Geelong fine dining restaurant Igni is closing and Songbird is opening in its place

It will be goodbye Igni, hello Thai barbecue restaurant Songbird when the restaurant reopens in January.

At the start of June, two-hat Geelong restaurant Igni gave diners four months’ notice that it would close at the end of September. Bookings went ballistic. So much so that in the week before the purported final service on September 24, the team announced that the restaurant would stay open until Christmas.

Good Food can now reveal that seven-year-old Igni will make way for Songbird, a northern Thai barbecue restaurant run by current employee Nathan Lancaster, which will open in mid-January. As at Igni, Songbird’s food will be cooked over the fire that’s central to the open kitchen.

Aaron Turner outside Igni, the Geelong laneway restaurant that will become Songbird.Kristoffer Paulsen

So why the extension? “As soon as we announced the closure, bookings went crazy,” says Turner. “It felt like it used to feel pre-COVID. We had people coming from Sydney, even Perth. Guests wanted to book in one last time, and then book again for another one last time. How nice is that?”

Turner dispels the perception that his highly regarded 20-seat restaurant was always full of diners enjoying $200 tasting menus. “There were Friday nights we’d have no bookings and we’d close. I’ve been through these cycles before in business but not on the back of a pandemic. I think I have PTSD from that.”

“The last three years have been hard on small operators and owners. I need a break to find the creative juices again and push to the next thing.”

Aaron Turner

Chef Nathan Lancaster is the group head chef for Turner’s more casual Geelong and Surf Coast businesses Hot Chicken Project, Tacos Y Liquor and OK Smash. “I’ve always been drawn to the cooking techniques and flavours of Thai cuisine,” says Lancaster. A central and driving food memory was his first trip out of Australia in 2005, when he cooked with villagers while trekking in northern Thailand.

Lancaster started cooking Thai food in San Francisco at Hawker Fare, alongside renowned Thai chef James Syhabout, who was awarded two Michelin stars for his restaurant Commis. At Hawker Fare, Lancaster cooked for food identities including Rene Redzepi, Harold McGee, Roy Choi, “and our very own Matt Preston”, says Lancaster. “I actually sat down with Matt one day and told him that I would open a place like this in Australia.”

Lancaster is currently in Chiang Mai, eating and researching. “We will be cooking a good mix of cuisine from the Isaan and Laos regions, specialising in grilled meats cooked over that awesome open fire that sits in the middle of the current Igni kitchen,” he says. House-made sai oua (sausage), yum khai dao (fried egg salad), rice dishes and green papaya salad will all feature.

Aaron Turner (right) with the fire that has been central to the cooking at Igni.Kristoffer Paulsen

“The whole team is staying,” says Turner. “I love the idea of encouraging someone who has a passion and I feel very lucky that we have a place where they can do it.”

Igni will be lightly renovated to become Songbird. “We’ll push to about 50 seats, put in beer taps and different furniture. We want a place where you can come for a beer or spend a thousand bucks: we’ll still have a great wine list and cocktails.”

Igni will pop up for occasional lunches. “That drive to deliver high-level hospitality is in our DNA,” says Turner. “That’s not going to change but it will look a bit different.”

2 Ryan Place South, 03 5222 2266,

Restaurant reviews, news and the hottest openings served to your inbox.

Sign up

From our partners

The Post Geelong fine dining restaurant Igni is closing and Songbird is opening in its place Originally Posted on

Leave a Comment