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Footloose in Perth

Readying for America's Cup Races in Australia

May 18, 1986|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers.

PERTH, Australia — "We may not keep the bloody thing for 132 years like you blokes," the cabbie said, referring to the America's Cup, "but anybody that thinks we'll toss it back after four is flippin' well not the full quid, bonkers or just doesn't know Aussies."

And if you don't know Aussies, you soon find out that nobody on earth looks forward to a party, or knows how to throw one, like the folks Down Under. Which means this town and the nearby port of Fremantle might very well go straight up into orbit when the challenge races start.

Both Perth and Fremantle are about halfway there already, having just hosted the World 12-Meter Fleet Racing Championships to more visitors than these shores have seen in many a moon. Locals say everyone left happy, except foreign sailors who rode the Aussie wake.

Perth is laying on its best bib and tucker for the America's Cup eliminations, which begin in mid-October. And Fremantle, built two decades earlier in 1830 and a study in Edwardian-Victorian architecture, can hardly wait.

Here to there: Qantas will get you to Perth with one stop in Sydney, Air New Zealand via Auckland with a couple of stops. Take a Skybus into town for $2.50, cab for $5-$6. Downtown Perth is walkable, but it's 12 miles to Fremantle. Take a bus, train or boat on the Swan River, all about $3.75.

How long/how much: Give it three or four days for both towns, longer for beach time. Dining and lodging prices are moderate.

A few fast facts: The Australian dollar was recently worth 73 cents. Seasons are upside down Down Under: December through February are the hottest months, spring and fall as glorious as ours, and August through October's wildflower season a palette of lovely colors.

Getting settled in: Mount Plaza Hotel (24 Mount St.; $43 double, $54 studio suite with kitchenette) has just opened, a fresh and attractive place with rattan furnishings in a lobby of peach walls matching the tile flooring. Rooms are large, with a vaguely South Seas feeling, and the kitchenettes are a real plus. Next to flowery Kings Park, two blocks to downtown.

The Princes Plaza (334 Murray St.; $51-$59) is another one at town center, 2 years old and very pretty in lobby and rooms, the latter with mini-bars and coffee/tea-making gear. Two restaurants, one a coffee shop, the other more formal.

Perth Ambasssador (196 Adelaide Terrace: $62) is ultra-contemporary from top to bottom and the only one of the moderate hotels with great views of the river. Coffeehouse grill and pleasant Chinese restaurant, health center complete with hot tubs.

Regional food and drink: As you might imagine, lots of seafood: oysters, prawns, lobster, crab and two fish new to us: dhufish, similar to a snapper, and cobbler fish, a delicate white-fleshed one that is delicious fried or grilled.

The Perth area is a garden spot of fresh fruits and vegetables, both figuring large on menus. The renowned Pavlova, a meringue dessert, is said to have been first made in Western Australia, but the favorite, Lamington, is sponge cake rolled in chocolate and coconut, often with cream inside. Natives have Lamington parties just to get enough of it.

The barbi is very popular hereabouts, every park having a clutch of them; supermarkets stock made-up barbecue packages of lamb chops, sausages, hamburgers and steaks. Australian beer is one of the world's best.

Moderate-cost dining: Perth vows that it has more restaurants per capita than any Aussie city, but Adelaide and Melbourne make the same claim. We didn't count, but Perth and Fremantle are surely loaded. One of the best for seafood is the Oyster Beds (26 Riverside Road, Fremantle), a hangout for America's Cup crews. They come for dhufish grilled for $11, bay bugs (a type of gigantic prawn) for $15 or the smaller scampi for $8.75. Nautical feel, terrace extending over the water, a convivial place with excellent service.

Chinese-food lovers should head straight for Perth where every other restaurant seems to feature chopstick fare, few if any Sino provinces overlooked. One of the good ones is the Majestic Chinese room in Ambassador Hotel. The menu is heavy on Szechuan; enjoy it in the flaming red dining room or alfresco on second-floor balcony.

Stephenie's (171 Broadway in suburban Nedlands) is upstairs in Nedlands Park Hotel, has exquisite Australian food with French emphasis. Try the quail in walnut and cranberry sauce, medallion of marinated venison with a beetroot glaze or trout filled with prawn mousseline . Stephenie's is in a charming and historic old hotel with verandas running around both floors, but no private baths.

Going first-class: Parmelia Hilton International (Mill Street; $71-$88, $79-$104 from August) is every inch a luxury hotel, near Swan River with fine views, three restaurants, several bars, heated outdoor pool and a Gucci shop, among others.

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