If life is a cabaret, then Clyde and Lesley Bevan have got their act together. Emily Morgan reports.
THE fusion of cabaret and fine dining may not be on the menu for many Perth restaurants, but one hospitality veteran is keeping the dinner suit, and tradition, alive.
Friends Restaurant’s Clyde Bevan says while a relaxed attitude toward eating out is the norm in Australia, every now and then it is important to dress up and enjoy the finer side of the dining experience.
“Australians have this attitude that everything should be minimalist and casual, but if you go to New York you are made to feel like you are special. I think Perth lacks a bit of that formality,” he says.
“There are times when you need to treat things with respect; I don’t think it should be elitist or toffee nosed, I just think you should dress for the occasion.
“We are very much a special occasion, romantic-style restaurant.”
Mr Bevan says fine dining is on its way back in WA. Not that he is particularly concerned trends and fashions; the décor hasn’t been changed at Friends since it was opened 13 years ago.
“People come and say this is old fashioned. We are a classical style of décor, we’re not trying to be trendy, just classical but our food is modern,” he says.
Mr Bevan, who recently completed a term as Lotterywest chairman, was originally a banking clerk at R&I but left the job to run Sorroco nightclub in Fremantle, giving in to his passion for music.
He made the move to fine dining after being offered a tavern licence at Alexander Price House, near Bishops See on St Georges Terrace, in the mid 1980s.
“We opened up this tavern and we had a fine dining restaurant upstairs called Alexanders,” Mr Bevan told Gusto.
“The first year we opened we won Gourmet Traveller’s best new restaurant in Australia [award].”
Mr Bevan credits the experience of opening Alexanders for teaching him how to be successful in hospitality.
“We sort of cut our teeth on that; we had a fantastic French maitre ‘d who I learned a lot from,” he says.
With his wife, Lesley, Mr Bevan opened Dear Friends in the Swan Valley in 1995.
A couple of years later, they took out a long-term lease for the river-facing space at the Hyatt and opened Friends Restaurant in 1997.
Mr Bevan was granted a cabaret licence and started offering entertainment as a side to the restaurant’s fine food.
“We started off doing opera and jazz. Then we got Ian Moss from Cold Chisel and then Mental as Anything. It was programmed to fail, putting a five-piece rock-n-roll band in the room, but it went off like a house on fire,” Mr Bevan says.
Having rock performers is good fun, he says, but it worked from a business perspective because rock music fans are also bigger spenders, especially on wine.
Mr Bevan says part of the success can be put down to his vision for the business: “Your main focus always has to be not winning awards, but winning customers.”
And there is a host of celebrity endorsements to back up Mr Bevan’s business mantra.
Greg Norman, Cliff Richard and Bryce Courtney have all dined at the restaurant, while former prime minister Gough Whitlam has celebrated nine of his birthdays at Friends.
For now, Mr Bevan just wants to grow the business.
He plans to do that with the help of his new London-born chef, who has two Michelin stars to his name.
“Andrew Barnes showing up at Friends is a bit like winning the chef lotto stakes. The best thing about him is he’s teaching young people how to cook,” Mr Bevan says.