“The first week was really hard,” chef Evan Hayter tells *Broadsheet. “It’s very different, but [that’s] to be expected, as it’s the opposite to everything that I’ve been doing at Arimia.”

The chef-owner of Margaret River newcomer De’sendent says the venue is like starting from scratch again – although he’s experienced enough “to see the triggers for things to turn to shit and implement change”. Hayter is upbeat, but his words convey the challenges inherent in opening any restaurant, let alone one so highly anticipated.

Hayter’s reputation as a standard-bearer for sustainable dining began at Arimia Estate, where he raised animals, grew veggies and had a trout-stocked dam at his disposal. Now operating on Margaret River’s main strip, he’s cognisant of the differences between Arimia and this new space, which he describes as having a darker, moodier edge courtesy of his partner and designer Kerry Brooks, who has delivered a sleek, modern interior. The kitchen is the focal point, with a custom-cut granite pass separating the venue’s 35 diners from Hayter and his team.

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Hayter’s approach to recruitment was deliberately passive. “I didn’t do any advertising because I was like, ‘It’ll work itself out’, and it has,” he says. People reached out, from former Arimia employees to friends and people about town. Lars Kosel, Hayter’s former sous-chef at Arimia, returned, as did front-of-house lead Kaelan Outram, previously of Shadow Wine Bar.

While Outram prefers “restaurant manager” as a title, Hayter also thinks of her as a “wine director,” telling Broadsheet she arrived for the interview with a fully-formed 120-bottle-strong wine list. “She just rocked up with it on her computer, all sorted, priced and with distribution information attached to it,” he recalls.

With the opening of De’sendent, a Margaret River hospitality precinct is taking shape – other venues include Pearl’s Bar, Morries, Tuck Shop and Spot Italiano, all clustered together. Hayter hopes guests will share the love, moving between venues to enjoy a pre-dinner drink and snack with the neighbours before arriving at De’sendent.

After the first few weeks, the local reaction has been overwhelmingly positive – though there have been challenges in the kitchen. Hayter recounts a fisherman texting him from 100 kilometres offshore to say his winch had broken down. So, no crayfish that week. But Hayter has managed to improvise, revelling in the flexibility of an à la carte menu (Arimia was a degustation-only diner). He swapped crayfish for dhufish and “made a fish caramel, roasting off the head and the frames, and a stock [which] we used as the base for a beurre blanc, and then we just finished with flying fish roe and fresh chives”.

Being back in the kitchen after a six-month hiatus seems to agree with Hayter. He’s spent the time brainstorming and planning elaborate dishes. For example, he’s been tossing up using squid ink and a fresh pork sausage in a sauce, which led to a sobrassada (Catalan sausage) and squid ink sauce doused with Exmouth prawns. “I used a heap of garums and whatnot that we’d made at Arimia, so it’s kind of this mishmash of meat and seafood and all sorts of bits and pieces,” he says. “It’s absolutely delicious … some people are just licking the plate.”

Unit 3/152 Bussell Highway, Margaret River
0499 038 878

Wed to Sat 5.30pm–11pm
Sun to Tues closed