16/01/2007 - 22:00

Love triumphs over all at Coco's

16/01/2007 - 22:00

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Ian Love has been a master of the hospitality game for the past 30 years, with much of that time spent at the iconic Coco’s Riverside Bar and Restaurant on the South Perth foreshore.

Love triumphs over all at Coco's

Ian Love has been a master of the hospitality game for the past 30 years, with much of that time spent at the iconic Coco’s Riverside Bar and Restaurant on the South Perth foreshore.

Now he is wooing the crowds with his latest project, the Raffles Bar and Restaurant, while also planning to open a new venture on St Georges Terrace.

There’s no mistaking that Mr Love’s venues are crowd pleasers.

It’s been 17 years since he started Coco’s, considered one of Perth’s dining institutions.

The restaurant was fully booked for lunch on the day of my arranged interview with Mr Love, and more than one table of hopefuls without a reservation was turned away.

And a recent visit to Mr Love’s new project, Applecross’s Raffles Bar and Restaurant, seems to indicate that his new venue will be just as popular as Coco’s.

After pouring countless hours and $4 million into a re-fit, Mr Love has transformed the heritage-listed pub into an up-market bar and restaurant, complete with an eye-catching fish tank on the first floor, and a sleek bar and beer garden on the lower level.

The Deco restaurant is positioned at the upper end and serves dishes such as prosciutto-wrapped red emperor and blue swimmer crab risotto, with mains priced between $32 and $45. But it’s a more casual affair downstairs, with a bar menu offering guests a selection of pizzas for between $16 and $26 and a tapas menu with tempting nibbles, including sesame spiced squid with harissa yoghurt for $8, and field mushroom, pancetta and parmesan toasts for $8.50.

Adjacent to the bar and restaurant sits a 17-storey high rise apartment tower, with car sales businessman Brian Gardner and CFMEU Kevin Reynolds among the residents.

Mr Love admits he is a busier businessman since taking on the Raffles project, his third venue, but he’s not letting time get the better of him. As he glances across the Swan River impeccably dressed in a Roberto Cavalli t-shirt, crisp white linen jacket and shoes that ooze Italy, Mr Love reveals he’s got quite a busy few years ahead.

First, there is the redevelopment of his Bellhouse Café on the Mends Street jetty, which finally got approval from the Swan Trust.

Second is finding a suitable site on St Georges Terrace to open his next restaurant.

“I have been looking for some time at the idea of doing a reasonable upmarket bar and restaurant in the city,” Mr Love says. “And if I were to do it, it would be on St Georges Terrace. The city needs something.”

Mr Love has had some early stage discussions with the developers behind the $260 million Century City building, which is due to open in 2009 and is located next to the BankWest Tower.

But he says the discussions are merely preliminary and no commitments have been made.

And when he finally gets a deal over the line, be it at Century City or another location on the terrace, expect something big.

“I really like Glass Brasserie in Sydney,” he says. “It overlooks the Queen Victoria Building and in the old days you used to sit in the restaurant and stare at the walls. But now they have these glass walls and you look straight out to these great old buildings. I would be keen on doing something like that, something that would showcase the terrace.”

Mr Love has no immediate plans to sell Coco’s and he is also keen to reap the rewards of the long, difficult development of the Raffles.

“I love the history of the place,” he says. “It’s in its 111th year and I’m the third owner. I feel privileged to be part of history.”

And while there have been some grumbles from the former regulars, Mr Love believes taking the venue upmarket will return the hotel to its glory days.

“If you look at the old photos from the 1940s you can see it was the glamour place in Perth. There are people wearing bow ties and tuxedos, and unfortunately it drifted into a bikie den,” he says.

Like Coco’s, the new Raffles restaurant boasts an impressive wine list. Mr Love says wine, and the consumers’ intimate knowledge of it, has been the biggest change in the hospitality industry during the past decade.

“If you went back 15 years, half of the people in the restaurant wouldn’t know the difference between a cabernet sauvignon and a shiraz, but now they not only know that but they’ll know whether 1999 was a good vintage or not,” he says.

To tap into that thirst, Mr Love operates a vintage wine club and says about 700 people are paid-up members. The club provides wine discounts and offers customers a separate vintage list to order from when dining at Coco’s and Raffles.

And the boom is boosting wine sales, although the extra spending is being met by increasing costs, Mr Love says.

“About 18 months ago we were paying $12 a kilo for whole dhufish; now it’s over $20 a kilo. You can’t double the price you charge the customer, so you have to take less margin."

Similarly, he says, restaurateurs have to carefully manage their menus in order to make up for margin erosion on other product lines.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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