Find a glorious meat feast and imaginative desserts at this sharp shooting, NY-trendy, subterranean bunker.
Across the road from our dream city apartment block, adjacent to a construction sinkhole that has disemboweled part of the CBD, Little Hunter, quite incidentally, lives up to its name. Google map fails. Through an arched doorway, you wander gingerly down a flight of bright steel stairs that brings back memories of New York clubs. At the landing, light spills in a scalloped edge from the bottom of dark billowing curtains. Your eyes dart as you carry out a quick reconnaissance swivel worthy of an ADF officer because there must surely be a burglary or an assault waiting in this still, cold blackness. Then you spot a glass door. As you approach, it swings out before you say “Open Sesame,” and a bevy of human voices calls out warm welcomes.
Beyond this door, the military theme continues. The dim space is rather like a bunker, even accessorised with walls of hammered metal, a cage fixture and exposed ceiling piping. However, there is also an unmistakable game ranch style of masculinity imprinted in the decor. Pinpoint lights from embedded halogens and glowstick-like rods highlight a sorrowful-looking bovine mural and the glinting stemware arrayed on each of the closely-spaced tables. You may choose intimacy at caramel-coloured booths carved into nooks along the back wall, or if you prefer to inhale the summer scents of your fellow humans, squeeze in at the high communal table. Otherwise for those with a penchant to cast hawk eyes over their food, perch on enoki mushroom-like stools overlooking the hard metallic kitchen or a prison cage. We say go for the spread in the middle where you can engage in interesting people watch. Little Hunter attracts a most curious crowd mix — young corporate wannabes types like us, older suits with an obligatory red/s, gaggles of girls mushrooming out of Herve Leger-style dresses and tottering without a measure of grace in stacked platforms, forty somethings resigned with end-of-the week hair, a smattering of bearded hipsters and the jeans/t-shirt variety of university-age students.
Designed for monopolistic or communitarian dining, Little Hunter’s menu is divided into “small plates, large plates, steaks, sides and sweets.” It isn’t a place for your vegetarian friend. Dinner began with a miniature loaf of moist garlicky buttery bread that you dip into a shallow dish of something with an addictive chicken taste. Of the entrees, we bypassed the pork crackling being averse to porcine things and also the pate dishes done two ways — the presence of liver anything appears to be making a more pronounced presence in many new restaurants (Brooks, Trocadero, Cumulus II etc). For entrees, the pink opalescent slab Cured Snapper ($14) was well-loved with a wet kiss of of seasoned peppers and bay oil, and accompanied with little balls of roe that were bursts of springtime. A show-stopper, it set the stage for what followed.
Of the mains sampled, the Moroccan spiced Roasted Chicken ($29) was the stand-out. With a small sour cream pool and somewhat superfluous cucumber stumps, it ought to be shared between two persons, or otherwise eaten by one emaciated soul. Whosoever said that comfort food cannot be exciting will need to try this. PM24 rotisserie chicken, this is your nemesis. One entity of these Dessert Correspondents visited separately, and the response on return was hugging the first Dessert Correspondent with this simple statement: “you finally understand me.” Why this most unusual sentimentality? The steaks at Little Hunter, specifically the round medallions of coffee and wood smoked Filet Mignon ($38) and the Blackmore Flank ($44) with avocado and cajun species. Steaks with just enough juice, just enough chew, just enough flavour. Exceptionally well-priced and generously portioned. Compared to the other dishes, the steaks were feebly described, but we predict that they are and will become the signature dishes. You will be wanting to hire out the meat chefs at Little Hunter for your next dinner BBQ party.
Little Hunter offered four desserts of which we bypassed the one that featured yogurt. Yogurt belongs in that category of food that you start your drowsy morning with or that you consume to kick start your bowel movements. Not at dinner. And not in a dessert. Not for us. No matter, the three remaining desserts on the menu made up for this misadventure. Following a meat-heavy meal, their playful lightness was most welcomed. The most conservative of the desserts on offer was the one that we loved best. Presented against a luminously glazed stoneware plate, a darkly ominous log of “Double Chocolate Mousse” ($14) comprised of a biscuit base and two layers of creamy mousse, one harder-set than the other and almost like a parfait. It was sprinkled with a snowy powder cloak and sharp-tasting, ground cocoa nibs. Special mention to the pool of so-called “noble reduction,” a delicious molten concoction that accentuated the chocolate and caffeine tones. An excellent decadence of unquestionable universal appeal.
By contrast, the “Frangipane” ($15) was a divisive dessert. A dense round of poppy seed frangipane cake, a quenelle of peach sorbet, a yolk eye of passion fruit sauce and flicks of toasted coconut were anchored on a slick of just-torched meringue. Its egg-like aesthetic reminded us of a similar dessert sampled at a savoury-inclined dessert degustation. For our dining companion, the Frangipane was a concerto of texture and taste contrasts (soft cake, tingly sorbet, smooth meringue, crunchy coconut, tangy passionfruit), but for the other, individually faultless but disparate elements made for an overall discordant dessert.
We hmmm-ed and ahhhh-ed about the “Liquorice Icecream” ($12) and eventually succumbed to the call of Little Hunter’s foghorn. The wait staff simply could not shut up about this dessert. And my, what a loud dessert! Hardly attractive in appearance perhaps, but do taste it to believe. A stormy ice cream ball was framed by a garland of a crumbled dried milk meringue and spindly twigs of candied citrus. Taken together, the citrus zest countered the penetrative projectile of the headier liquorice tones, and the small meringue shards added crackle-and-pop contrast. Although we enjoyed it, this dessert is likely to divide other sweet-tooths.
Service was good enough for a restaurant that is a few weeks old. However, if Little Hunter is to become a dining destination, there is some room for improvement. Aside from one waiter who was superb (our designated waiter), the others were somewhat lost — forgetting our dessert order and lacking confidence to explain dishes (that is, the food was simply placed on our table without any word). Reservation policy needs to be clarified also. When we made our first visit, we were told that the table would be allocated for 1.5 hours only. Thankfully, this was not strictly enforced and we lingered for two and a half, but we will not consider a third visit if it becomes the official policy. If one wanted to gulp dinner at that rate, one would have remained back in the office… or gone home.
For a restaurant less than a few weeks old, Little Hunter is quite simply, impressive. Matching its effortlessly sharp New York-trendy fit-out, the food is executed with a sniper’s clean shooting, rather than a machine gun’s hopeful, ultimately aimless scatter. Savoury dishes are grounded in the traditional yet flecked with cautious creativity. Desserts are where the imagination does cartwheels. With a savoury inclination rather than a more typical saccharine profile, they herald a light, playful epilogue and yet are also, at times, debate-provoking curiosities. Mark our words, this uptown, upbeat subterranean bunker is sure to become the go-to venue for a variety of occasions — dates, catch-ups, drinks. Hunting down a table will soon be akin to finding a needle in the haystack. Run before the other wolves and hyenas of Melbourne give chase.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Little Hunter Restaurant, 195 Little Collins Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern European.
- ☑ Must-eat: The “Double Chocolate Mousse” and the “Liquorice Ice Cream.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Find a glorious meat feast and imaginative desserts at this sharp shooting, NY-trendy, subterranean bunker.