From a small dining room tucked into the back alleys of Geelong, Igni delivers one of the state’s finest dining experiences. The produce-driven restaurant, which seats just 30, offers a new style of accessible dining, where produce is king, but the customer is the rightful queen.
The space is owned and operated by award-winning chef Aaron Turner and two of his former colleagues, Drew Hamilton and Jo Smith. The trio met while working at Loam, Aaron’s previous venture in Portarlington. When that closed in 2013, they went their separate ways, before re-joining to open Igni in early 2016. When it came to naming the venture, Aaron, Drew and Jo found inspiration in the type of cooking Aaron wanted to do: charcoal. Igni, meaning fire, was the perfect choice.
Aaron once again takes on the role of Head Chef. Here, his cooking revolves around the open kitchen’s charcoal grill, with dishes charred, baked and grilled to absolute perfection. Considering his resume holds names such as Noma, El Celler de Can Roca, Belle’s Hot Chicken and the Hot Chicken Project, there’s no surprise that every dish on Igni’s menu is prepared and presented absolutely beautifully.
Being back in Geelong has allowed Aaron to returning to his refined, award-winning degustation techniques. However, those expecting to find Loam at Igni are sorely mistaken. While he has returned to his star form that many discovered at Loam, the menu is different and there has been a shift in focus. In Aaron’s own words, diners can expect Igni to be a ‘fun and engaging experience’. No two visits are the same and there is few, if any points in the night when you can be sure to be eating the same thing as the table next to you.
Therein lies the appeal of Igni – there isn’t actually a set menu. Instead, Drew and his team of front of house professionals choose your five or eight courses for you, drawing on what ingredients are in the kitchen, your likes, dislikes and what you’re drinking. For example, a visit in May, the choice of rose and the declaration that only offal is off limits, may result in a seafood-heavy selection, with poultry and berries thrown in for good measure.
Regardless of the conditions, it is a sure bet that intricate and well thought-out dishes are the norm. One visit may see you chowing down on saltbush leaves dusted with freeze-dried vinegar, and the next King Edward potatoes with society garlic. The options truly are endless depending on what tickles Aaron’s fancy at the time, be that white currants, local strawberry spinach or Kangaroo Island scallops. At the moment, he says that it seems to be celeriac: “It’s just so versatile – we use it in a lot of different forms, from raw to an ice cream.”
Jo and Drew’s approach to the floor is as curated as Aaron’s approach in the kitchen. As the head sommelier, Jo is in charge of creating a wine list to match the food. With dishes changing almost daily, so does her wine list! Meanwhile, Drew leads the floor with aplomb and dignity, overseeing staff that know more than average about what they are serving you.
While Igni is well and truly off the beaten track, one look inside will convince you otherwise. The beautiful minimalist interior, open kitchen and featured charcoal-grill let the food do all the talking. Each sitting is kept very personal and intimate, with tables spaced at just the right length.
A special dining experience is made all the better with those little touches. At Igni, no stone has been left unturned. Complimentary snacks to start and petit fours to finish book-end each meal, while wine is topped up without asking and the waitstaff take on any question a diner might offer. When you finish, a small menu card is also placed at each seat, detailing just what you ate and drank that day.
With an award-winning chef at its helm and two of the industry’s finest on the floor, there’s no surprise that Igni continues to climb up foodie’s lists as a must-try and must-return. We suggest you get in quick though – with only 30 seats, it’s one of Geelong’s hottest properties.