195 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9654 0090
You may have heard that Little Hunter was placed in liquidation the other week. The restaurant wasn’t paying its bills, the ATO was hunting them down and staff were walking away en masse. It was the sort of stuff that Gordon Ramsay’s producers would have been looking for – that is, if the whole thing did not happen so quickly.
It is therefore fitting (okay fine, inappropriate is probably a better word) that I make tonight’s review all about Little Hunter. Winston, Dave and I were here for dinner well before the storm approached so our experience was nothing like the papers described.
That said, the restaurant itself was a pain in the arse to find. Dave and I probably spent a good few minutes staring blankly at an empty spot on Little Collins Street where we thought the restaurant was. We then realised that we were on the wrong side of the street but even then, the restaurant wasn’t illuminated or anything – the only clue was a single red light bulb dangling above the door and ‘Little Hunter’ written in tiny serif font. Even then, we still had our reservations when we walked through that entrance, down some stairs and into some creepy basement.
We knew we finally reached the right place though when we saw a bunch of hipsters walk into the restaurant. We also saw chickens, cute little chickens.
Little Hunter’s problem wasn’t its lack of direction, a problem that seems to touch every second new restaurant that pops up in Melbourne. No, Little Hunter knew what it was doing and it did so pretty well. There was a focus on ‘the land, the farmer, and the finest breeds in Australia.’ Everything on the predominantly meat-filled menu was cured, smoked or preserved in-house. And Little Hunter was also big on using every bit of the animal as much as possible, which explains ingredients such as beef fat butter appearing on the menu.
Winston ordered The Pair of 8s cocktail, a very pear affair. Even though it sounded fantastic on paper, we were slightly underwhelmed by the taste. It was one-dimensional and sweet all over, with nary a hint of real ‘pear’ flavours.
My warm cocktail was a lot better. It was equal parts spicy and warm, strengthened by a rich layer of smoothness. I also liked that the brown butter gave what would have otherwise been a sweet cocktail a bit of a salty kick. Two thumbs up.
We then ordered a bunch of entrées to share. Probably a bit too much in hindsight…
We knew we were onto a good thing when our complimentary cheese bread arrived with chicken skin butter on the side. Wait, chicken skin butter? Yep, that’s right. Chicken skin fat is melted into oil, and then the whole thing is mixed in it with butter. It may not be healthy but it certainly was delicious.
And so was the soft, pull-apart bread that was just oozing with cheesy goodness and hints of garlic and rosemary. Let me say here that cheesy bread and chicken skin butter combo was better than any of the non-complimentary dishes we were served that night…
After the bread’s grant entrance, it almost seemed a bit unfair to say that the lobster hushpuppies paled in comparison. I found them rather heavy on the batter and thus, couldn’t really taste any lobster.
The pork crackling dish slightly lifted our spirits up, though. They were light and airy, with each little air socket peppered with small hints of paprika and white cheddar. The apple sauce was supposed to provide a sweet balance, I guess, but I found myself enjoying the pork cracklings more without the apple sauce.
The cured kingfish dish provided a refreshing interlude to what had been a fatty carb session thus far. While the kingfish pieces were super fresh, I did find the pepper on the side a bit too overpowering.
We were actually starting to get full even before the mains arrived so I couldn’t help but groan slightly when our Hopkins River rib eye landed in front of us, seemingly mocking us. At this stage, we had already consumed two types of butter so the thought of getting beef fat butter made me queasy.
Being the tenacious Taurean that I am, however, I wasn’t going to give up that easily. The steak was beautifully juicy and tender, as any good textbook steak should be. However, I found the bone marrow AND the beef fat butter a bit too much for me, despite tasting just fine on their one. If it weren’t for the decadent entrées, I think we would have been just fine. Hell, if we ordered the Cape Grim Filet Mignon with coffee and wood smoke ($43), we probably would have been okay too. Ah, hindsight.
Our dry-aged lamb was okay, but nothing to write home about. The lamb erred on the stringy side and the orange-based sauce added nothing remarkable to the dish.
We chose the grilled cabbage dish as a side only because our waiter recommended it. We were expecting chopped cabbage leaves drizzled with hazelnut vinegar and sprinkled with the rest of the garnishes. Thus, we were surprised to receive half a head of cabbage – this made eating the salad a little awkward.
Additionally, we thought the dressing was extremely overpowering and just did not go well with the raw cabbage. We should have gone for the safe option of the fries ($6) or even the grits with herb butter and salt ($9). Ugh, never listening to waiters again.
Despite the three of us being super-full, we still couldn’t leave without ordering a dessert to share. We chose the least decadent dessert, a fruity affair, which ended up being a tad rich for our delicate tastebuds anyway. We all loved the refreshing pear sorbet and the tart passionfruit curd, though we agreed that we could have gone without the other two.
Despite our lack of enthusiasm for the second half of the meal, we enjoyed our dinner. If we had chosen wisely (i.e. not go overboard with our entrées), then we probably would have enjoyed our mains a lot more (okay fine, maybe not the lamb). There were so many wonderful ideas and flavour combinations floating around on the menu but you had to be selective when ordering or you’ll end up in a fatty comatose afterwards (and if you’re anything like me, you’ll abstain from eating meat for the rest of the week).
Little Hunter held so much promise so it was a shame to hear that it shut down. Despite the restaurant’s financial problems, there have been talks of a ‘Junior Hunter’ opening up in the same space so it will be interesting to see how that goes. In the meantime, I may or may not be making my own chicken skin butter in the not too distant future.