Life & times
Australian House & Garden Magazine|December 2021
We asked some of our favourite creatives to reflect on the year that was, share their hopes for 2022, and reveal their exciting projects on the horizon...
Elizabeth Wilson

After a delayed launch due to Sydney’s lockdown, chef Neil Perry is relieved to open the doors to his new restaurant, Margaret, a very personal project and the culmination of 40 years of menu finessing.

Neil Perry

The renowned chef is thrilled to finally welcome guests to his new restaurant, Margaret – named after his mother – a “neighbourhood dining space” in Sydney’s Double Bay.

THE GREATEST CHALLENGE OF 2021? The closure of the restaurant the day it was about to open, thinking it was going to be a one-week lockdown that actually lasted about 110 days. Financially, it has been a massive hit.

UNEXPECTED POSITIVES? We were able to pivot, doing Providoor and burgers – and that kept the team going. I have a fantastic team here of 45 people who’ve been through a lot together in the last four months. We looked after each other – so that’s a positive to come out of it.

A LESSON LEARNED FROM THIS YEAR? To be resilient, expect anything and make sure you figure out a way around it. It was a case of pivot or perish.

HOW WILL YOU CELEBRATE THE FESTIVE SEASON? I’ll be cooking something beautiful at home – the family will be there and I’ll be chilled because it’s one day I’m not working.

FAVOURITE FESTIVE TIPPLE? I love sparkling burgundy at Christmas time – it’s such an iconic Australian drink. Rockford and Joseph sparkling shiraz are both amazing. To drink something that has bubbles and also has weight and is a chilled red, is really yummy.

A GIFT YOU’D LIKE TO RECEIVE? Just some time off and some peace and quiet because I’m so busy doing things; I don’t really need a lot. I hope the experience of the pandemic will make people think about what they really need; that it makes them more generous and more grateful for things like travel or dining in restaurants or seeing family.

HOW DO YOU UNWIND? Cooking at home and eating something delicious. [see over the page for two recipes from Neil’s latest book, Everything I Love to Cook ], going to a beautiful restaurant and hanging out with the family.

AN IDEAL SUMMER’S DAY INVOLVES…? Sitting out by the pool at home or going for a walk or swim at Bondi Beach. I always have to be near water.

QUINTESSENTIAL SUMMER MEAL? A beautiful steamed mud crab with a bowl of salad and a glass of riesling.

HOLIDAY FASHION MUST-HAVES? Just a pair of shorts to jump into the water and that’s about it.

YOUR SUMMER PLAYLIST? I love going back to the ’80s and ’90s. I still think Buddha Bar – volumes I and II – are great albums. Beautiful beats to eat and relax to.

WHAT BOOKS WILL YOU BE READING? I’m going to try to catch up on a lot of cookbooks. And Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss is definitely one of the books I’m going to finish.

FAVOURITE SUMMER SCENT? Gardenias. They remind me of my mum.

HOPES FOR 2022? I hope we focus on climate change. That we wake up and realise that we’re privileged to live in this world. Climate change has the potential to eradicate humankind. We have a choice to live with Mother Nature or destroy ourselves. We need to act now.

WHAT’S AHEAD FOR YOU? I want to make Hope Delivery [a charity that serves meals to the vulnerable, established by Neil’s Rockpool Foundation] an important part of the Sydney landscape, helping Indigenous Australians, young refugees, and women’s and children’s shelters. We served 300,000 meals last year and I see it as an area of increasing need. I want to work more and more in that space.

1 TOAST Rockford Wines Black Shiraz – Disgorged sparkling wine; rockfordwines.com.au.

2 READ Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia book edited by Anita Heiss, $29.99; blackincbooks.com.au.

3 RELAX Aerin ‘Sintra Gardenia’ soy-wax candle, $206/270g, Amara; amara.com/au.

4 COOK Everything I Love to Cook cookbook by Neil Perry, $81.99, Murdoch Books; murdochbooks.com.au.

GOOD NEIGHBOUR

Named in honour of Neil’s late mother, Margaret is a 170-seat restaurant serving Neil’s playlist of Mediterranean and Asian flavours, with a focus on seafood and wood-fired cooking. The refined interiors are by David Caon and Acme&Co. “I wanted a sophisticated, world-class restaurant that feels like a comfortable, approachable neighbourhood dining space,” says Neil. “I think the design walks through those two worlds beautifully.” Margaret, 30-36 Bay Street, Double Bay, Sydney; margaretdoublebay.com.

PRAWN, TOMATO, NECTARINE AND HAZELNUT SALAD

Serves 4

1 6 large cooked prawns, peeled and deveined

2 heads of witlof (chicory) – red, white or a combination – leaves separated, washed and dried

2 heads of baby cos lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried

2 tablespoons hazelnut oil Juice of 2 limes

2 yellow nectarines

2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cored

½ cup (75g) hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Small handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely shredded

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Ripe tomatoes and nectarines make a killer combination in summer – at the peak of their season, both are deliciously sweet, especially when matched with the natural sweetness of prawns. The sharpness of lime offsets all the sweetness, and the mellow richness of crushed hazlenuts and hazelnut oil is pretty hard to beat, though you can, of course, just use olive oil. The cos and witlof contribute freshness and crunch.

1 Place the prawns in a large bowl. Roughly tear the witlof and baby cos leaves and add to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the hazelnut oil and lime juice, adding a little at a time and tasting as you go to achieve the right balance.

2 Cut the cheeks off the nectarines and thinly slice each cheek. Cut the tomatoes into wedges.

3 Arrange the nectarines and tomatoes on four plates. Divide the salad leaves and prawns between the plates, placing them gently around the fruit. Sprinkle with the hazelnuts and parsley and serve.

Variations

Substitute the prawns for any other type of crustacean, such as crab, lobster or Moreton Bay/Balmain bug. If you prefer, try this with fragrant white peaches or nectarines – when stone fruit is in season, it can be hard to choose!

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