Neil Perry was all set to open his highly anticipated $5 million neighbourhood haunt Margaret back in June – right as Sydney scuttled back into lockdown. But Perry is not famous for keeping still. This, remember, is the man who announced his retirement a little over a year ago, in July 2020. And now he has opened Margaret – his first solo restaurant in a career spanning 35 years. Some people just don’t know how to relax.
Perry kept himself busy and his staff employed during the lockdown by delivering takeaway via high-end delivery service Providoor and flipping wildly popular burgers for Double Bay locals.
“I really had intended to stay out of the business for a while and do other things,” Perry tells Broadsheet. “But I saw this site and thought, this is the best site in the eastern suburbs.”
“The site” is on the corner of Double Bay’s Bay Street and Guilfoyle Avenue. It’s a beautiful room, with Australian cedar-framed double-storey glass windows providing both Guilfoyle Park vistas and Prada-clad-people-watching opportunities.
The interiors were a collaboration between noted Australian industrial designer David Caon and husband-and-wife creative duo Vince Alafaci and Caroline Choker of Acme & Co (Fred’s, The Grounds, Mimi’s). They settled on muted tones and natural materials such as Oregon timber, limestone, terracotta, and bronze to create a room that is simultaneously elegant and relaxed. Gabrielle Penfold’s Mediterranean-inspired paintings adorn the walls, alongside prints by Petrina Tinslay, whose work also features on the menus.
“Rockpool has very masculine energy,” Perry says, leaning back into one of the leather banquettes that frames the room. “It’s a steakhouse, which by nature is always a bit blokey. Margaret is a neighbourhood restaurant but it’s also evolved into something more than that. At its core, it’s about comfort and generosity and cosiness.”
If Rockpool was a den for power lunches fuelled by dry-aged rib eye and bottles of bordeaux, Margaret takes a lighter, dare we say, more feminine approach. It’s named for Perry’s late mother and is driven by a philosophy of care she inspired in him.
“It’s really well documented that I cook the way that I do because of my father [who was a butcher and hobbyist fisherman],” Perry says. “Mum was the major influence behind the care philosophy that began with Rockpool in 1989. My mother was an incredibly generous and caring person.”
Perry was one of seven children in a Brady Bunch-esque household that often served as a home to extended family.
“There were always lots of people around the dinner table, and fantastic food, and that was where this whole idea of care and looking after people started. Mum drove that part of my business and it just felt right – coming to Double Bay, and wanting to be part of a community that will hopefully come here time and time again – to name it after her.”
And while Margaret does have a more relaxed vibe than some of Perry’s past ventures, don’t be fooled: this is not a casual eatery. Yes, you’ll be able to have a burger at the bar and wash it down with a $12 wine. But the Martinis arrive on monogrammed trays, and Perry will be serving the “best Negroni in Double Bay”, made with all native Australian ingredients. Over in the dining room you’ll find lobster with sambal butter; Copper Tree Farm beef; and wood-rotisserie chicken with a smoked eggplant puree. For dessert, there’s the Memories of a Mirabelle Tart – a riff on the famous date tart created by pastry chef Lorraine Godsmark at Rockpool.
“We wanted this restaurant to be everything to all people who respect food and drink,” says Perry. “You can have a great sandwich at lunch or come for dinner for Wagyu, rotisserie chicken, or the best coral trout cooked over woodfire. But the corporate types can also come and celebrate a killer deal with champagne, caviar, truffles, lobster and order burgundy and bordeaux.”
The menu leans towards seafood cooked over his beloved woodfire grill. Sydney Rock oysters have their own fridge, which runs at 14 degrees. “It keeps them in great shape,” Perry says. “I think the oyster signifies what Margaret really stands for. We want to pay the greatest respect to an ingredient and then do the simplest thing to it.”
And the ingredients he’s using are a testament to his 35 years in the biz. Copper Tree butter – which he rates as “one of the best butters in the world” – is a staple, and he’s collaborated with Cobram Estate to produce a hojiblanca olive oil made exclusively for the restaurant.
Remarkably, this is the first time in a career spanning four decades that Perry has solely owned a restaurant. And he’s handpicked a dream team of professionals to collaborate with him. Executive chef Richard Purdue worked at Rockpool in the ’90s, before returning to work with Perry, heading up Rosetta.
Running front of house is Perry’s eldest daughter, Josephine Perry Clift, and Richard Healey (ex-Rockpool Dining Group) is in charge of the extensive, Australia-focused wine program, which includes many accessible drops by the glass.
“I don’t want it to be about me,” Perry says. “We are a group of people working together with one common goal: to create a community, great memories, and great hospitality with great generosity. That’s what Mum was all about.”
30–36 Bay Street, Double Bay
Thu to Sun 12pm–late