With the addition of former-Hentley Farm chef, Jackson Bennett, the CBD café/restaurant/oasis is doubling down on its garden-to-plate ethos.
Peter Rabbit’s evolving urban garden
Peter Rabbit, the Hindley Street café, bar, and restaurant in the middle of the West End’s renewed health and education precinct, has been many things over the course of its two-and-a-half-year lifespan.
When they moved onto the SA Power Networks-owned site in late 2015, the plan was to cater to a rushed student and professional population by serving them good coffee and to-go food options, complimented by a bar presence on Friday nights.
Peter Rabbit opens Monday to Wednesday 7:30am until 3:30pm, Thursday 7:30am until 10pm, Friday 7:30am until late, and Saturday 8am until late.
The greenery of the garden proved too enticing for their clientele to not hang around in, and so Jack Nelligan and the Peter Rabbit crew pivoted their food offering to cater for a sit-down crowd, embracing the brunch culture favoured by students and young professionals.
With their more serious food offering, the café started to make a name for itself as a destination venue, and in early 2017, the business tested the appeal of its shrubby enclave and pushed into Saturday trading.
In the year since, Peter Rabbit has continually pushed to evolve beyond café fare into a fully rounded venue, pushing further into nighttime trade and continually refining its approach to food.
This year, the café has taken a serious step in that direction, bringing on board Jackson Bennett, a chef acclimated to the fine-dining side of the industry, most recently working at Hentley Farm and Assagio in Hyde Park.
Working under Lachlan Colwill, Jackson developed a produce-driven attitude toward food, making the Peter Rabbit garden a perfect fit.
“We used to forage everything,” Jackson recalls. “Every day I’d drive around the Barossa for a couple of hours and just learn to identify all the native plants, which we’ll be doing a lot of here as well, focussing on Australian natives and sourcing wild foods, which I’ve already been doing.
“I’m heaps into my gardening and the boys are both from farming backgrounds, have green thumbs, so we’re going to focus on that a bit more.”
The urban garden that sits atop Peter Rabbit has been reinstated, with a greenhouse added, and a second site, located next to a parking garage just up the road from the café, will soon be handed over to the crew, in which they’ll introduce planter boxes to grow much of their own produce.
“We’d be hoping to maybe get up to something like 40 per cent, or at least all of our specials each week are completely created from what we can produce in our own urban garden,” Jack says.
“That’s something that we’ve always had in mind, and it’s something that people probably always perceived with Peter Rabbit, so hopefully that’s something we can take even further.”
For Jackson, the appeal of moving into Peter Rabbit is to “do more honest food.”
“I wanted to do my own thing and have a bit more creative control, and also just take a step back from those long hours and get a bit more work-life balance so I can focus more on the gardening, and yeah, just learn something different,” he says.
“I’m trying to take a lot of fine dining concepts and then convert them into brunch, which is where Jack’s good, because he’ll be like ‘Make it bigger,’” Jackson laughs, “which is good, we probably balance each other out.”
The café will also this week make a move back into the on-the-run student and professional market, instating a Peter Rabbit caravan out the front, serving takeaway coffee, cakes and pastries.
“We’re getting busier and busier with our coffee, especially with our takeaway trade, so we just thought a good way to combat that would be to put it out on the street for people walking past,” Jack says.
“It should make it quicker, and then obviously will make inside Peter Rabbit less congested… And being a caravan, we can take it to functions and events.
“We’re looking at setting a long table up out the front, we’ll have some pot plants, so you can get a takeaway but still sit down and drink it there… It will also make the entrance to Peter Rabbit a little bit more enticing as well, and connect with the street front a bit more.”
As the health and education precinct settles into a rhythm around Peter Rabbit, the café will continue to evolve and refine to meet the needs and exceed the expectations of the similarly evolving city.