Aaron Turner is a musician, a chef, and, as of last October, the author of Igni: A Restaurant’s First Year, a retelling of the highs and lows behind the opening of his celebrated restaurant in Geelong, near Melbourne. In a relaxed, minimalist space, he finesses adventurous five- and eight-course tasting menus: pork belly cooked in fermented grains, zucchini flowers stuffed with mussels, or cuttlefish
with celeriac and lemons, for instance. Although he’s done stints at Noma in Copenhagen and Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca – even a sabbatical in Nashville along the way – Melbourne lured him back: “It’s got a nice understated energy to it; it’s not flashy like other cities,” he says. “It’s got an underground electricity.”
Restaurant of Choice: When Turner gets time away from his own establishment, he typically spends it eating at other chefs’ restaurants. “At the moment, I tend to go to a place called Embla in the Central Business District, a really cool wine bar. Chef Dave Verheul is killing it,” he says. “Their flavors are amazing; there’s a lot of fire-cooking there.” His current favorite is a sour cucumber dish with dill and feta. "Embla is very Melbourne: understated, just going about what they do quietly without the fanfare.”
Chinatown Meanderings: “We have a pretty epic Chinatown. I like the dumplings at Shanghai Street, and Longsong is a good place for wine and cocktails. But just outside Chinatown, on the same street, is the most amazing pasta bar called Tipo 00. They do amazing pasta and wine with minimal intervention.”
Coffee Break: Something that Melbourne’s really good at is coffee, and the one I like the most is Patricia Coffee Brewers in the CBD,” he says. “It’s standing room; otherwise, you can sit in the alley on a milk crate.” Turner is also a fan of the interior: “Another thing I think Melbourne does well is design. Patricia has clean lines and a Scandinavian, European feel.”
Rock On: As a musician, one of the things that first lured Turner to Melbourne from his coastal Victoria hometown of Portland was its live music scene. “When I first moved here, I was playing in bands, and Melbourne had great live-music venues,” he remembers. “Sadly, they’re all disappearing, but a few still hang on.” His favorite? “The coolest one is The Tote. They’ve stood the test of time. The Tote is probably more for street punk and up-and-coming bands. Nirvana played one of their first shows in Australia in this tiny little venue.”
Wine Time: “City Wine Shop on Spring Street is really good,” Turner says. “They have a lot of amazing wines by the glass and bottle. It also acts as a takeaway bottle shop.” Turner recommends wines produced in Australia’s Adelaide Hills region: “I recently drank a 2017 Jim Barry assyrtiko from Clare Valley, South Australia,” he says. “There are a lot of cocktail bars [in Melbourne], but I’m not really a cocktail sort of guy. I just go to Aussie pubs for a beer.”
The Grass Is Greener: “The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne is amazing,” says Turner, who loves learning about indigenous plants and their roles in the ecosystem. “It’s nice to go hang out and sneak a bottle of wine in.”
Book Nooks: “I like the feel and smell of a real bookshop. You can spend time flicking through titles and immerse yourself in the store.” Some of Turner’s top picks for a trip down literary lane? “Hill of Content or the Paperback Bookshop – any independent shop selling obscure titles by great authors.”
Stay: With a prime location overlooking Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in the upscale Paris End of Melbourne’s Central Business District, the Park Hyatt Melbourne has 240 spacious rooms with Italian marble bathrooms. And it has a soft side too: Dog-loving guests should scan the lobby for Mr Walker, a Labrador who welcomes visitors as the Park Hyatt’s canine ambassador for Guide Dogs Victoria.
Cruise: Plan ahead for a Melbourne stay and next year’s Australia cruising season: Cunard’s eight-day voyage round-trip from Melbourne to Tasmania on the 2,068-passenger Queen Elizabeth includes stops at Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, and the Tasmanian town of Hobart. Departure: February 10, 2019.