When chef Julian Hills speaks to Broadsheet, he’s just hours away from the first service – a friends and family night – at his new Yarraville restaurant, Navi.

“I’ve only had the kitchen for three days … I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and tonight but it’s looking good,” says Hills, who for the last six years has collected accolades as head chef at Paringa Estate on the Mornington Peninsula.

If three days doesn’t sound like a lot of time, it felt like a lot longer for Hills.

“I think about food a lot, like constantly. But I’ve also spent the last five months doing this. It’s my absolute little baby. I’ve made all the crockery, helped design the place, been hands-on right the way through it,” he says. “I’ve had a menu sorted out but I’m so produce driven that it’s changed in the last two weeks because of what’s available.”

Navi will offer a $120 eight-course tasting menu, with a few additional snacks along the way. The menu originally included a dish of bonito, a species of fish coming to the end of its peak catch period, but due to limited availability, Hills replaced it with blue mackerel. The mackerel is smoked, dipped in beeswax, then rested for seven days to intensify its flavour. It’s served with sea vegetables and a roasted bone and honey dashi. Elsewhere diners might see a small plate of chargrilled calamari, caramelised yoghurt, lemon aspen and nasturtium.

Hills grew up on a farm in Victoria’s Strzelecki Ranges where he spent time fishing, foraging and hunting. He’ll be foraging some of the ingredients on the Navi menu in the Mornington Peninsula area. The chef also has a fine arts degree, which he’s put to use handcrafting Navi’s plates and table wear.

Navi is Hills’s first restaurant as an owner and operator.

“Of course, I’m nervous,” he says. “But I’m ridiculously excited.”

Bookings are open now. A few spots are left for a preview dinner on Saturday July 14. Regular service begins Wednesday July 18. Book here.

83B Gamon Street, Yarraville
(03)9939 9774

Wed to Sat 6pm–11pm