One of Melbourne’s best restaurants is on a sleepy, mostly residential street in Yarraville. Chef and owner Julian Hills opened Navi in 2018, combining European cooking techniques with native Australian ingredients.
But a booking at the fine diner isn’t easy to come by – there were only 25 seats in the small space until recently, and it’s all booked until the end of January. But now you’ve got more chances of getting in, and not just because eight extra seats have been added. There’s also a new casual bar adjoining the dining room.
The Navi lounge has room for 18 people, taking over the space next door at 83a Gamon Street. And unlike the restaurant, it’s only available for walk-ins.
“Since we started booking out, only a month after opening in 2018, I’ve been conscious of constantly disappointing people, particularly locals, who have had trouble getting a table,” Hills said in a statement. “The lounge space provides a solution, allowing diners to experience a taste of Navi more easily and on a more regular basis.”
You can’t order the restaurant’s four, five or eight-course menus – from $80 – in the new area. Instead, there’s a rotating selection of small snacks with Hills’ same focus on technique, flavour, detail and indigenous ingredients, but starting from $5.
You might get baby octopus with mountain pepper nasturtium; potato beignets and fermented green tomato; kangaroo tartare with capers and a mustard egg yolk; salt-and-vinegar fish skins; or “ducklava” with tamarillo. The restaurant’s signature savoury black-garlic macarons and house-made sourdough will also make appearances.
Cocktails come care of new beverage manager Elise West, who’s previously worked front of house at Supernormal and Bar Liberty and is one half of the duo behind Madlore, which makes small-batch vermouths and fortified wines.
She’ll be pouring Madlore from behind the bar, and mixing cocktails made with lacto-ferments, infusions, shrubs and bitters. Her drinks program continues Hills’s long-time philosophy of minimising waste, with the kitchen and bar sharing ingredients and produce: the same sweet-toasted koji, caramelised by Hills for ice-cream, is also used in an espresso-centred drink. And after West extracts oils from macadamia nuts for a whisky cocktail, Hills uses what’s left to make butter and cream.
Entry to the dining room is now via a metre-long concrete-look archway from the lounge. Finnis Architects – helmed by Hills’s brother Damon – worked on the interiors, and returned to work on the lounge. The new space keeps Navi’s muted color palette, with plenty of concrete and exposed brick. Take a seat at the dark timber bar and watch West’s team at work, or slide into the leather banquette and enjoy snacks on moody marble tables.
Wed to Fri 6pm–late
Sat 2pm–5.30pm, 6.30pm–late
Wed to Fri 5pm–11pm