Eat in: Navi at Home dinner for two, reviewed

Navi owner-chef Julian Hills in his Yarraville restaurant.
Navi owner-chef Julian Hills in his Yarraville restaurant. Photo: Ed Sloane

The sequel is never as good as the original, and The Lockdown Returns is proving no exception. Getting revved up for dine-at-home options isn't as easy now we've had a taste of what going back out was like. But beyond this, I've heard friends worry that with the economy in a state and so many doing it tough, it just doesn't feel right to be splashing out on eating out. But actually, you couldn't do anything better.

When it comes to food, the higher up the chain you go, the more positive impact your dollar is likely to have.

This isn't true of so many other luxury goods. A diamond is expensive because of the lie that it's rare. You can pay $300 for an artfully distressed T-shirt whose value is all in its brand.

Truffle and black garlic macaron.
Truffle and black garlic macaron. Photo: Ed Sloane

The food industry is not free from posturing. You can spend very silly money on very unsustainable delicacies. But if you invest in a good restaurant, cafe or bar, a place where suppliers are always at the fore, your money is going further than you might believe.

Let's break that down over a dinner from Yarraville's Navi. Chef and owner Julian Hills values small-batch producers because he is one. Everything at his fine diner, from his sourdough to the beautiful ceramics, is made in-house, and he only works with producers who work in the same way.

He has returned to this lockdown offering his top-shelf crumpets and loaves for your weekend brunch as well as a four-course weekend feast with optional extras at a base rate of $110 for two.

Line-caught snapper.
Line-caught snapper. Photo: Ed Sloane

That $55-a-head cost seems ridiculous for the labour involved alone. You start, for example, with a beautiful black garlic and truffle macaron, a fiddly sweet-savoury treat that's snuffed in a single crunch. But that's the very tip of the iceberg when you understand the labour and care that has gone into getting every element into Hills' hands to begin with.

One single course of line-caught snapper with creamy sea urchin, mussels, wakame (a seaweed) and roasted chicken butter highlights the tireless work of some of Victoria's greatest sustainable fishing heroes in one plate.

The snapper is from Clamms Seafood boss George Kaparos. It is actually sourced from New Zealand, because Kaparos believes them to have best practice for this fish, which is ike jime-spiked (a process that stops the fish releasing stress chemicals). This is the reason chefs use Kaparos: he gets the best product, but he is also an unflinching advocate for sustainable practices that they know will lead to them being able to serve fish at all in the future. Australian fishers, noting the price chefs will pay, are improving their practices.

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The white-spined sea urchin's population in Port Phillip Bay is out of control, and wakame is an invasive pest. Both are plucked from the chilled waters by Beau Found from Wild Life Fisheries, who says that not only is the roe of this urchin extra sweet but without enough predators in the bay we are one of the few species that can keep it in check.

While Hills is always ecologically minded, he also has his head and heart with his local economy. The Murray cod he is serving with hand-picked elderberries comes from Kelvin and Ryan Seafood, at nearby Footscray Market, who he hopes will get through to the other side.

When I ask who supplies the flour for the malty, crusty bread that is a main event itself, Hills has two of the best small-batch family-run operations on his books. Woodstock Flour in Berrigan, NSW, can give you just the right wheat and grind for biscuits through to a naturally low-gluten loaf. Tuerong Farm on the Morning Peninsula is an even more local organic star, whose milling process gets a shed-load more nutrients from the grass.

Riverina lamb, mead, caramelised radicchio, pinenut and miso.
Riverina lamb, mead, caramelised radicchio, pinenut and miso. Photo: Ed Sloane

Spreading the love like this is what Hills and chefs of his ilk are going out of their way to achieve right now. The quantities he actually uses are negligible, but it might be the order that counts. It might convert a retail customer. That could shape the food universe we have left after all this is done.

I can guarantee you want it to be a world with the rich butter from Fitzroy's St David Dairy, which in turn supports best-practice farmers in Gippsland.

You'll want to come back to restaurants and have your mind gently blown with creatively treated, top-shelf radicchio (braised in mead to go with lamb) and tamarillos (turned into jubes), because people like Kim Driver and Michael Buchanan of Northside Fruit and Veg work tirelessly to connect chefs with the best small-scale farmers in the state.

I haven't mentioned Hills' truffle seekers, whose black gold perfumes a hazelnut and sourdough praline dessert. Or his fungi growers or his linen guy.

But I will remind you here that at just $110 for two people, or $55 a head, you are supporting every single one. Is there anything more noble you could do right now for King (valley) and country (Victoria) than treat yourself?

The lowdown

Navi at Home dinner for two

Order restaurantnavi.com.au

Pick-up only 83b Gamon Street, Yarraville, Friday 4pm-6pm; Saturday noon-1pm. Pre-orders from Wednesday 10am.

Cost $110 for two; sommelier-selected bottle of wine $50, $75 or $90. 

Pro tip Northside Fruit and Veg, Clamms Seafood, Tuerong Farm and Woodstock Flour all supply direct.