Perched in the treetops above Cockle Bay Wharf, Hunter & Barrel's setting is a kind of upmarket rustic retreat, with a spacious room stocked with stacked whisky barrels, fur throws, a large-scale hanging greenery and a roaring coal pit fire. On a summer night, you can sit outside on the deck and watch the people passing over nearby Pyrmont Bridge.
Overseen by ex-Danks Street Depot supremo Jared Ingersoll, it’s a welcome addition to an often indifferent dining strip, showcasing a love of meat, smoke and all things pastoral — a kind of concept restaurant offering a slice of the outback in an urban centre.
Kick things off with the hearty Hunter's Platter ($28), which comes piled with bresaola, Italian coppa, honey-glazed ham, pickles, eggs and olives. Starters include mussels ($16), which continue the theme of smokiness, being lightly steamed in smoked porter.
The drinks list includes the likes of a well-balanced Solena Negroni ($16), which blends both the barrel-aged and fresh, benefitting from the spice and botanicals of the McLaren Vale Settlers Gin. The Chieftain brings the sweetness of prosciutto to a watermelon and vodka-based cocktail, while the Devoted Squire (both $16) boasts a citrusy, fresh taste.
The smoked margarita ($28, serves two) offers butter-washed tequila and glasses rimmed with Himalayan rock salt. There are also unusually good mocktails, like the Queen Regent — which is dessert-like with berries and white chocolate syrup — and the very fresh Masquerade, made up of hibiscus, elderflower and hints of stone fruit (both $8).
The centrepiece of the restaurant though is its flamed-cooked offerings, which include the likes of braised kangaroo tails ($24). You get the feeling it's the kind of tender, tasty stew early settlers probably dreamed of enjoying around a campfire after a long day of labour. The coal-roasted rump ($29) is a moist piece of meat elevated by a black pepper and garlic sauce, which makes the winning choice to go for bold flavour over subtlety. Still on beef, the slow-roasted rib ($34) benefits from being cooked overnight; it's fall-apart tender and you won't leave a morsel. Each main comes with a choice of sides (also available separately for $8), including juicy roasted corn and grilled cauliflower, which comes soft and creamy like mashed potato.
The desserts (all $10) go for a kind of campfire comfort. Golden syrup dumplings are sweet and sticky, while the chocolate and marshmallow roast comes with McVities digestive biscuits to scoop up the mallow and chocolate sauce — kind of like a s’mores deluxe. Overall, this is a winning update of a particularly rustic and Australian brand of dining. Staff are unfailingly enthusiastic about the restaurant — and, chances are, you will be too.