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Ela Carte reviews: Igni, Geelong

MML

Igni ? Ryan Place, Geelong ? www.restaurantigni.com

Five years later, and still one of my favourite eating experiences was my first visit to Loam on the Bellarine Peninsula. Loam has since closed, and I stalked chef Aaron Turner from a distance as he traversed the US, opened hot chicken joints, and now finally has again opened something akin to a fine diner here in Victoria.

As with all the coolest restaurants, it’s not so easy to find. For one, you have to get yourself down to Geelong ? which I did on the 12.20pm Saturday V/Line service ? easy peasy. Then you’ll need to jump in a cab or Uber and drive five minutes to Ryan Place ? a non-descript, industrial looking lane running parallel to the famous Moorabool St. No huge sign, just look for the sheer black curtains.

Aaron has brought along Loam front of house stars Drew Hamilton and Jo Smith ? and together as Igni’s owners, they’ve built the place from the ground up. It’s a stunning, serene space ? all blonde timber, concrete floors, it’s all in the detail ? from the quirky symbols for the toilets, to the stunning timber bars built by Jo’s dad.

As before, it’s a set menu ? with choices of five or ten courses, with or without matching wines. But you can well and truly direct them when it comes to likes and dislikes, they’ll work with you rather than force you to eat something you don’t find appetising.

Before the courses proper arrive, the snacks do, and there are plenty of them ? think crispy saltbush with freeze-dried vinegar; roasted, salted chicken skin topped with tangy whipped cod roe & dill; stunning pickled mussel in warm, just grilled zucchini flower; and a smoked, pickled quail egg rolled in dried leek, fennel pollen and dried cabbage that has to be tasted to be believed. It was already a revelation, and the real show hadn’t started yet.

We went with five courses, and it was more than enough food. The standouts? Raw cuttlefish sliced into impossibly thin noodles, and raw celeriac in the same form ? seasoned with dried parsley and kelp, lemon, bronze fennel and wood sorrel. Matched perfectly with a crisp Portuguese Loureiro ? it was a stunningly fresh dish.

Once again a vegetable dish blew me away ? ‘Beetroot and whey’ – a beetroot ‘steak’ slow cooked in aged goose fat on the custom made grill (over ironbark) and served in a sauce of reduced goats whey and gorgeous aged comte cheese, topped with a grilled mustard leaf. It’s impossible to describe how surprising, how delicious this dish was ? but that’s the beauty of it.

A more traditional approach with the smoked Great Ocean Duck, with beautifully crispy skin it’s roasted over ironbark coal and hay. Served with charred baby fennel, a lovely rich jus, and the more surprising addition of citrusy fingerlime pearls ? it’s paired with a 2013 Attwoods Old Hog Pinot Noir.

As we’ve come to expect from Aaron, the desserts are more savoury than most. Mine featured apple slow cooked in salted caramel with a super-rich egg custard, milk skin, and believe it or not, onion powder. Sounds whacky, I know, but it works.

None of this would amount to much if you weren’t so superbly catered to by Igni’s front of house team, and in particular Drew and Jo. It’s so effortless for them, the natural passion and enthusiasm for what they have created shines through ? it’s a joy to experience the place and its chosen produce under their guidance.

Having loved and missed Loam, I desperately wanted to enjoy Igni ? so much so it worried me. I didn’t enjoy it. I adored it. And I will be back.

Beetroot and whey.

Beetroot and whey.

Snacks at Igni.

Snacks at Igni.

Raw cuttlefish sliced into impossibly thin noodles.

Raw cuttlefish sliced into impossibly thin noodles.

Apple onion.

Apple onion.

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