Snug setting: Rural scenes and timber tables at Big Spoon Little Spoon. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Cows have such sad eyes. There's one looking on soulfully as a beef carpaccio lands on the table at Big Spoon Little Spoon. It's a black-and-white portrait, all moon eyes and gentle stare, possibly, guessing its current circumstances, even a bit melancholy.
I wonder sometimes what future historians will make of our penchant for decorating restaurants with pictures of animals dispatched for the table. Current lore holds it healthy to acknowledge where dinner comes from. I quite agree, although menus that talk about respecting the beast take it too far. It's one thing to respect the beast, quite another to eat it.
But I'm pretty happy to be top of the food chain at Big Spoon Little Spoon. It's a two-year-old restaurant from a pair of chefs with wanderlust CVs - between them they've been at Langton's, Oyster Little Bourke, the Estelle and Ristorante Cracco in Milan - who've returned to their native Gippsland to plunder its livestock.
Owner-chefs of Big Spoon Little Spoon Leigh Marino (left) and Trevor Perkins. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Their smart little place is a boon for Warragul. Smart food, smart service and a wine list with real regional spice - affordable, boutique-driven and mostly Victorian. It's not just some run-of-the-mill country list, and Big Spoon, etc, is not just some run-of-the-mill country restaurant.
Apart from our soulful cow hanging on the wall, alongside various pastoral scenes that obliquely promise produce rooted in regionality, there's a polished concrete floor and glossy timber tables. Black rope hangings add a touch of mystique. There are banquettes and properly set tables, fat globes hanging from cords and vases of flowers. It's nice. The food is more than nice. The food is properly delicious in the way of intuitive chefs who like to muck around with trusted flavour combinations and good produce.
That beef carpaccio, made with tissues of Gippsland topside, is styled up with compressed apple and the jellied richness of confit egg yolk, heavy shavings of pecorino, a frizz of frisee and white (pickled) anchovies, which throw in a nice acidic twist to compete with the sophisticated sweetness of vincotto.
Lamb neck at Big Spoon Little Spoon, Warragul. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
It's a bit cheffy, yes? The chefs - Trevor Perkins and Leigh Marino - are rather fond of doing the modern cheffy thing of bringing dishes to the tables themselves.
But that's the thing about country restaurants. They're in real danger of alienating the locals when they try to go too ''fayn dayning''. And Big Spoon, clearly blessed with the goods to draw people in from a wide geographical remit, manages to be welcoming enough to have plenty of locals in for a quick workday lunch.
The a-la-carte menu is full of things that leap out and beg to be eaten. They did a great roast chook on a previous Sunday lunch, and a shepherd's pie deeply savoury with rosemary. Even their vegetable side orders are great. Broccoli with chilli and water chestnut sloshed with melted butter and oil made eating your greens as easy as could be.
Another worthwhile option comes via what is probably Warragul's first tasting menu. Great value too (up to eight courses for $80), it's no stranger to fashion, with a goat's cheese and beetroot combo that apologises for its ubiquity with a creamy puck of Brillat-Savarin with a toffeed sugar crust. The base slurry of curd and yoghurt is peppered with poppyseeds, and there are pickled baby beets matching the sweetness with a hit of raspberry powder.
At the end, they do a deconstructed Bounty Bar, a sunny dessert of coconut and pineapple with a shard of sweet crunchy coconut tuille, coconut ice-cream, a pineapple friand and sticky, dark, chocolate-dipped coconut-meat doughnut with a dehydrated pinwheel of pineapple.
In between, you hit courses such as the fork-notched cavatelli pasta (made in-house) with poached prawns and lobster meat, peas, and a well-judged slosh of prawn oil making it hum. And lamb neck, a pastoral thing with the glossy fall-apart meat with crumbed sweetbreads and braised chard, a salsa verde sparky with capers, plus a veritable nursery of baby vegetables.
It's smart food without the smugness, a recipe that any restaurant, city or country, could do with repeating. Warragul. I never knew I cared.
The best bit Smashing service
The worst bit They might want to turn the heater up
Go-to dish Lamb neck, cavolo nero, salsa verde, $36
How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor.
12 Reasonable 13 Solid and satisfactory 14 Good 15 Very good 16 Seriously good 17 Great 18 Excellent 19 Outstanding 20 The best of the best
Restaurants are reviewed again for The Age Good Food Guide and scores may vary.
- 03 5623 6017
- Cuisine - Contemporary
- Prices - Typical entree, $19; main, $36; dessert, $14
- Features - Accepts bookings
- Chef(s) - Trevor Perkins and Leigh Marino
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Wed-Sat, 10am-3pm and 5pm-9pm; Sun, 9am-2pm and 6pm-late
- Author - Larissa Dubecki