As a rule, I’m not partial to imprinting my bum cheeks on seats resulting from excessively long tasting menus: great cooking doesn’t need to be an almost-literal marathon of eating. But then, enter Igni. We were the first diners to come through it’s doors. We were one of the last to leave. I’m afraid Aaron Turner can make hypocrites of even the best of us. Tempus fugit.
Date Last Visited: 17/Feb/2018
Address: 2 Ryan Place, Geelong CBD, Geelong, VIC
Highlight Dishes: the snacks, moreton Bay Bug w/witlof, wagyu bresaola, wagyu cube roll
Price Guide (approx): $100 5 courses, $150 8 courses, +$60/$95 for wine pairing, $40/$55 non-alcoholic pairing
It was an eyebrow-raising moment upon realising Igni’s location, situated at the derrière end of a Bikram yoga studio. The restaurant – a broody, dark timber-veiled box – looks like it was airdropped straight out of Denmark: totally out of place with the neighbourhood’s brick-bland construction. Head on inside and the Scandi elements continue: warm woods, floor-to-ceiling windows, a dark wall palatte. Very out of place, but with Turner’s time at Noma, it’s perhaps an understandable import.
Igni’s layout presents a somewhat confusing list of seating options. For foodies, the kitchen counter is undoubtedly the prized perch, for a raw performance theatre of Turner working the Argentine grill – no doubt his cynosure – is not to be missed. The entertainment value is rich: I could never tire of watching Turner deftly transform everything from dainty flowers to huge chunks of meat into edible gold on that grill. There was heat, flames, and plenty of sweat – yet everyone behind the counter maintained composure throughout the entire marathon of the meal, a reflection of team Turner’s experience. A refined operation that’s about as good as I’ve seen in an Australian open kitchen.
For diners, choosing a menu is as easy as answering two questions: 5 or 8 courses? Alcoholic, non-alcoholic, or no beverage pairing? Seemingly simple questions, but with profound implications on how the meal will turn out. Go 5 courses, and you’ll certainly be envious of anyone digging into the full 8. Make the right choice: don’t get FOMO. As for drinks, wine is cheap; juices, a test of skill.
A bevy small plates conjured from a flurry of tweezers and pipers, collectively the ‘snacks’ makes for a strong first impression. Turner uses these six dishes to emphatically impress on diners Igni’s antipodean heart: tucker of salt & vinegar saltbush, an oyster plant left completely to its own devices, sweet-citrusy lemon cucumbers, pickled turnips & avocado. Tangy, zingy, crunchy; highly vegetal. Very Raw. Perhaps it’s Turner’s Noma training, but with decidedly Australian roots – literally.
Not that’s to say that you have to be a rabbit and sucker for embalmed produce to get into the spirit of things. With that Argentine grill gleaming in diners’ eyes, there’s no way its introduction could be delayed. Anything coming off of that grill would be smoking hot – pun intended. Only one snack was blessed this way: an absolute gem of charred zucchini flowers with pickled, juicy burst-in-your-mouth mussels. An unassuming dish that packs flavour to the nines, it’s best nothing else even tries to compete so soon. Well, the chicken skin w/whipped cod roe put up one hell of a fight: the most umami dish of the entire meal.
Warm rustic rolls of sourdough, baked with saltbush & served with cultured butter – offered multiple times throughout the meal was happily accepted each time.
At this point, the rest of your meal will not be the same as anyone else’s. Chalk this up to Turner’s exceptional repertoire: on any given day, Igni’s kitchen churns out approx 20 unique plates & bowls to fill its menus. Dietary requirements (not that I have any) have never been easier to accommodate. While the option to add more courses exists – thus with the ‘5/8 course’ notion being more of an informal guide than a mandated schedule – one can only try so hard. ‘The record was 15 courses, you’ll just have to come another two times’, our server said. Based on the rest of the meal, you bet I will.
It was a three hour orgasmic blur of eating and drinking. The good stuff (warning – pretty long list) is – as you might expect – all have origins from that pit grill. Marron, perfectly-cooked and peeking out from a tarp of beautifully-charred wombok with its own pil pil sauce, was insanely tasty – perhaps the best crayfish dish I’ve had in years. That same witlof is so good it guest stars a second time, this time playing the part of the hider while David Blackmore wagyu bresaola takes centre stage. This isn’t your regular charcuterie: the wagyu is more marbled than this blogger’s belly, with a pool of sweet & smoky beurre noisette in which the cabbage was cooked adds additional ‘oomphishness’ I never even thought I needed.
I’m not done talking about the grill (I did say this would take awhile). The main was this wonderfully smoked duck, a free range specimen from Great Ocean Ducks, aged two weeks and fumigated with applewood. You know how this is going to go: down; straight down. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a duck – cooked Western-style – that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’ll need an extra finger here: the flesh is plump, smoky and literally redolent of a fresh pine forest. Turner made it look almost easy rendering the bird’s subcutaneous fat – a task that many chefs don’t seem to manage. For that, the generous portion was savoured rather than tolerated. A smooth & sweet macadamia puree and duck pate kept me grounded in Australia, though was certainly more than I needed for what is already a rich dish.
And then the server asked the question that would take the meal to another level: ‘I’ve got another delicious course, if you would be interested?’
Ah, crap. The upsell.
The existing menu already proffers plenty of feed for most grazers, and diminishing returns is something my old self knows all too well.
So of course, I refrained – from exercising self control. Okay come on – meat-eaters, would you reject this?
What’s cube roll, you ask? Well, apparently – and this was a TIL for me too – it’s a cut from the end of the sirloin; Igni sources them from Robbin Island in Tasmania (and another TIL – Tasmania has a wagyu farming presence). It’s grilled on one side and rare on the other, minute-steak style, with a ‘sandwich filling’ of garlic chives & brewers yeast sauce not unlike a lighter version of Vegemite. On the side is a grilled yellow peach doused in the sauces used to cook the wagyu. Are you drooling yet?
Slap this in between some buttered toast, and it may as well be the best steak sandwich ever.
A cheese course of tete de moine – AKA ‘monk’s head’ – straddled the divide between savouries and sweets, a 3 month washed rind number served with pepper & honey and linseed crisps for crunch. Smelled like muted stink, tasted like a buttery cheddar. Not bad, not bad at all.
Desserts were on the simple side: a wild fennel pollen-infused parfait w/fresh apricot was the first of the two. Functional and delicious, the fennel was – importantly – well-balanced, though liquorice detractors ought to continue steering clear. The second – and finale dessert – was a flowering gum ice cream resting on pine needle yoghurt and freeze-dried Davidson plum. It’s as a refined use of native Australian fruits as I’ve ever seen – Attica could even learn a lesson or two here. I’ll be honest though: I had no clue what ‘pine needle flavour’ would be, and I still don’t.
Petit fours were par for course, two plates of chewy grapefruit jubes, scones w/apricot jam & cream, plus a final goodbye from the pit oven: grilled pineapple. Too sugary of an ending, but dutifully obliged.
The meal had its flaws: there was too much of a focus on sourness and pickling: the mustard leaf mackerel for example, was beautiful to look at, but tasted like a cucumbery mess that’s been subjected to a heavy-handed shake of the vinegar bottle. Mackerel? What mackerel?
Another dish that seems to be the acme of Turner’s obsession with pickling comes as a perfect circle of turnip dusted in the powder of its own leaf, itself an umbrella to four quarters of a whole shiitake mushroom that’s probably spent its entire adult life swimming in acridity. The same could be said for some of the snacks too – salty here, sour there, it was at times a never-ending party of warheads. At times, I couldn’t help but wonder if Turner is trying a little too hard with the whole Noma thing: I mean, I’m happy with just a few vegetables done really well, the entire bushland doesn’t need to be represented. Oyster plant with literally nothing else? That was a bit rich.
Juices exhibited similar characteristics: most resulted in various stages of lemon face pucker, though to their credit most do pair well with their respective dishes.
Here is a restaurant that channels the spirit of Noma, wielding the philosophy of Brae. But while I can say that Igni is a reflection of Turner’s past, there’s absolutely no way I can say that there’s a restaurant in Australia that’s quite like this one. Turner has – whether he intended to or not – flipped a massive bird to the haute fine dining establishments of Melbourne’s bright lights and groovy laneways.
For Igni is just as good as any of them.
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Igni Restaurant
- Anything Turner touches with the Argentine pit oven turns into gold
- A broad expression of Australian-led produce
- Overemphasis on pickling & curing
- Most juices come off as sour bombs
- That massive feeling of FOMO at other diners receiving different dishes to you
Would I return: definitely!
F8 | S3.5 | A3