This restaurant is now closed.

The first challenge in dining at one of Melbourne’s newest eateries, Little Hunter, is finding it. At the rear of one of Melbourne’s iconic buildings, the old Georges building on Collins Street, there’s only a little plaque outside the door alerting to its presence.

The space has long been used as a restaurant. Previously, Greedy Girl was informed, it was a pizza joint and an internal staircase allowed access from the Georges building. No more.

So, heading into a modest doorway off Little Collins Street, the diner needs to have done their homework, for the tiny sign on the street – at the moment, anyway – is all you get. If you’ve had the foresight to check out the Little Hunter website beforehand, you’ll note the admonition that it’s downstairs.

And so down the industrial steel staircase we tottered, trying not to get heels caught on any of the bumpy bits, in search of a restaurant with a serious pedigree. Opening in mid-February 2013, it’s a collaboration between Sydney-based chef/entrepreneur Pete Evans and the North Carolina native/Fat Duck alumnus Gavin Baker.

The restaurant offers two seatings in the evening – at 6.30 and 8.30. On a quiet Tuesday night in March, we three girls were ushered to a comfy booth at the rear of the restaurant, fully expecting to eat and decamp to a local bar if other ravenous hordes descended with designs on our table. That didn’t eventuate but diners in the first sitting are forewarned their spot may need to be vacated by 8pm.

Pete Evans, a sometime TV chef and self-confessed health nut, has attracted some notoriety of late, especially when featured in a magazine feature extolling the dietary benefits of ‘activated almonds’. Before a hearty ‘What the …’ echoes around the blogosphere, these are, apparently, almonds that have been soaked in water for 12 hours or so to increase their ‘brain food’ properties and make them more digestible.

Happily though, none of these were in sight at Little Hunter which was just as well, given one of our number carries an EpiPen because of a nut allergy. We settled in, popped a bottle of Pere Ventura ‘Clos Amador’ Cava from Spain and perused the menu.

Little Hunter is described as a ‘grill house’ – vegetarians need not apply. They’d probably be disconcerted by the stuffed bantams and various cow motifs scattered around the place. Even the bread and butter isn’t a safe option. A slightly cheesy, herby white loaf arrives hot to the table, with a small ramekin of butter – made with chicken fat and chicken skin. It’s decadently unhealthy and utterly delicious.

We decided to order four starters to share. Nuts About Town loves her tucker but apart from her allergy, has a couple of other little idiosyncrasies – no red meat (not outrageously unusual) and an aversion to cooked food resembling its natural state – so no whole fish with a glazed dead eye looking up at you. Squid tentacles are also a step too far.

No danger of cow horns appearing, we started with a signature dish, the beef on toast. Greedy Girl and the third member of our group, Full As A Goog, tucked into this, essentially carpaccio-style wagyu beef atop a thin layer of chicken liver parfait, a crunchy thin base and some delightful chopped gherkins. Delish.

beef on toast

Beef on toast

Also on offer were pork cracklings with paprika, white cheddar and apple sauce (pictured at the top of this post). This was crackling more akin to ‘prawn crackers’ and scrummy if a little too salty. The apple sauce was a lovely touch but definitely a dish made for sharing – you’d have to be an addict to get through the serving on your own.
Lightness was provided by cured kingfish, topped with roe, roasted peppers and bay oil. This was very fresh and tasty, with a lovely pop on the palate from the roe. A nice foil to the richness of the other dishes.

Finally for starters, we shared a watermelon salad with goats cheese, dandelion greens and a bit of cress. This dish usually features pine nuts but these were served on the side for Greedy Girl and Full As A Goog to sprinkle at will. The coldness of the watermelon was a little bit of a shock to the system but again, it was welcomed by the palate after such strong flavours.

And so to mains. The serving size, and the price per plate, are both on the high side. In contrast to the starters, the dishes are remarkably unadorned and, it had to be said, suffered from a bit of sameness after a while.
Greedy Girl ordered Koonwarra natural NY strip steak with bearnaise sauce and roasted tomato. The waitress said the kitchen’s preference was to offer steaks medium rare. That was just fine by Greedy Girl but when it was presented, it was cooked significantly more than that. The bearnaise, while retaining a nice tang from the vinegar reduction, was a bit on the thin side and diluted further once the juice was released from the tomato.

Full As A Goog chose wood roasted pork, served with kale and cider vinegar. The skin was delightfully crispy but it was an enormous serving. She commented that the kale provided a welcome counterpoint.

Nuts About Town went for the roast chicken, having been assured it had been largely deboned. It was served with soured cream, Moroccan spices and lemon. There was also a small amount of cucumber. While the chicken was amazingly moist, the spice rub on the skin didn’t burst with flavour. It was basically half a chicken and, proving you can have too much of a good thing, half of the half probably was left on the plate. We also ordered a plate of yams with gremolata which were tender and enjoyable, given that none of the mains really had much adornment in the way of veggies.

Greedy Girl would have been content to draw a line under a reasonably full belly and head out into the cool of the evening. Her companions would have none of that, ordering dessert. What was Greedy Girl to do in response other than order another bottle of the sparkling?

Full As A Goog plumped for the enticing sounding double chocolate mousse. It had coffee flavours and assorted crunchy bits and was quite sweet. More refreshing was Nuts About Town who ordered fresh yoghurt with basil granita, apple pie jam and nutmeg. It was a dish that just needed a spoon to dive in and take a sample of all the ingredients at once. Tasting individual elements wasn’t the way to go.

Little Hunter has some interesting food, in a nice setting and with knowledgeable and personable wait staff. It’s probably a little on the expensive side to become a regular haunt. Once word gets round and it picks up more of a following (although it was reasonably well patronised this particular evening) to the point where the staff need to enforce the ‘sittings’, a good way of experiencing it should you choose the ‘early shift’ is to choose an array of starters and share. The dishes lend themselves well to that style of eating.

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