Igni sees Victoria’s prodigal son return to the realm of regional dining. As quarter life and mid life crises ensue, a stint overseas is a natural cure for monotony. So off Aaron Turner went, to the BBQ capital of the world – sweet Tennessee. If you know a G-town resident or a chicken fan, Belle’s hot chicken, induces fond finger-licking memories. Chef Turner returns, opening a degustation only restaurant, with a Noma-esque feel. Seems the best chefs are moving away from the city lights?
Despite Aaron’s credentials of Michelins and hats, Igni is ‘casual fine-dining’. With its intentional obscurity, it’s easy to miss. What feels like the backside of Geelong,a medieval rack of smoked and cured meats, hangs in the entrance. Inside, it’s minimal and unpretentious. IMO, there’s nothing worse than an awkwardly silent restaurant, diners dressed in gowns, waiters ready to scrape your bread crumbs – yes this is ‘fine dining’ in NYC.
Igni Snacks: Duck Breast, Dried Angus, Salt & Vinegar Salt bush, Chicken skin, Zucchini flower mussels
The ‘Snacks’ at Igni are superb. The crispy chicken skin, is slathered in whipped cod roe – aka, gastronomic cocaine and chicken’s answer to a crispy pork crackling. Suddenly, the hanging meats make sense. There’s Angus Beef jerky, grissini wrapped in cured duck breast. Salt and Vinegar salt bush, is a native spin on chips. Pickled mussels wrapped in seared zucchini flowers. Plenty of dark, smoky flavours.
From smoky aromatics, we move to acidic flavour profiles. Mackerel wrapped in mustard leaf – pop with trout roe and a cucumber pour-over. The potato noodles are a signature, cooked in chicken fat, blanketing plump pippies and a yolk that screams ‘pop me’. The notion of potatoes cooked in fat, scream comfort flavours and umami. Therefore, I was surprised with the acidic flavour profile. By no means, is it a bad dish, more so… expectations did not match ingredients normally associated with comfort.
Back to the smoker. David Blackmore’s wagyu is a grade 9. Observe the distinctive white flecks of fat, weave through the meat. A perfect blanket for soft Jerusalem artichokes, seeped in potato starch. Fermented carrots are blackened and cooked in carrot juice, the char seeping through the carrot underbelly. Slow-cooked Raven farm pork, is wonderfully tender. Dessert is the Australian bush, flowering gum ice cream, tainted with the sweetness and sourness of dehydrated berries and Davidson plums.
Diners have a choice of an 8 ($150) or 5-course ($100) degustation. $100 for 5 courses is incredible value, for the calibre of food. Igni does not disappoint, but don’t expect comfort flavours. Geelong is lucky to share residence, with a restaurant well-worth the road trip from Melbourne.
Rating: 3.9 cookies out of 5
Must order: Degustation only but the snacks are a winner!