No activated almonds and no edible landscapes, meat glorious meat is what you can expect here at Little Hunter. This couple months young grilled house in Melbourne CBD is more than just a joint venture by a serious pedigree line-up, but also a collaboration between two friends - My Kitchen Rules host Pete Evans, and North Carolina native Gavin Baker, the former sous chef at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck in Britain.
Apart from the household names, what also makes this restaurant the most talked of the town is the imported Josper oven, believes to be the third of its kind in Australia after Stokehouse Cafe and Movida Sydney. Boys and their barbie, I have high expectations that the meat tonight will be served at its finest.
Most Melbournites will be able to tell you that Little Hunter is not that easy to find - sandwiched between a construction site and a hair salon is the least eye-catching doorway that can be easily missed. No instructions or directions,trust your gut instinct, walk into this dimly lit corridor with clinically white tiled-walls resembles a slaughterhouse, then down a few fleet of industrial metal staircases to the basement, hoping there is no serial killer waiting down below.
No serial killer, but friendly waitstaffs and a sad cow on the wall looking back at you without showing a hint of interest throughout the rest of the evening. Words got out fast about this restaurant as it is now a little hot spot in Melbourne. Despite calling ahead to make a reservation, they could only fit us in and seated at the communal bar table with high stool chairs.
The menu draws inspiration from the farmers and the produce they work with, keeping it clean and simple to honour and show their appreciation for great local produce that have been handled and nurtured with care, naturally and humanely. The menu divides into five simple sections - Small plates to share, Large covers poultry, seafood and piggeh whilst Steaks are for meat lovers; Sides to make you feel less guilty and Sweets makes you feel guilty all over again.
I crank the night up with a glass of Gin Sherbet; a concoction of West Winds "Sabre" gin, Aperol that gives it the orange hue, ruby grapefruit juice for the tang while the raspberry sherbet rimmed glass for the fizz.
A ritual that I've long forgotten - taking picture of the pre-meal bread roll.
But here at Little Hunter, is a must. The housemade bread resembles a mini white tin loaf, pull-apart into individual slices that are as soft and buttery as brioche, studded with herbaceous thyme and rolled in Australian cheddar. If that doesn't already make you swoon, how about serving it with a dip that is made from chicken fat and bits of crispy chicken skins?
"Er-mah-gerd," I hear you saying.
"Beef on toast" - 15.00
First small plate to share is "beef on toast", a rectangular tile of raw wagyu beef carpaccio is served with a thin crusty crouton base, in between is smeared with silky smooth chicken liver parfait, then topped with a layer of gherkins and chives dressing that is salty and acidic which balances beautifully with the sweet parfait.
Watermelon salad - 12.00
Watermelon salad is a refreshing combo of sweet watermelon slices with goat cheese and a handful of crisp land cress leaves and dandelion greens. And that is that, a little hefty for what it is and the portion size.
Cured kingfish - 14.00
The cured kingfish has the most flavours in comparison with the other two delicate dishes - thin slices of fresh kingfish are blanketed in roasted peppers dressing that has a spicy note, pippity poppity bursts of salty salmon roe brings balance to the sweetness of the fish.
Chatham Island Blue Cod - 32.00
Of the larger dishes, the Chatham Island blue cod is the only seafood dish on the menu. A decent blue cod fillet is grilled to a golden tan on the skin with soft flaky flesh. The delicate sweet flavour of the fish is paired with salty samphire sea grasses, soft sauteed leeks and sweet little, I believe muntries. Brown butter sauce is dressed over fish to add richness.
Blackmore wagyu 9+ flank, avocado, cajun flavours - 44.00
The blackmore wagyu flank can't get more +'s than a 9, the beef steak cut from the abdominal muscle of the cow is usually tougher than usual no matter how much marbled fat runs through it. I believe the flank had been sous vide for hours, then a Cajun dry rubbed, and then a quick seared on the spanking new Josper oven to yield such tenderness. A wedge of avocado as sides is rather unusual, just to have some monounsaturated fat to counterbalance the saturated fat from the wagyu?
Cape Grim Filet Mignon - 38.00
The Cape Grim Filet Mignon is definitely one of the Little Hunter's signature dishes. The grass-fed prime cut of beef from Tasmania has been coffee and wood smoked, then sous vide until is medium rare which is almost unnecessary as the meat itself is well known for its flavours and tenderness. A halved grilled King Brown mushroom on the side looks and tastes just as rich as the beef itself.
Roasted yams - 7.00; grilled cabbage - 10.00
We also order two sides to go with our mains. We were very excited to see roasted yams on the menu, but turns out they are simply four wedges of sweet potatoes served with gremolata.
Same naming confusion with the grilled cabbage, it arrives to be a big wedge of wilted wombok from the grill, dressed in white dressing of blue cheese, anchovies and hazelnut vinegar.
It is a little disappointing to realise that the dishes we ordered are not what we had in mind simply because of American vegetables naming on the menu.
Veal Sweetbreads - 29.00
As much as I love beef, but I simply can't go past the veal sweetbreads. Arrives in a beautiful organic earthware, there is a generous servings of sweetbreads, pan fried to a deep caramelisation on the outside whilst is utterly creamy and soft on the inside, a great soft sponge mopping up the rich sherried veal jus. The parsnip puree must have went through a whirl in a Thermomix, it is as smooth as baby's bottom; caramelised onions add sweetness to the dish.
Frangipane - meringue, passionfruit curd, peach sorbet - 15.00
I've already stalked a few instagrammers who posted pictures of dishes served at Little Hunter before my arrival, so I had a pretty good idea what dishes to look out for, and the frangipane dessert is one of them.
Definitely our favourite among the three desserts we've ordered. A tower of frangipane cake is surprisingly fluffy but dense but not gooey but delicious! It has a summery combo of grated lime zest on the frangipane, a sunny side up of tangy passionfruit curd on a smear of toasted meringue, toasted desiccated coconut with a perfectly quenelled scoop of peach sorbet on top. Each mouthful will only makes you want to go cha-cha-cha!
Double Chocolate Mousse - noble reduction, cocoa nib brittle - 14.00
The double chocolate mousse taste like a tiramisu, double layers of airy and soft white and dark chocolate mousse is served with cocoa nib brittle, coffee cream and boozy syrupy reduction from De Bortoli's Noble One Botrytis Semillon sticky.
Fresh Yogurt - apple pie jam, basil granita, nutmeg - 12.00
The fresh yogurt is possibly the most underwhelming dessert of all. Poached apple pie jam atop with fresh yogurt is served in a jar, topped with crumbles and a slushy of lurid green basil granita. I do find a clash of flavours between apple and basil.
Little Hunter is still young but already proven to be a strong contender in the Melbourne food scene. The meal was pleasant if not a little on the expensive side. As we are walking out the restaurant, table next to us just started digging into a Robbin's Island ribeye served with bone marrow and beef fat butter, if that's the way to die of cholesterol, at $66 a pop I guess is still worth it.
(Down the stairs)
195 Little Collins St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 03 9653 0090
Lunch & Dinner - Tue to Sat