I've driven past the Hunters Hill Hotel thousands of times in search of dinner. In fact, I nearly drove right past it on the night I had specifically organised to have dinner there. Well, I won't be doing that anymore.
Why? Because behind the heritage-protected art deco facade lies a beautifully revamped pub that is all classic pale tones and brass accents that are perfectly pitched at the blend of (rather plentiful) old and new money that makes up the Hunters Hill mob. Another reason why is because here they know how to kick off a meal with a fine cocktail. The list covers the classics — espresso martinis and the like — but pre-dinner the balanced tartness of a lychee/lime mojito and a passionfruit caipiroska (both $12) suit us best.
New head chef Matthew Graham also knows what suits his clientele best. Traditional pub fare is dressed up for a 'smart casual' meal, with trendy accessories and a focus on good-quality produce. A bread platter ($18) leaves no room to hide — and there's no reason to here, with a dish that includes light, airy Italian baguette, olives that don't taste like they've been in Canopic jars for millennia and some persian feta that was so creamy I've had trouble forgetting it.
Same goes for the the prawn and crab sliders ($19 for 3), all soft brioche bun, juicy patty and creamy housemade tartare. My only gripe was how easily I was able to make them disappear. I've always had trouble getting my head around the necessity of eating prawns in conjunction with steak that makes people order Surf 'n' Turf ($39). Well, if it means a nicely cooked rare steak with a good drizzle of rich bearnaise, as it does here, I'm sure I can handle a few prawns on the side.
I'm no stranger to the pleasures of a good lamb chop though ($21 for three) and shamelessly pick up the nicely charred, chermoula-marinated, pink-interiored specimen to get as close to the bone as possible. It's accompanied by a green mango salsa that delivers sweetness and heat but perhaps needs the presence of herby or sour note for balance. A dish of twice-cooked pork belly ($27) is comfortingly rich — a crisp fascinator of crackling proudly balances upon tender meat that is accompanied by sweet and sour red cabbage and complimented nicely by the mellow tartness of roasted green apple.
Looking for a light pub meal can be like trying to find bargain real estate in Hunters Hill, but here it does in fact exist in the form of a dishes of crisp skinned barramundi ($31) and a warm duck salad ($22). The barramundi is soft and flaky, while the pulled duck meat is tender and rich. Both are accompanied by a good amount of veg and brightly flavoured dressings that provide insurance against any food envy for your companions who order the schnitty and chips.
The Cake Pinot Gris ($8/glass, $32/bottle) we drink is beautifully clean, and softly fragrant. A Tar & Roses Pinot Grigio ($8.5/glass, $34 bottle) is a similarly crisp yet easy-going drop that services the food it is eaten with well, which, given that it is the staff favourite on the wine list, says good things about them indeed. I won't be driving past without stopping again.