REGIONAL RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR Igni
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.