RE­GIONAL RESTAU­RANT OF THE YEAR Igni

Gee­long

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Restaurant awards -

If you want to know Igni's back­story, about how a restau­rant in the back­blocks of Gee­long be­came one of the most ex­cit­ing places to dine in Aus­tralia, read Aaron Turner's re­cently pub­lished book. His ac­count (see page 80) doesn't shy from grisly de­tails, per­sonal or pro­fes­sional. It re­veals, as he says, “the shit that glossy tele­vi­sion shows don't show you”.

It also speaks to the idea of suf­fer­ing for your art. Be­cause what Turner does is art. And while his mind might go to dark places, the food at Igni never does. It's light, clever, play­ful, in­no­va­tive, plea­sur­able with deft flavour com­bi­na­tions and beau­ti­ful plat­ing. It never loses sight of the de­li­cious.

Much has been writ­ten about the sig­na­ture snacks that start a meal at Igni and that's as it should be. The play of tex­ture alone in the chicken skin topped with tarama and scampi roe, mag­pie goose wrapped around tiny grissini, and crisp salt­bush dusted with vine­gar pow­der is mas­ter­ful. The snacks sig­nal the de­light ahead, built from in­gre­di­ents that speak of the re­gion, ac­com­pa­nied by a lick of fire and smoke from the kitchen's cen­tral grill.

There's plea­sure in the din­ing room, too, a con­crete box soft­ened with sheer cur­tains and good light­ing. It's calm and un­pre­ten­tious but has a fris­son of oc­ca­sion that's an es­sen­tial part of the mix.

Turner's busi­ness part­ners, Jo Smith and Drew Hamil­ton, add to the room's warmth and seren­ity. They make din­ing easy, even for those freaked out about lack of con­trol in a place that es­chews menus for lists of in­gre­di­ents and re­quests for likes and dis­likes, and where no two ta­bles get the same dishes.

In his book, Turner speaks about try­ing to get a han­dle on ex­actly what he's try­ing to do at Igni, “to find a ser­vice beat and rhythm that is dif­fer­ent every day and cook our way through flavours and tex­tures”.

“It won't be per­fect, it will never be free of mis­takes the way they teach you to be, but it will be hon­est, it will be our mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion that we will share with the guests at Igni.” In­spir­ing is ex­actly right.

Igni, 2 Ryan Pl, Gee­long, Vic, (03) 5222 2266

Igni co-own­ers Drew Hamil­ton (left) and Jo Smith. Right: Igni chef and co-owner Aaron Turner.

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