If someone told you they just found Melbourne’s “best new restaurant”, you’d expect it to be in the CBD. Or maybe down an alley in Fitzroy, hiding behind a sign for ‘vegan tyre supplies’ or something. What you wouldn’t expect is a quiet suburban street in Yarraville, a wrought iron awning, and some gauzy grey curtains.
But that’s exactly where you’ll find Navi, the tiny new degustation restaurant from chef Julian Hills (ex Paringa Estate).
Navi is Hills’ first venture, and the guy has done good. The restaurant only seats 25 people at a time, and it’s booked solid for the next month. Already. How’s that for flying solo...
The cuisine? Well I guess you’d call it a mash-up between Australiana, European techniques and Asian flavours. Hills and his three-man team in the kitchen serve up an 8-course degustation for $120pp, or you can snag a 5-course version on Wednesdays and Thursdays. That’s it—there’s no a la carte. And everything’s seasonal, smart and locally-sourced (‘Navi’ actually means local in Cherokee—a little nod to Hills’ American roots).
The menu will change with the seasons, or when something interesting catches Julian’s eye, but here’s what you can expect at the moment. Delicate plates of smoked mackerel, marinated in honey and soy, then left to age in beeswax for a week. Tiny black macaroons, stuffed with Berocca-orange fish roe. Fish dashi spiked with tea tree—the waiter pours this over some Nori crisps at the table, and you can actually hear the freaking crackle.
This is experimental, freewheeling cooking, and there aren’t many places in Melbourne you can get it (off the top of our head, IDES comes closest to what Hills is attempting here).
Inside, Navi is decked out in textured concrete, terrazzo stone, dark-stained timber and grey tablecloths. A tiled cork ceiling helps deal with any potential echoes and reverbs. It could be sterile, but the sprigs of native flowers on each table (not to mention the bustling open kitchen) keep things lively. If you haven’t been lucky with a table, the best seats in the house might be up at the bar, watching Hills and his team do their stuff.
You’ll be hearing the name Navi a LOT over the next few months. The place has a wait list already. Eastsiders often grumble about schlepping over the West Gate, but they’ll drive to Navi with a smile on their face.
We’re pretty sure they’ll be wearing it all the way home, too.
Image credit: Griffin Simm