The Parisian-style bar with Vietnamese flair proving it is unlike anything else in the Great Southern region – and quite possibly the country.
While studying a Bachelor of Visual Arts, applying for a dishwashing job with the opening team of Must Winebar in 2001 was a “stars aligning” moment for Amy Hamilton. With a resume not quite up to scratch and in desperate need to fund her out-of-home living expenses, she penned a letter that read: “There’s no dish pile too dirty or too high for me to clean.”
“When I didn’t get a call back, I rang up during lunch and dinner service asking to speak to Russell Blaikie,” Amy says. After about the sixth time she called, Russell finally took it, and the conversation was short and sweet:
R: “Look, Amy. You didn’t get the job.”
A: “Why not?”
That simple question was enough to change Russell’s mind, and after meeting the following day Amy recalls what it was like walking in to her first shift.
“Watching the chefs work and how the restaurant ran, I loved absolutely everything about it,” she says.
It wasn’t long before Russell saw Amy’s potential, and she soon began her traineeship.
Fast-forward 17 years, and Amy has been the owner of Albany favourite Liberté since 2014.
“I was initially going to do my take on modern French bistro because that is my background, but seeing a space in Albany for fresh, vibrant Asian cuisine, I decided to combine the two. I did a one-day event and it was really successful, so I kept rolling with it,” Amy says.
Big on research, Amy found an LA food blogger who was obsessed with a noodle dish but couldn’t figure out what was in the recipe.
Another blog lead to suggestions of tamarind and cheese, and by digging a little deeper and experimenting with different ingredients, Amy threw in Albany blue manna crab and found magic. The result? The garlic and crab noodles was voted by Gourmet Traveller as one of its Top 10 dishes of the year in 2016.
Another popular dish – the loaded fries – was originally put on the menu as a joke because of Amy’s fascination with drunk food. You know – the kind you eat at 2am in front of the fridge.
“I really like the French Canadian dish called Poutine, which is chips with gravy and cheese sauce,” Amy explains. “Our version of that incorporates elements of the banh mi with gravy, but we make our own cheese sauce and include salad elements like coriander, fried shallots, pickled red onion, and red onion chilli.”
After taking it off the specials menu there was a serious uproar amongst customers, so it is now a staple that is indulged on the regular.
Inspiringly innovative, self-taught bar manager Keryn Giles’ personal challenge has always been to create a drink that rivals the espresso martini. In 2017 Amy introduced a new dessert – chocolate fondant with a musk stick cream.
“I said to Keryn that we should throw some musk sticks in vodka,” Amy says. Going one step further, Keryn added some squash, bitters and the musk sticks, and what do you know; the “Pink Galah” now outsells the espresso martini and has its place on the list of beautifully refined cocktails on the menu.
Anyone who has worked in hospitality will know that it’s not for the faint-hearted. Compounded by the fact that Amy is a single mother, she’s had her fair share of uncertainty. So what’s kept her going?
“One time, in a moment of doubt and suffering mother’s guilt, an important mentor of mine – Max Veenhuyzen – said: “If what you do takes you away from those that you love, you owe it to them and to yourself to chase your dreams hard.” I realised how true that was, and that I couldn’t be half-arsed about it. I knew that I had to do the best I could and at the same time teach my kids about hard work and the importance of chasing your dreams.”