Two venues, one space, one good time. Chef Jacob Rutherford talks us through the Leederville newcomer.
Naber + IIII launched in Leederville in early January as two separate but related venues offering different experiences. Up front, it’s Naber, an intimate bar space focused on fun but fine eating and drinking. Out back in the laneway courtyard, it’s IIII (pronounced “four”), which is a more laid-back, long-afternoon-to-late-night spot with a focus on music, snacks and refreshment. Wherever you choose, count on the menus – spearheaded by chef Jacob Rutherford (formerly of Varnish on King) – to deliver with bold flavours, eclectic influences and a preference for local producers. Dropping by? Rutherford gave us the lowdown on how to eat and drink well, whichever space you choose.
What is Naber + IIII about?
I see Naber + IIII as two venues where different experiences can be shared. Inside at Naber, we can focus on something more curated and refined, but still cheeky and playful. In the courtyard at IIII we can indulge our desire to eat chips covered in Golden Curry gravy while sipping a juicy watermelon cruiser and listening to some disco. It’s all about having fun, but that fun can take you down two different roads depending on what you’re looking for.
It can’t be easy overseeing two venues in one. How have you found it?
I love how the two venues set the mood in their individuality and how they contrast each other. That extends to the colours, layout and energy of both spaces, and it helps me develop my ideas to suit each. Inside Naber, for example, the bar doubles as a 14-seat communal table, which is going to play host to some amazing, intimate events in the future. It’s also a really great way to encourage people to pull up a chair and let us engage with them throughout service. Like a chef’s table for bartenders.
How would you describe the approach you’ve taken with the food?
I’m inspired by how lines are blending culturally in food, that there’s so much information out there now with chefs all over the world sharing their creativity. So I find my food picks up a lot of these eclectic influences that become really exciting when they’re untangled and re-imagined through my own experiences and ideas.
Say I pick Naber first, what’s a good dish to kick off with?
The Illawarra plums for sure. We start the plate with a velvety schmear of macadamia cream, hit it with a jam made from native Illawarra plums and mirin, then finish it with some incredible canola oil from Block 275 – what Fiona and her team there have created in their oil has been such an inspiration here, it’s an amazing ingredient and has completely flipped my view on what canola oil can be. The dip is served with a separate plate of warrigal greens. You take a leaf, drag it through the dip and and eat it with your hands like a chip-and-dip situation.
And to share?
Our lamb dish has been really popular. It’s a generous slab of Arkady lamb shoulder on the bone that’s been cooked in its own fat, confit-style, until perfectly tender, but not falling apart. We make a smoky vegetable-forward red salsa with bone marrow to lay the lamb on, then a nest of sweet slow-cooked leeks, the secret star of the dish, brings it all together.
And what dish are you most proud of?
Our cheeky pig toast. It’s a pretty personal dish, as it reflects on how as an apprentice I was taught to cook with integrity and use neglected cuts. I was also taught that the pig is a very giving animal, so it was a natural choice to do a pig’s-head dish. We toast an awesome Aussie rye bread made with Vegemite from Sam at the Bread Bros, slather it with a sort-of marmalade of fennel and pet-nat, and top it with the pig’s-head terrine. We also take the ears and snouts that are leftover and turn them into dog treats for the courtyard, so it’s a snack everyone can enjoy.
IIII has a real focus on snacks. Technically hot chips drenched in Golden Curry sauce is plant-based, but what else can I graze on if I don’t eat animals?
Peri-peri sweet potatoes with jammy eggplants and sour cream. The peri-peri sauce is complex and pretty unique, we make it with smoked apricots and a custom spice that kind of tastes like a spicy ramen flavour packet. The eggplant jam adds a nice depth and meatiness and we top it with a wicked sour cream made from silken tofu.
Something sweet to finish?
The cheesecake. It’s Basque-style, with more of a toasted exterior than a burnt one. It’s super rich and creamy from edge to edge, so we balance it out with a layer of wakame seaweed jam on top and some flaky salt. The seaweed adds a brightness and sharpness to the plate that really lifts it, transforming it into something unique that I don’t think you will find elsewhere.
OK that’s food. What about drinks? What should we order?
Depends what mood you’re in! Out in IIII the go-to, especially with the recent heat, is a crushable watermelon cruiser served with a little wedge of watermelon. Then I’m a mango fiend, so inside I recommend giving the mango wine a go. Otherwise, the drinks lists are bursting with some amazing local wines, beers and produce, so whenever you come in there is going to be something new and fresh to try. On the pairing side, Local Weirdos’ and Felix Caspar’s wines have been really fun to play with.
Finally, what experience do you want people to take away with them?
I’d like our diners to have experienced something they haven’t tried before, to learn about new ingredients and to have stories to tell. There’s so many small pieces of food history, like the origins of the “dog sauce” folded through our bean dish, that I love sharing (ask me when you come in). More than anything I want our diners to come out of their experience with an invigorated sense of curiosity and to start looking at ingredients like pig’s heads, leeks and tofu as versatile, delicious and approachable weapons in their own arsenal at home. I think that’s a small way we could make a difference in the world, and it’s a goal I’ll be constantly working on here.