At a stage in his career where he could be kicking back, collecting a few lifetime achievement awards and contemplating writing volume one of his memoirs, Neil Perry is instead adding a Best New Restaurant trophy to his collection. It seems about right. He is, after all, one of Australia’s all-time most influential chefs, pioneer of modern Australian cooking, loud, proud advocate for great Australian produce and producers and a singularly talented restaurateur with a flair for laid-back luxury.
You never really expect anything less than a gold medal performance from Perry but with Margaret he raised the stakes. This is his first solo-owned restaurant in a decades-long career. He named it for his mother and has his family working alongside him. It’s personal, like an autobiography in restaurant form, a sort of high-wire act, particularly for someone like Perry who, for some, is as well-known for his trademark ponytail and regular TV appearances, as he is for his restaurants. Spoiler alert: he’s nailed it.
Being a cheerleader for great ingredients and a supportive friend to those who provide them has paid off in spades at Margaret. The lengthy menu – a Perry trademark that’s hell on the decision-phobic – is littered with long-time collaborators like Cobram Estate (who produce the gorgeous yolk-yellow olive oil made exclusively for Margaret) and wagyu from David Blackmore. But seafood’s the main event at Margaret and those producers get Beyoncé-style single-name treatment. And so we get “Bruce’s Southern garfish” (from renowned fisherman Bruce Collis) or bigeye tuna from Pav and Heidi (from Walker Seafoods). Again it feels personal, like he’s earned the right to name-drop.
The menu is also a victory lap for Perry’s influences, seamlessly combining pearl meat sashimi, house-made focaccia, spicy prawn and pork sausages, wood-grilled fish simply dressed in lemon, salt and oil and the fabulous, signature Memories of a Mirabelle tart.
But Margaret is the whole package. The dining room, comfortable and glamorous without being flashy, is a lovely place to spend some time, both during leaf-dappled daylight and under flattering downlighting at night. The wine list is in lockstep with the ambitions of the food – beautifully made, quality producers, nothing too off-piste but always interesting with a surprisingly democratic price range – and service hits the sweet spot between casual and efficient. Margaret is a fresh delight and proof that, when it comes to Neil Perry, we love his new stuff as much as his old stuff.