Honest, full-flavoured Northern Italian inspired fare
It's real food, starting off with really great, fresh ingredients. It’s not pretentious, it’s just good quality, honest food that’s approachable and full-flavoured.See our handpicked guides to the HunterValley
BY KACEY JOHNSTON
The Italian word for “Hunter”, Il Cacciatore Restaurant is a favourite haunt of Hunter Valley locals and visitors for good reason. This quiet achiever has been serving the most delicious Italian fare for close to 17 years. That’s right, I said 17 years - a lifetime in the fast-paced and often high-turnover hospitality industry. If you’ve never dined here before, now’s the perfect time to discover why Il Cacciatore has the casual dining recipe just right.
Situated on McDonalds Road, at Hermitage Lodge, Il Cacciatore specialises in Northern-Italian inspired cuisine with an emphasis on quality produce and fresh ingredients. A lot of which they source from their own kitchen garden.
“Our menu is uncomplicated” comments Noreen Gottaas, Owner/Manager at Il Cacciatore. “It's real food, starting off with really great, fresh ingredients. It’s not pretentious, it’s just good quality, honest food that’s approachable and full-flavoured.”
It’s pretty clear from chatting with Noreen, who's worked in hospitality for 40 years, and seeing her in action, that she knows what makes for a good dining experience. “Obviously the food has got to be good to keep people coming back but we always try to keep things interesting. We recently introduced Peroni on tap which has been quite popular. Also, our floor staff have all been with us for a really long time. Like our wonderful chefs they have a high care factor. It definitely makes a difference to the experience our customers have when they come here.”
We couldn’t agree more. The staff at Il Cacciatore are super attentive and friendly and the restaurant’s ambience is warm and welcoming. Don’t let this homely feel fool you though. Il Cacciatore has won a ton of awards, consistently delivering in the quality and service stakes. Just recently, they took out the NSW Regional ‘Restaurant & Catering’ award for the ‘Best Informal Italian Restaurant’ – an accolade they’ve received many times over. In October, they also picked up a Silver Award at the National Food Awards for the second year in a row.
If you’ve dined here before, you’ll know that Il Cacciatore’s menu is seasonal, as is the Italian way, but you’re sure to find staple dishes and sides like the Oven Baked Veal Involtini wrapped in Prosciutto, warm marinated olives and polenta chips are always on the menu.
Tonight, I’m having the Pan Seared Scallops on a sweet pea puree and the Orecchiette with Chili Garlic Prawns, but quite frankly, it’s hard to choose. The steaks here are always divine and cooked just so. Decisions, decisions! If you’re into your wine, Il Cacciatore are licenced and have a decent wine list too, including top drops from local Hunter producers. There’s Semillon and Shiraz as you’d come to expect but also Sparkling, Rosé and some nice alternates that complement the food very nicely.
The short wait for the food to arrive gives us a chance to really appreciate the lovely simplicity and tranquility of this place, particularly on the deck which overlooks the reed-filled damn and vineyards. It’s so pretty, especially at this time of year. Those few extra daylight hours with the sun setting over the mountains make this the perfect spot to spend an evening.
Not surprisingly, the flavours of the entrée and main I’ve ordered are amazing and the serving sizes generous.
With dessert on its way, the proof is certainly in the pudding. Lucky for me, it’s a very tasty Tiramisu. When in Rome! Of course, Il Cacciatore have other traditional Italian desserts like Affogato and Gelato (with deep-fried Chiacchiere pastries) if that’s how you roll. For something different, try the Chocolate and Nutella Ravioli or keep it simple with a Baked Crème Brulee. Yum. If you prefer a savoury dessert, the cheese plate is plentiful and is an equally delightful end to your meal.
Il Cacciatore also caters to vegetarians and there’s quite a few vegan dishes on the menu as well. If you’ve got kids in tow, the restaurant offers a children’s menu for 6pm and 6.30pm reservations. The restaurant is also an ideal choice for Christmas parties (in case you haven’t booked yours yet). They’ve got plenty of space and a set three course group menu, that’ll make the whole affair easy-breezy.
Whatever the occasion, do yourself a favour and make a dinner reservation at Il Cacciatore soon. Your tastebuds will thank you.
Ill Cacciatore is open seven days from 6pm.