15 Jul Igni, Geelong
Igni is an unassuming performer. It’s all too easy to walk right past the nondescript entrance without realising what’s inside. The restaurant is small, pared back, and relatively casual for fine dining. It seats about 30, and diners are treated to the spectacle of the open kitchen: the smell of cooking butter, the sight of flames coming up during service, the sizzles and crackles from the wood-fire grill. Aaron Turner is the chef and also co-owner, returning to regional Victoria after closing Loam, which earned the accolade of Regional Restaurant of the Year in 2012.
It’s degustation only at Igni, and the tasting menu commences with a range of snacks: Cured and dried Angus beef jerky, charred zucchini flowers stuffed with pickled mussels, munchable salt and vinegar saltbush chips and rye crostini sticks wrapped with lardo and aged duck. All are delicious, but the chicken skins topped with smooth and creamy whipped cod roe and dill are a standout.
Saltbush sourdough rolls soon arrive with a dish of moreish and airy whipped cultured butter, followed by our first course: slimy mackerel, wrapped in mustard leaf like a taco, trout roe, tomato, dressed with cucumber and lemon juice at the table.
Twirled potato noodles have been cooked in chicken fat – an exciting proposition. Underneath are pipis, and on top is an egg yolk. The long strands of potato are unexpectedly crunchy and quite acidic.
Igni means ‘fire’ in latin, and there’s plenty of wood-fired cooking featured in the dishes. Jerusalem artichokes, cooked for 24 hours in the fire, are blanketed by thinly sliced David Blackmore MS9+ wagyu bresaola, and sit in a a pool of viscous potato starch and horseradish. The soft and sweet artichoke is a wonderful match for the salty and unctuous bresaola.
The final savoury dish is the aromatic Pork Belly, cooked in fermented grains for up to 5 days and finished off in the fire. Sitting next to the pork is semi-dehydrated, blackened carrot, which has been warmed in carrot juice with fenugreek. The fermentation process lends the meat an acidic tang that offsets the richness of the succulent and tender pork.
Dessert is a dish with a nice interplay between the sweet flowering gum ice cream, and the tang of pine needle yoghurt, raspberries and Davidson plum.
The meal isn’t quite finished yet; we still have petit fours to go. Tiny sunflower seed tart cases holds slow cooked fig, cooked for six weeks at 65C. It’s nicely balanced, and not too sweet. Charred pineapple, a more savoury snack, is recommended to be eaten after the sweeter jubes, which deliver a lingering peppery hit. Finally, the moist and slightly coconutty blueberry friands.
The menu is always changing at Igni. The reliance on small suppliers means a rotation of dishes is necessary, and even adjacent tables might receive different dishes. It makes for an exciting experience. We may have only had the 5 course tasting menu, but there were plenty of opportunities to appreciate Turner’s skill and thoughtfulness, honed by experience in the kitchens of Noma and El Celler de Can Roca, and 4 years at Loam. Even if there isn’t enough time to explore the rest of Geelong, a visit to Igni alone is worth the trip.