A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with diabetes. He’s 40. In fact, his birthday last year was the first of an imminent wave of 40th birthday celebrations that will transpire over the course of the next few years. It’s a pretty significant milestone; although 50 is apparently the new 40, so perhaps I won’t notice it too much in a few years time when it’s my turn. Regardless, these kinds of ailments remind that we’re not getting any younger. Our metabolism becomes slower. We need to have more regular check ups with our GP. We need to make sure we’re getting an adequate amount of exercise and we need to heed the caution of avoiding artery-clogging, saturated animal fats.
If you wholly agree with the above as the strict rules for a happy, healthy life that may well exceed the paltry amount of superannuation you’ve accumulated, then please do not read on. Or for that matter, dine at Little Hunter.
You see, Little Hunter is not for the feint-hearted. Literally. Most steaks typically come with a condiment. Little Hunter’s Robbin’s Island Ribeye ($60) comes with an unfeasibly large baton of roasted bone marrow and just when you thought that was going to push your cholesterol into double digits, beef fat butter. I’m not kidding. It may or may not be the first time I have uttered “thank fuck we ordered some vegetables” and it’s also ironic that Pete “Activated Almonds” Evans is a co-owner. They would definitely not feature on this menu… unless they were crumbed, deep fried and served with a lard jus.
Anyway, more on the food later. Little Hunter is set in the basement of the George’s building in Little Collins St. It’s a kind of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ façade, with only a small plaque that acknowledges you’re in the right place. Walking down the industrial staircase, you head into a polished, comfortably lit warehouse-chic space that consists of a myriad of booths, tables and walls adorned with pictures of the likely ancestors of the bovines that you’ll be tucking into later on.
The menu is, to a great relief, very straight forward and easy to navigate. No confusion about shared plates that may or may not be entrees. Or mains. There are small dishes, sides, large dishes, steaks and sweets.
OK. Let’s get what is possibly is already the legend of this place; the bread and it’s evil partner in crime. The bread itself is delicious – a cheesey pull-apart style loaf that is so good, you will order another. But the real hero and star of the show is the chicken fat butter. Yes, you heard me correctly; the blend of 50% butter and 50% rendered chicken fat, flecked with chicken skin crackling is never ever going to get a Heart Foundation tick of approval, but we gave it five big ticks.
A number of my fellow diners were a little saddened to discover that one of the small dishes that featured on the website; Pork Cracklings – paprika, white cheddar, apple sauce ($6) were not on the menu. The alternative of corn fritters did not disappoint. Small balls of deep-fried corn were reminiscent of “pogos” according to a Canadian friend of mine. Apparently, they’re like corn dogs.
The stand-out dish of the night, winning by a bee’s whisker was “Beef on Toast” ($15). Atop a wafer-thin crisp of bread sat very thinly sliced, quality raw beef fillet, a creamy, rich chicken liver parfait and as a counterpoint, a chivey-capery concoction that brought the whole dish together. It was outstanding.
The Country Pate with pickled walnuts, guanciale (pig’s jowl) and pea shoots ($14) in comparison was like a poorer cousin. There was definitely nothing wrong with it, but amongst the bread, the butter, the corn fritters and the beef on toast – it was quite possibly one dish too many. Although using some of the witlof on the dish as a vehicle for consuming more chicken fat butter was great and yet writing about it today, it just sounds so wrong.
I’ve already talked about the Robbin’s Island Ribeye. It was the best steak I have had in a long time. Mind you at $60 for a 280 gram steak, the expectation was high. The steak was cooked to the kitchen’s recommended doneness (medium rare) and as previously mentioned, came with a generously-sized piece of bone marrow that could have acted as a weapon and an extremely rich butter made with beef fat that anointed the tender cut of meat. If I had to be picky, I would have preferred one or the other, but not both condiments as it became a little sickly towards the end. Too much of a good thing.
The Cape Grim Filet Mignon ($38), marinated in coffee grounds and Worcestershire sauce, cooked via sous vide and then smoked was unavailable. However this was substituted with a wagyu fillet, cooked in the same manner, for $55. Three rounds (approximately 225 grams in total) were served simply with a big slice of king brown mushroom and an accompanying sauce (which I don’t know what it was).
You will need sides as the dishes are fairly scarce without them. We tried the lettuce with balsamic vinaigrette (it is exactly just that) for $9, Little Hunter’s Fries, dusted with dehydrated onion powder and served with a ‘fry’ cocktail sauce ($6 or approximately $1 per chip to be more accurate), roasted yams with chimmichurri ($7) and some much-needed vegetables (baby carrots, zucchini, shitake mushrooms) with only a little bit of butter added – hey that’s what kitchens do ($9).
Some of us had thrown in the towel at this point, but others pushed on. Desserts are restrained, quite attractive, full of flavour and hit the right notes after the preceding calorie-laden offerings. The frangipane with meringue, passionfruit curd and peach sorbet ($15) was light, not to mention delicious. As was the licorice ice cream with milk crumbs, bee pollen and candied citrus ($12).
The well balanced wine list is reasonably priced, lots of choice between local and international wines. You’ll probably pay around $60-$70. We drank the 2011 Tscharke Montepulciano from the Barossa ($67) and moved to a heavier, 2012 The Story ‘Writer’s Block’ Shiraz from the Grampians ($60, also available by the glass for $12). There is also an extensive list of beers and ciders.
Service was extremely attentive. Our server, Sarah, had to put up with the attempted wit of five gregarious dudes. This is a place for gregarious dudes… or lunching men in suits… or carnivorous better halves. Just no vegos.
Oh and please don’t ask as to why there is a duck on the wine glass. You have been warned.
Basement, 195 Little Collins St, Melbourne VIC
(03) 9654 0090
Good For: Meat. Grrrr.
Not Good For: Vegetarians, people that get excited about 99% fat free products and people whose cholesterol might be already exceeding 5.5