Justin Hemmes and the Merivale crew throw an epic gar­den party.

Syd­ney hos­pi­tal­ity guru ex­traor­di­naire Justin Hemmes is not a man to do things by half. So when he threw a sum­mer gar­den party in the grounds of his har­bour­side home for friends from his Merivale em­pire, that meant a ta­ble big enough for 12 and a menu that starred seafood in all its mag­nif­i­cence.

IF YOU LIVE IN Syd­ney, you’d be hard­pressed not to have heard of – most likely vis­ited – at least one venue from Merivale, the hos­pi­tal­ity em­pire built by Justin Hemmes. To­day, how­ever, Hemmes is at home, throw­ing a lunchtime soirée in the mag­nif­i­cent her­itage-listed Her­mitage in Vau­cluse. De­spite the im­pos­ing Gothic-style façade, walk­ing into the light- and peo­ple­filled kitchen, Hemmes cen­trestage with youngest daugh­ter Saachi on one hip and beau­ti­ful dog Thun­der at his feet, it’s clear from the out­set this is home.

“I do so much en­ter­tain­ing at work and have such a choice of won­der­ful places to go, I get a lot of it out of my sys­tem in that en­vi­ron­ment,” he be­gins. “But if I do put a party on for friends, it would be like what we’re do­ing to­day. Go all out – it’s got to be spe­cial, and cel­e­brat­ing life, friend­ship and food. I think all those things are im­por­tant when you are en­ter­tain­ing,” he says.

“We go div­ing and spear fish­ing, pretty much ev­ery week­end. We de­cide what we want on the menu, then we go hunting for it and catch it! We’ll bring it back and maybe it’ll go on the bar­be­cue. We catch abalone, lob­ster, whit­ing, flat­head, floun­der,” he ex­plains. “For me, en­ter­tain­ing is about the guests, and whether it’s 12 peo­ple for lunch or 100 in a restau­rant, it’s about ev­ery one of them hav­ing a great time. It’s not about me say­ing, ‘this is it’.

“When I have a party, I spend the whole time mak­ing sure ev­ery­one is hav­ing a good time. If I have 100 guests at a party at home and a cou­ple aren’t hav­ing a good time, I’m heart­bro­ken! I want ev­ery­one to be happy, so I spend the whole night mak­ing sure ev­ery­one’s happy. I’m hav­ing a good time if they’re hav­ing a good time.” Cheers to that.

“WE KNEW THAT this was a beau­ti­ful out­door lunch vibe, so we wanted to do stuff that’s light and fresh,” ex­plains Dan Hong. “And the thing about this seafood boil is, it looks amaz­ing, but it’s also re­ally sim­ple. It’s quite in­ter­ac­tive.”

“Justin never wants to make any­thing too for­mal,” adds Jor­dan Toft. “We have south coast Syd­ney rock oys­ters, which are good with a few bub­bles and cocktails while peo­ple get talk­ing and loosen up. We de­cided even though it’s sum­mer, a fire adds to the oc­ca­sion, and cook­ing over it gives con­text, so we did an Aus­tralian-style boil.”

Says Hong: “The corn is grilled over the fire, then I brush it with a mix­ture of sour cream, bit of mayo, lime zest and parme­san cheese, sprin­kle it with tog­a­rashi and serve it with lime wedges.”

And dessert? “I’m a bit of a nos­tal­gic per­son, and the pine-lime splice was big when I was a kid. I think we could just break out a few of those at the end and that would be okay. So this [dessert] is a take on that,” Toft fin­ishes.

Syd­ney bar and restau­rant tsar Justin Hemmes gathers some of the top tal­ent from his Merivale team to eat, drink and make merry at the Hemmes’ fam­ily home in Vau­cluse.

A relaxed Justin Hemmes at home. ABOVE RIGHT: the scene is set for an epic lunch.

Dan Hong and Jor­dan Toft toast to a fun-filled af­ter­noon. FROM TOP: Toft gets the seafood boil started; pipis are added; Toft and Hong ex­am­ine their im­pres­sive haul.

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