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.