If you had to nominate a house style for Mornington Peninsula restaurants, it would be something like "European, with a fetish for locally grown ingredients". Many Little, from the folk behind Polperro Winery, obviously received the local ingredients memo but has broken from the pack by centring Sri Lanka as its main culinary influence. It's one of the most exciting places to eat on the Peninsula right now.
Part of a shopping village in Red Hill South, Many Little has a dark-hued, pared-back fitout, heavy on the timber (floors, chairs, tables) with pale brick details and a smooth-flowing indoor-outdoor layout that delivers bar and restaurant energy in equal amounts. Exemplary work from a well-versed floor and bar crew successfully manages the mix, too.
It's all in service to head chef Gayan Pieris's two menus – a four-part tasting number and a single-page list of scintillating bar food, running the gamut from raw kingfish doused in green chutney and scattered with fat salmon roe to cuttlefish dusted in spiced flour, fried and served with a crunchy, rustic green papaya salad. A list of excellent cocktails (try the savoury-refreshing Thelma Plum, based on Autonomy's Davo Plum Aperitivo) and a local-leaning list of beer and wine further explains why the bar draws a crowd.
Sri Lankan-born Pieris has been working in Australia for 16 years, his CV listing five-star hotels and names like Cumulus Inc. What he puts on the plate is a delicious, handsome, modern amalgamation of his influences and experience.The tasting menu starts with a three-part snack that might include a "croquette" of peppery-sour chicken ambulthiyal-style curry served with hogsplum chutney, a wagyu beef naem-style sausage dabbed with soy caramel, and a little kokis (rice flour and coconut milk) tart shell filled with goat's cheese and topped with tomatoes from Polperro's organic garden, just up the road.
A half marron, cooked over charcoal, is scattered with fried curry leaves and chilli, served with rich sambol and wet coconut rice. The main event, a generous, applause-worthy thali, comes laden with string and egg hoppers, roti, dhal and house-made condiments like eggplant pickles and watermelon salad. There are also two curries, your choice from a list of eight. Deft, elegant spicing is present in both the Sri Lankan chicken curry's low hum of heat and in the rich and chunky pork and black pepper number.
Dessert, a gorgeously textured Ceylon spiced tea and honeycomb semifreddo sandwiched in chocolate tuile, is an event in itself. Many Little is further argument for Mornington Peninsula's "best regional dining in the country" reputation. Go see for yourself.