When Arimia closed last year, WA lost one of its most ambitious restaurants. With the opening of de’sendent, the team are back with an à la carte offering, a custom wood grill and snacks aplenty.

Evan Hayter built his reputation on the sustainable credentials of his former off-grid vineyard restaurant at Arimia Estate. There, he was known for his market garden, estate-raised trout and pigs, while having an eye for the best of the region’s produce from land and sea. Now, with his former Arimia business partner Ann Spencer, he’s opening de’sendent on Margaret River’s main strip. It’s the evolution of the Arimia story but also something distinctly different. Contributing editor Max Brearley chatted with Hayter to find out what we can expect when it opens this week.

Arimia had a reputation for cerebral, produce-driven cooking presented as a tasting menu. What would you say to people who are expecting de’sendent to be just like Arimia, but under another name?
I’ve really gone almost entirely the opposite way to Arimia. That was 135 acres, isolated, two kilometres down a track, set menu, bookings, farming as much as we possibly could.  This is à la carte, it’s on the main street – it’s still a little hidden away. I’ve tried to make it approachable for people so you can come in and have a couple of snacks and then go to Tuck Shop or Morries or The Spot Italiano across the road for dinner, or vice versa, have something small there and a meal over here with us. 

Going à la carte will be a little bit of a change for you.
I didn’t want to scare the locals off, just going set. That being said, there’s a lot of people that have told me it’s stupid not to go set. “What are you doing? That’s what you do,” they’ve said. But I just don’t feel like this is that space. It’s going to be pretty wine focused, a really dynamic restaurant, because we are small and are going to have to turn things over. Things are going to be fresh because you’ve seen what storage I have: not a lot. 

It’s a compact space with the open kitchen looking out onto the dining room. Has that influenced your approach to service?
We’re licensed for 44 and we’ve got maybe 35 seats in here. If it’s warm outside, we can utilise that [street-facing courtyard] as much as we want. But it’s going to be really interactive. I want to make sure I get around to every table and that the chefs are serving and communicating the dishes. I think it’s important that the people cooking the food serve the food. Customers appreciate it.

I remember at Arimia that sometimes you’d be labouring over a single hibachi grill, but you’re set-up here is a little different, yes?
Yeah, I’m looking forward to cooking with fire. Not just charcoal, but actual timber. I’ve still got my little hibachi-style cooker but Vasse Stainless are building me a barbecue with racks and hanging spots for smoking and all sorts of things. Customised, but simple. Then we’ve gone induction for the rest of it, which I’ve got to get used to again. Everything’s electric except for the fire space. I really wanted to future proof.   

Chilled scallop with botanicals and olive oil.

How did you come to the name and the spelling of de’sendent?
The name itself, de’sendent, is in a way, a nod to Arimia which was Ann’s two daughters’ names put together. I wanted something that was personal for me in this new space, and we’ve got a little character that my [late] brother drew. And so that that was kind of my Ari and Mia. The word “descendant” makes a lot of sense for us for the next incarnation and can be used in so many ways. And then I’m a punk rock fan and my favourite band is the Descendants. It all sort of tied together, and the misspelling was a bit of a funny one because phonetic spelling and people putting words together like we’ve done, always annoys me in a restaurant. I thought it’s going to annoy me, but it hasn’t, and people get used to it. It’s taken me a little bit of writing it down to get used to it, and I’m a chef, so I misspell things all the time. 

Arimia had garnered accolades and a reputation, so why close it?
It had probably run its course, and in order for Arimia to fully continue we needed to put some major investment into it. We looked at it and said “It’s been an incredible restaurant, we’ve achieved so much with this, let’s do something else.” 

Was de’sendent as we see it always that next step?
We bought a block at the bottom of [Margaret River] town which we were going to develop as accommodation, a restaurant, gallery space, all those things. Then the building game went crazy over Covid and things just became unachievable. Then this little space came up and I was like, no, that’s where I want to be, that’s the spot. I can see a little hidden gem. 

Augusta snow crab, brioche and caviar.

Will you miss what you had at Arimia?
I definitely miss it, but I won’t miss how hard that was. I wasn’t a farmer, and neither was Ann. It’s one of those things, learning on the go. You stuff things up naturally and you fix things, and you end up working a lot harder to learn. I think we did bloody well at it, to be honest, and with the stuff that I’ve learnt I can have a conversation with just about any grower about how they do things, because I had to do it. I’ll miss those things. I won’t miss hand-raking 450 olive trees.  

And the fate of the famed Arimia pigs?
I’ve still got the pigs. They’re down in Nillup on my mate’s cattle farm. They live a pretty good life. It’s just the sow and the last one from her last litter, that will be charcuterie very soon. But, yeah, our big brown sow, she’s very, very happy in her new space. 

What can we expect on the menu, and are there any dishes that you’re really looking forward to?
We’ve had a steer at my mate’s property for the last six years, which is a full-blood wagyu. It’s grass fed and it took about three years for it to even start putting on any weight because wagyu is grain fed mainly. So, it was pretty scrawny, but now he’s massive. I know it sounds awful, but I’m looking forward to seeing him on the menu. And I’ve also got this crab snack in my head. It’s so simple: just this little crab salad that I want to serve on some toasted brioche that’s made with some really good butter and good flour. We’ve got Champagne, king, and blue manna crab in our region. Different seasons we’ll have a different crab snack, a bit of caviar. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

de’sendent, 3/152 Bussell Highway, Margaret River; desendent.com; instagram.com/desendentdining

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