Il Cacciatore, at Hermitage Lodge in Pokolbin, specialises in dishes inspired by Northern Italy.
Even the restaurant’s name, which translates as the hunter, evokes memories of gunfire in autumn, wild boar stews and sausages. It also is a nod to its location.
Don’t expect a clichéd Italian ambience; there’s not a checked tablecloth or raffia coated chianti bottle anywhere. Just white-clothed tables, elegant wine glasses and quality cutlery and crockery.
The background music is thankfully low level.
The wines are mainly from the Hunter with a good selection from wineries making iconic Italian varieties, in particular barbera from Margans.
Italian food is characterised by a commitment to the freshest, best quality, in season ingredients and … simplicity, a commitment upheld by the restaurant.
A favourite starter, bruschetta, is an example; toasted bread, tomato, basil, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar can be ordinary or extraordinary.
Here it’s the latter; good sourdough, fruity oil and sweet, in season tomatoes.
What’s not to like?
A little more complex, four zucchini flowers are filled with spinach and ricotta, coated in batter before deep frying then served on fresh tomato sugo with toasted pine nuts.
The batter is not quite as light as tempura, but still perfectly crisp. It’s a generous serve for one, but easily shared.
In fact, all the servings are generous. You could easily share many of the plates and make this a very economical night out.
The pasta is either good quality dried, or house made or brought in fresh, all used with appropriate dishes.
Squid ink ravioli, a daily special, is house made and filled with salmon and mascarpone mousse with a chilli caper cream and garnished with crisp sage leaves. The pasta is suitably silky, the sauce rich but the chilli is so subtle as to be hardly there.
Duck ragu from the Veneto is classically paired with fresh pappardelle. Here fresh linguine replaces the pappardelle but it’s still an outstanding dish.
There’s a brief nod to Tuscany with the char-grilled squid, chorizo and white beans with rocket and cherry tomatoes. Tuscans are famously known as mangiafagioli (bean eaters). Tender squid, spicy chorizo, sweet, ripe tomatoes, soft beans; a good flavour and textural balance.
And there’s thankfully not too much spiky rocket.
The stand out secondo has to be the lamb. The herb encrusted lamb backstrap is cooked and rested to pink perfection and perches on a bed of pea and broad bean mash and crisply roasted kipfler potatoes.
A small dish of mustard and rosemary sauce sits to one side.
Figs are in season and feature in a fresh fig and hazelnut tart with lemon and vanilla mascarpone, garnished with a shard of hazelnut toffee and more fresh fig. Yum.
Italians revere family life so it’s not surprising that children are well catered for. At the 6pm and 6.30pm time slots there’s a kid’s menu with a sensational spag bol.
They also get a goody bag with pencils, puzzle book and colouring-in pages.
And if they get too bored waiting with the adults they can go outside and chase the guinea fowl.
This place has been around for quite a while and if it sticks to its tried and true formula, of simple, fresh, autentico Italian food with a Mod Oz twist, I can see it staying around for a while yet.
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