Ryan Place, Geelong

Modern Australian cuisine

From a small dining room tucked away in 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 guest 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 Drysdale. 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 beautifully.

Being back in Geelong has allowed Aaron to return 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 quite 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 are few, if any, times in the night when you could be eating the same thing as the table next to you.

It is in this sense that IGNI’s magic comes alive. In the absence of a set menu, guests are treated to a one-night-only culinary experience. Jo, Drew and their front of house team will choose your five or eight dishes for you, so you know you’re in the best of hands. One visit may see you enjoying saltbush leaves dusted with freeze-dried vinegar and the next King Edward potatoes with society garlic. The options are endless depending on what tickles Aaron’s fancy at the time, be that white currants, local strawberry spinach, or Kangaroo Island scallops. More recently, 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 ice-cream,” he said.

Jo and Drew’s approaches to the floor areas curated as Aaron’s approach in the kitchen. As the Head Sommelier, Jo oversees a wine list to match the food. With dishes changing almost daily, so does her wine list. Meanwhile, Drew leads the floor with a plomb and dignity, overseeing the staff who know more than most about what they are serving you.

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 ask. When you finish, a small menu card is also placed at each seat, detailing just what you ate and drank that day.