Landmark Northbridge restaurant building sold for $1.85m

Sorrento Restaurant first opened its doors in William Street in 1949. Picture:
Sorrento Restaurant first opened its doors in William Street in 1949. Picture:

An iconic Northbridge building, which has been home to Perth’s much-loved Sorrento Restaurant for almost four decades, has been sold for $1.85 million.

The property, at 158 James Street, sits in the heart of the busy inner city entertainment precinct and has etched itself in the hearts (and bellies) of many West Australians.

First established on William Street in 1949, the trattoria moved to nearby James Street where Alfonso Di Lanzo and his late wife, Tina, acquired the business in 1982.

It remains a Perth institution, for which time appears to have stood still, with its candy-striped awning, signature dining room archways, colourful murals and traditional regional Italian fare from Abruzzi, Rome, Sicily and Calabria.

Ray White Commercial WA senior property advisor Brett Wilkins said a local investor had purchased the 275sqm property, but had not shared details of future plans for the site. Sorrento Restaurant holds a lease until June 2022.

“Sorrento Restaurant is a landmark Italian restaurant that remains an institution both in Northbridge and the Perth dining scene as a whole,” Mr Wilkins said.

“The dining room with its classic arches, vintage Italian ceramics and white tablecloths will transport you to a place that’s long forgotten in Perth, but will remind you of any great trattoria in Italy.”

Remarkably, octogenarian owner Mr Di Lanzo and his family still operate the business.

“Alfonso is still there, 84 years of age and still running the place every day in the kitchen. It’s amazing,” Mr Wilkins said.

The interiors of the restaurant are quite traditional. Picture:

Mr Wilkins said eight expressions of interest were received during the four-week campaign for the sale of the property, which had been held by the Torre family, whose name has become synonymous with Perth’s premium butchery industry.

He said the property was zoned for mixed use. He confirmed there was capacity for a high-rise on the lot.

“The purchaser has new plans for it, which we’re not even aware of,” he said. “They haven’t shared that with us. Time will tell.”

Mr Wilkins said Perth’s commercial market was “hot”, with strong competition for premium sites that were well located.

“It’s an interesting market at the moment. You put some assets up and don’t get a great response, but something like this is a different story. We got about 60 inquiries, about eight offers and a good price.

“The market around Northbridge and Perth at the moment is hot. We just sold another asset at 206 Adelaide Terrace in Perth. It’s a development site with an old two-storey building there and got over 100 enquiries and 10 offers.”

Australian Hotels Association WA chief executive Bradley Woods said COVID had hit Perth hospitality businesses and restaurants hard, with many still struggling to return to their pre-pandemic pace.

WA’s latest snap lockdown over the ANZAC Day long weekend had further impacted hospitality businesses, he said.

“Whilst WA has navigated the pandemic well in maintaining demand for some hospitality businesses, not all have been so lucky,” Mr Woods said.

“Unfortunately, widespread lockdowns and subsequent restrictions are extremely disruptive, create uncertainty for venue owners and throw business plans into chaos.

“With commercial tenancy relief no longer available, businesses are operating without support mechanisms and are far more vulnerable to fluctuations in demand.”

Western Australia’s emergency commercial tenancy laws that froze rent increases and some evictions during COVID-19 came to an end in March.