How I Melbourne: Julian Hills

Published on 2 July 2019

Julian Hills took up cooking to pay for his fine arts degree. He passed with honours, but it was too late: he’d caught restaurant fever. After earning recognition in the kitchen at Paringa Estate on the Mornington Peninsula he went on to open Navi last year in Yarraville to excellent reviews. And those hard-won fine-arts skills? Still very much in evidence, not least in the plates and bowls at Navi, which Julian throws himself. 

I know I’m in Melbourne when I can walk out the door and eat whatever I have a hankering for and know it will be great.

My defining food moment in Melbourne 
was Langton’s in 1995 when I was 16 years old; it was the first fine-dining place I’d ever eaten at. I went with my mum, and was so intrigued by the open kitchen, watching the chefs in their tall white hats working at the pass. It left a lasting impression.

The best new thing I’ve found 
is Super Ling in Carlton – the hand-made noodles are excellent. I’ve only been there for lunch so far but will get in for dinner as soon as I can. 

When I want to push the boat out on a meal
, I choose a place with a tasting menu and put myself in the hands of the staff. Most recently I went to Lûmé and I didn’t make one single decision. It was perfect. My highlight was the marron, smoked Padrón and ‘tiger’s milk’ dish. 

There’s no better value in Melbourne 
than the lunch prix fixe menu at Philippe in the CBD. Philippe [Mouchel] may have moved spaces here and there, but his food has stayed consistent for the 15 years that I’ve been eating and enjoying it. It’s great value for authentic French food. In recent years it’s been hard to go past the rôtisserie chicken and seasonal trimmings. 

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, 
I like to take them on a tasting tour of the suburbs, from Vietnamese and Ethiopian in Footscray (Pho Chu The for pho, Banh Mi Ba Le for the banh cuon, and Café Lalibela are our picks); Uyghur specialities at Karlaylisi (also in Footscray); to the Moroccan Soup Bar in North Fitzroy; Afghan in Dandenong or Sunshine (our favourite is Afghan Tasty Food); or Italian in Carlton (we love pizza at DOC, or a simple bowl of minestrone before a Nova movie). I like to show off how good it is here in Melbourne. 

In the mornings you’ll find me
 at the Footscray Market shopping for the restaurant and sneaking in a banh mi or banh cuon along the way.  

My local is
 Advieh because it does the best breakfast in my neighbourhood. Its namesake dish with a side of house-made baked beans for breakfast or one of their wraps for lunch have got me through till the end of service on many a night. I also consistently visit The Victoria Hotel and Harley and Rose.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be that I’d have more time to go to all the great places. There are always so many new spots and old favourites to get to – it’s impossible to visit them all. 

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is
 the diversity of options for dining out and the constant evolution of the Melbourne scene. It’s the best. 

Catch Julian at Navi, 83B Gamon St, Yarraville, see more of his adventures in food, art and beyond on @juleschef and @restaurantnavi.

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