks directly over the roof of the adjacent Town Hall (you can time your laps by the giant clock). One wall of this glass box is made entirely of louvered windows, which open and close automatically to ensure the air temperature is kept at a pleasant 25 degrees.
Deep in the underbelly of the State Buildings, behind the thick iron doors which used to protect some of the government’s most important documents, you’ll uncover the COMO Shambhala Urban Escape spa. You don’t need to be a hotel guest to make an appointment, and I would absolutely recommend treating yourself if you need a place to unwind completely. The Como signature massage is a one way ticket to relaxation heaven, and the massage beds are the most comfortable I can remember ever having the pleasure to lay on. The massage uses the perfectly comforting combination of hot oils and hot towels, which will send you off to sleep faster than a warm glass of milk.
On St Georges Terrace, down an unobtrusive-looking set of stairs, lay a few more of the hidden delights of the State Buildings. At one end is a small yoga and pilates studio, which offers several public classes a day, including the stress-busting roll and release class. The space is light and warm, paying homage to its original purpose of containing the boilers that used to heat the whole building.
If you need to satisfy an after-yoga sugar craving, pop next door and you’ll discover all sorts of amazing treats. There’s sweetness galore at the colourful Sugarplum Sweets, which includes handmade lollies, cakes, macarons and heaps of other treats. For something a little darker, there’s delicious handmade chocolates at Sue Lewis Chocolatier, and you can even learn to make them for yourself at one of the weekly classes. But if you’d like someone else to do the hard work, pop into The Honeycake for one of the most scrumptious, yet delicate cakes you’ll ever try.
If you can’t possibly fit another thing in, there are several non-edible shopping options at the State Buildings. Ginger B sells beautifully assembled gift hampers featuring all sorts of high quality goodies, from olive oils to bath salts. Aurelio Costarella has all the latest in high end fashion, Clean Slate offers pure and natural skin care products and candles, while Rohan Jewellery has all sorts of sparkly gems that could be a girl’s best friend.
After spending 24 hours in the State Buildings, I feel like I unraveled some of their mysteries, but I left thinking there still remains more to be solved.