Australia’s natural elements and the west’s industrial heritage collide in the latest venture for Yarraville chef Julian Hills, a rising star of the restaurant world.
Hills cut his teeth in the kitchens of The European and the Courthouse Hotel before taking over six years ago as head chef at Paringa Estate on the Mornington Peninsula.
He collected a Good Food Guide chef’s hat in his first year running the show there, retaining the hat for the next five years.
But a return to the city beckoned and Hills has spent the past six months working on every last detail for Navi, his first restaurant as a chef owner.
“Being a chef owner just by myself it’s pretty intense, but it’s been fantastic,” he said.
“I’ve thought about every detail in here – the tables are made by a local furniture maker with recycled wood, I’ve done all the pottery. It has been a labour of love.”
The fit-out of the Gamon Street restaurant includes gumleaf green paint and raw slate to evoke Australia’s natural landscape, but there are also plenty of nods to the industrial.
“It’s surrounded by the West Gate Bridge and the docklands, so it’s that idea of Australian native colours with that backdrop of industry,” Hills said.
Navi means local in Cherokee, a subtle nod to Hills’s father’s heritage.
Taking cues from European and Japanese cuisine, but with a distinct Australian twist, the focus will be on fine dining in an intimate atmosphere.
Hills will be offering five or eight-course tasting menus reflecting his creative flair and passion for showcasing local ingredients and producers.
“Something I loved about the peninsula was dealing with individual farms,” he said.
“I wanted to bring that here, so I’m still going to be heading down there once a week and trying to pick things up and trying to work with exactly what’s in season and good now.”
Hills is excited to be bringing fine dining to his own neighbourhood, noting a trend away from top restaurants being located in the centre of the city.
“We were looking for a nice neighbourhood-feel vibe to the restaurant,” he said.
“I was looking for something that wasn’t in a strip, something that could be a surprise once you walked in – it could be anywhere once you were inside.”
Hills said Wednesday’s official opening of Navi was the culmination of a decade-long dream.
“Ten years of talking about this and it’s coming to fruition – that’s what I’m most happy about,” he said.
“I get to cook my food, run my style of service, I’ve made all the ceramics – this is me.”
Navi will open Navi at 83B Gamon Street, Yarraville on July 18.