Half Acre, with its wall-to-ceiling windows, deceptively nondescript entrance and open kitchen (that shows off the restaurant’s woodfired oven), is a restaurant and bar that Melburnians have come to love equally for drop-in drinks, long lunches, rustic dinners and grand weddings. The venue’s menu is getting a revamp thanks to new head chef Dean Little.

Little’s career started with an apprenticeship at a steakhouse and seafood restaurant in Woody Point, Queensland. He then apprenticed and eventually landed a full-time job at Philip Johnson’s acclaimed E’cco Bistro before taking on roles at two other Brisbane diners.

A move to Melbourne was next, where he joined Andrew McConnell’s Trader House (formerly McConnell Group), starting at Supernormal before his appointment to head chef at Cumulus Inc from 2014 to 2018.

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In the years that followed he took a break from the restaurant scene and ran not-for-profit kitchens for Many Rooms before opening Lokall, a cafe in Burnley that closed due to Covid, with Supernormal alum Steve Lim.

Half Acre owner Adam Wright-Smith successfully wooed Little with his vision for the restaurant and his passion for hospitality. “[I] am very happy to be back in a professional kitchen with an ethos I align with and support,” says Little. Broadsheet took five minutes with the chef to talk future plans.

What are your ambitions for Half Acre?
It's my hope that in working with Max [Charpentier], our restaurant manager, and the team here we can deliver a really special place for people to have meaningful moments together.

I also want to understand more of our food system in terms of how produce is sourced and farmed. And to interact with that as thoughtfully and in as considered a way as possible and help bring the team on that journey as well.

What’s the kitchen set-up like at Half Acre?
The kitchen centres around the impressive island bench pass, which for me is such an impressive backdrop to the dining experience. We have two woodfired grills, a woodfired oven and a six-burner stove, with the majority of dishes cooked over the hot coals of the open fire in the kitchen.

What effect does the kitchen have on your creativity?
This kitchen is significantly different in its equipment and setup than that of previous restaurants I’ve worked at, which has forced me to be more creative and further investigate my approach to cooking. I can’t simply rehash old favourites so to speak – which is really great.

The setup here leads me to think more about the produce first and how cooking more directly with fire can bring the most out of the ingredient.

What do you like most about cooking with fire?
I feel so much of great cooking is intuitive. Cooking with fire enhances that but you also have to cooperate with it, you have to nurture it and continually be engaging with it. I love the increase of the intuitive nature of cooking. I also think it adds a complexity of flavours and textures that are unique.

What’s on the menu?
It’s evolving as the season[al] produce changes. At the moment there’s kingfish paired with persimmon and fennel, and roasted pumpkin with roasted chilli, green harissa, pickles and a candied seed crunch. People are really enjoying the hanger steak with the red pepper sauce, and the spiced wood-roasted chicken.

What are you most proud of on the menu?
The new celeriac dish, braised in lemon-infused oil and then smoked and roasted slowly over coals, carved and dressed in a confit garlic and pine nut sauce and black garlic. I think it may be my most successful use of fire cooking so far.

What dishes and ingredients are you excited to introduce in the coming seasons?
I'm looking forward to having white asparagus on the menu, cooking them delicately over the fire, and serving them with a simple dressing or sauce. Beetroots, Jerusalem artichoke.

halfacre.com.au

This story was amended on August 4 to correct information that Dean Little was head chef at Cumulus Inc for 18 months, not five years.