Sunday, March 17, 2013

Little Hunter Melbourne (Closed)

Eating at a newly opened restaurant is always a gamble. On one hand, all the staff, from managers, to chefs, to waitstaff, are incredibly enthusiastic and friendly. On the other, they can be nervous and inexperienced. Our visit to Little Hunter Melbourne wasn't without it's unpolished moments, but this is one gamble that paid off. 

In Melbourne? Check. Hip? Check. Relatively unmarked? What else did you expect.

195 Little Collins St
An unassuming front with a few subtle signs are the only indications that there's a restaurant further inside the building. Decorated like the interiors of a ship, steel staircases and copper pipes lead you down into a darkened restaurant and bar. 
Little Hunter Melbourne
The restaurant had its soft launch on a Tuesday night, and we were lucky enough to score a table for four the first Saturday that it opened.  

Little Hunter Melbourne
There were plenty of empty tables when we arrived, bu the place filled up fairly quickly. The menu by Chef Gavin Baker revolves around the concept of the land, the farmer and the highest quality produce sourced as locally as possible. An admirable vision that results in a short and succinct menu, but still with plenty of choices in terms of meat based dishes including veal, beef, pork, chicken and seafood. The pre-launch menu had goat as well, but I was disappointed that it wasn't available in the final menu. 

To start off the meal, a twist on the standard bread basket.

Herbed Bread with Chicken Skin Butter
Chicken skin butter? That's definitely to my taste and swayed me towards eating out of the 'bread basket' even though I usually don't go near it. The bread was warm and strongly flavoured, and complemented by the silky butter punctuated with bits of chicken skin. This was perhaps the best bread starter I've ever had - oh the wonders of animal fat. 

Speaking of animal fat, one of our three starters was Pork cracklings with paprika, white cheddar and apple sauce.

Pork Cracklings, Paprika, White Cheddar, Apple Sauce
Incredibly airy, these were cracklings done very well. The apple sauce wasn't needed in my opinion but pork and apples certainly do well together.

The country pate we ordered was also interesting. 

Country Pate,  Pickled Walnuts, Lardo, Pea Shoots
One of my fellow diners had never eaten pate before and found the entire experience a little odd. It was smooth but the bits of walnuts certainly added a welcome contrasting texture. The serving size was larger than I expected as well.

My favourite starter was of course the seafood dish. 

Cured Kingfish, Seasoned Roe, Roasted Peppers, Bay Oil
The kingfish was smothered in salty, juicy bubbles of roe. Generous to say the least, this was an addictive dish, in part due to the freshness of the ingredients. If any of the entrees were a must order, it would be this. Well, provided you like your seafood.

For the mains, two of us ordered the fish dish, one ordered the veal and the final diner splurged on the wagyu. 

Chatham Island Blue Cod, Native Sea Grasses, Leaks, Brown Butter
The cod was perfectly cooked with a nice, crisp skin on top. The brown butter was indulgent and the sea grasses, with their little 'grapes' were deliciously sweet and juicy. A very well rounded dish that captures the best elements of the sea. 

The veal sweetbread dish was slightly disappointing though .

Veal Sweetbreads, Sherried Veal Jam, Parsnip, Onions
The main problem was too much fat overwhelming the dish. A few bites was more than enough and it didn't take long for my fellow diner to pronounce herself 'full'. I wonder if this dish would have been better off if various offal-y components were kept intact. Is that too gruesome for the Melbourne scene though?  

The wagyu was of course fantastic. 

Robbin's Island Wagyu Rib Eye, Bone Marrow, Beef Fat Butter
Medium rare stake with a slightly burnt exterior there was not much to fault with the dish. The bone marrow just topped it off perfectly - look at the size of the bone! 

Our accompaniments were all of very high quality and quite unique: 

Roasted Yams, Chimichurri
Little Hunter Fries, Fry Sauce
Grilled Cabbage, Blue Cheese, Anchovies, Hazelnut Vinegar
I adore anything with sweet potato, and the fries were interesting with their 'Big-Mac' like sauce, but the more interesting and delicious dish was the cabbage. Boring it would seem, but the various sweet, salty, and sour flavours, along with the creamy, crunchy and smooth textures just meld together so beautifully. The blue cheese smell would be overpowering for some, but I loved it just the way it was.

When it came to desserts, two of our party were full from the copious amounts of food previously ordered. Nevertheless, the hard task of tasting the desserts must be done and two dishes were ordered. 

Licorice Ice Cream, Milk Crumble, Bee Pollen, Candied Citrus
The licorice ice cream was rich but refreshing, and was nicely offset by the crunch of the other elements. The better dessert was without doubt the chocolate and dessert wine based mousse.

Double Chocolate Mousse, Noble One Reduction, Cocoa Nib Brittle
Doesn't that just look stunning? The mousse was light but with a very strong chocolate taste that suited my tastes. I could barely taste the De Bortoli liquor, but I'm guessing it was responsible for the small hit of sweetness in the dish. Another plus - you didn't feel sinful after eating it as it was so light. 

Little Hunter Melbourne is a wonderful addition to the restaurant scene. The food is of the highest quality and is interesting without being overly fussy. The prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is sophisticated but not pretentious. There are some kinks to work out in the service, but I suspect it's only a matter of time before everything is polished. Certainly a must visit but it's popularity seems to be growing fast so visit while you can still book a table. 

Little Hunter Melbourne
195 Little Collins St, Melbourne
Lunch & Dinner Tue-Sat, Brunch Sun

Little Hunter on Urbanspoon