Brae Restaurant: a fine balancing act

It was wonderful to return to Brae Restaurant in 2017 and astonishingly Chef Dan Hunter’s menu has become even more impressive during the intervening year. Mr Levin, hard taskmaster, pronounced mid-lunch ‘forget Denmark and Spain, this is the best food in the world.’

Again, we enjoyed the unique Iced oyster, a goat’s milk sorbet flavoured with oyster brine and the dehydrated and powdered oyster on top of its half shell, with an interesting 30-month of lees pinot meuniere grower Champagne, NV Francis Boulard.

bbq-beetrootServed with the starter tastes, the Smoked eel doughnut with Barbecued beetroot seasoned with Brae farm honeycomb and rainbow trout roe was a revelation in balance. The roe, loosened with mirin and white soy, provided the saline bursts to the highly floral and waxy honey and smoky, earth baby beetroot, with the churro, with a suggestion of eel, was perfect to mop up whatever escaped from the fork. This was creatively matched to Rogue Wave ‘Cranky Mrs IPA’ from a bit further down the Great Ocean Road, with its malty, orange peel and citrus blossom notes. @roguewavebrewing

king-george-whitingKing George whiting, zucchini, leek and lemon was where the whiting was the star. It’s pristine white, flaky, springy flesh, matched to the livening zest of the lemon rind. From heritage family producer Best’s in the Grampians, their ‘Foudre Ferment’ was perfect. Wild yeast fermented in a large format, 2500L Burgundian barrel imparting a little openness, spice and honeyed texture, once again it was beautifully balanced with the more traditionally Australian citrus Riesling notes. @bestswines

summer-garden-tartSummer garden tart tartin and Wessex Saddleback saucisson was perhaps our favourite dish. Made from ‘today’s tomatoes’ (‘whatever was just falling off the vine that morning’) and a perfectly flaky puff pastry, it was glossy and savoury-sweet and together with the summer saucisson (hung in Dan’s office) felt like the world’s most sublime picnic. The 2014 Enigma Variations ‘Emptybell #1’ Rosé made by the talented biodynamic winemaker Tamara Irish just for Brae was such a wonderful accompaniment with its herbal, sweet tomato, earthy, mulberry, charcuterie notes that we asked to buy a bottle to take home. @enigmaVwine

crayfishCrayfish and shitake with Brae farm egg yolk, meat broth and seaweeds was both delightfully comforting and clean on the palate. The sumptuous, white chunks of local crayfish were sauced by the orange-est egg yolk and beefy rich stock, with the shitake and samphire offering alternative bursts of earthiness and sea spray in the mouth. 2000 Mukai Shuzō ‘Natsu no Omoide’ with its textural, honeyed, umami, pencil shaving characters was a wonderful match, apparently fermented with a 100-year-old yeast strain and aged for 14 years.

Reportedly, from tiny brewer in the Kyōto prefecture made by Kuniko Mukai who was one of the first women Master Brewers in Japan at the young age of 22 and carried on the traditions of her 260-year-old family brewery. @blackmarketsake

short-ribShort rib of beef cooked overnight, barbecued carrot, fermented and fried onions was such a decadent, gelatinous, tender beefy morsel, with a perfectly cooked smoky carrot and a thatch of fine onion curls excellently matched to the beautifully-honed, subtle and savoury 2015 Izway ‘Maurice’ Grenache from the Barossa Valley. @IzwayWine (Usually, Madame L is attuned to grenache’s raspberry confection, but was so enamoured with this wine that she claimed it had finally changed her mind after 62 years!)

red-fruitsRed fruits, lemon and lovage, wild cabbage and buckwheat was a delightful dessert course with farm raspberries and mulberries, buckwheat wafers and a white chocolate and berry ‘earth’ that slowly melted over sweet and crisp mouthfuls. It was matched with the 2015 Braida Brachetto d’Acqui, which was very much like a red, slightly drier, tannin-spicy Moscato – delicious!

We finished once again with the gorgeous Parsnip and apple, a creative homage to the cannoli and some perfectly ripe Ananas melon – a perfect Autumn lunch.

Return to Brae

Returning once again to Brae (@BraeRestaurant braerestaurant 4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra, Victoria) in the first week of the antipodean autumn surpassed all our expectations. While only a month had passed since our last long lunch, we were treated to some amazing new experiences and some fast favourites from last time.

For the autumn menu, we decided to give our complete attention to Dan Hunter’s menu, so rather than matched wines with each taste, we decided to choose some special bottles. We were very kindly treated to NV André Beaufort ‘Reserve Polisy’ Brut, Aube, Champagne with our first small dishes, an interesting organic grower champagne, with a smoky, mineral character.

Brae autumn starters

Chilled cucumber and cold garden leaves was a bright combination of clean flavours to thoroughly whet our appetite. Zucchini flowers and lemon aspen tart was an incredibly fresh and inspired use of zucchini flowers, as very good as it looks.

Crimson pearl potato and smoked eel sandwich, which we’d tasted in a slightly different way last time, was a delicious little wafery-fishy mouthful.

Brae larger dishes

Tomatoes and davidson plum in chilled crustacean broth was verging on a spiritual experience! The slightly dehydrated tomatoes intensified and focused the flavours, which burst into the mouth. They were complemented by a dusting of dehydrated plum as well as whole Davidson plums, floating in a chilled crustacean broth, a really transcendent combination.

Prawn, nasturtium, finger lime was a twist on our last visit, was a sublime prawn pillowed within nasturtium leaf, topped with a burst of finger lime cells. Ice oyster, once again, what a truly incredible dish. The sheep’s milk ice cream flavoured with the oyster’s brine and freeze dried oyster and herbs is just a wonderful experience.

Sea urchin and chicory bread pudding featured fresh chicory that lent a balancing bitterness to the intensely rich sea urchin. With a sprinkling of dehydrated citrus peel to pull it all together.

With the larger dishes, we really enjoyed the 2008 Benoit Ente ‘Champ Gain’ 1er Cru, Puligny Montrachet, France, which was a beautifully balanced wine that had been decanted to open up its gorgeous white flower, citrus and mineral characters.

Brae dishes

Calamari and fermented kohlrabi, last of the peas and beef fat was another incredible dish. The finely sliced calamari was just slightly poached and the kohlrabi, cut to resemble the calamari, had been fermented adding an umami dimension. The teeny-tiny baby peas were amazingly fresh and the richness of the smoky beef marrow and fat pulled the dish together perfectly. (The peas and beef fat were cooked in the smoker in a pan with holes in the bottom, the drippings falling onto coals below to create a flavoured smoke for the peas!)

Southern rock lobster cooked with carrot, white onion and sea butter was a revelation and standout on the day. The delicately cooked lobster legs were seasoned with ground green olive, chrysanthemum leaves, a gorgeous sea butter that we surmised was a reduction of the lobster shells and carrot, with the quite crisp, fresh white onion adding some grip to the dish.

Eggplant and salt grass lamb washed with sweet onion juice, fragrant and acidic plants was a homecoming to one of our favourite dishes from the summer menu, a tantalizing salty-sweet onion slice of lamb with gorgeous leaves from the kitchen garden.

Hapuku and sunflower, minutina in brown butter was a beautiful deep water wreckfish that fell apart in large, moist flakes, sitting on a smear of pureed sunflower seeds. We thought the sunflower seeds tasted a little like tahini and matched so beautifully with the crisp minutina greens tossed in burnt butter.

Wood grilled Tajima beef aged 45 days, Otway shiitake, fermented cabbage was a beautifully textured, smoky medallion of beef. We thought the real star of the dish was the wood smoke, which was contrasted by the sharpness of the thinly sliced cabbage and complemented by the smokiness of the mushroom.

Brae puddings

With the desserts, we drank 2011 By Farr Viognier ‘Dessert Wine’, Geelong, Victoria. Gary Farr’s wines, made close by, are understandably darlings on Brae’s wine list and this standout pudding wine worked wonderfully well with the sweet dishes.

Plums simmered with pear, honey and cultured milk revisted the Davidson plums we loved with the tomatoes, but this time poached in sweet pear, with silky ice cream, honeycomb (made from honey from their apiary) and glacéd citrus peel on top.

Parsnip and apple was once again a delight, with the crispy parsnip shell, honeyed crème and powdered apple creating an inventive twist on the cannoli.

Brae Rooms

Feeling perfectly satiated after an opulent lunch, it was wonderful to stay at one of Brae’s recently-opened six luxury suites, so beautifully appointed by Six Degrees’ architecture and Studio Round’s interiors.

The room had an urbane 1960s vibe that John & Sunday Reed would have been most at home in. The walls were decorated with beautiful contemporary art, there was a proper record player and vinyl collection, the most lavish mini bar, marble benches and fully stocked wine fridge, a delightful charcuterie and cheese repast for the evening and big sky sunset views.

What a triumphant return and we’re so looking forward to hosting the very talented Dan Hunter in London in the near future!

Brae +61 3 5236 2226

Twitter @BraeRestaurant Instagram braerestaurant

4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra, Victoria, Australia

One fine day at Brae

This past rainy Sunday, Madame L and Mister L travelled with @wine_brain_kp out to Brae (@BraeRestaurant braerestaurant 4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra, Victoria) – Dan Hunter’s captivating restaurant, vegetable gardens and orchards, 140 kilometres southwest of Melbourne – and enjoyed some of the most confident and technically exciting food we have had.

Dan Hunter once cooked at Mugaritz (6th on San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Restaurants) before six years leading the kitchen of Dunkeld’s Royal Mail Hotel, which he took to Three Hats and won The Age Good Food Guide’s 2012 Chef of The Year. There are certainly references here to the sensorial creativity, smoky Iberian grill and the obsession with seasonality.

The name of the restaurant is explained as ‘Brae \’brā\ n. — A hillside; a gentle slope. A modern restaurant set on 30 productive acres.’ Formerly Sunnybrae cookery school, which established the remarkable gardens and Alan Scott brick oven, Restaurant Manager Simon Freeman explained that the farmhouse was stripped back and reimagined by long-time friends and hospitality specialists Six Degrees Architects. From the palette, the artworks and murals, the quirky application of fencing stakes, to the play list, the restaurant is a true reflection of the mind of the chef.

Brae Starters

The Summer menu began with seven tastes matched to a local sparkling wine NV Holly’s Garden überbrut (sommelier Meg explained was chardonnay, pinot noir and with a small amount of pinot blanc), which we thought was a little wild and unfocussed and Edge Brewing Project ‘Cool Hops’ a brilliantly fresh and lively microbrew.

In the first tranche, Cucumber and lemon myrtle was a very delicately pickled cucumber, with the delicious native flower freeze-dried, powdered and sprinkled on top. Brook trout and nut butter crisp was a flash fried trout skin crisp, with smoky trout and nasturtium, which was delightful. Raw pea and lemon aspen tart was a riot of fresh baby peas on an ever-so-slightly-too-short pastry. Sapphire potato and smoked eel sandwich was a perfect mouthful of crispy wafer thin potato and creamy-smoky fishiness.

Next, we had the Prawn, nasturtium, finger lime, which was a very playful, textural juxtaposition of crispy fried prawn head, which could be taken in one crunch revealing umami juiciness and a leafy parcel of very delicately cooked prawn tail, with the citrusy burst of lime cells on top.

Finally, we had the Beef tendon and mountain pepper, which was like a particularly hearty prawn cracker, a bit oily with fragrant ground pepper. The Iced Oyster was incredible. The oyster brine was combined with sheep’s milk curd into an ice cream and served in the shell, while the oyster itself had been freeze dried along with apple cider vinegar and herbs, powdered and sprinkled on top of the ice cream. It was an outstanding crescendo in complexity and flavour to whet our appetites for the main degustation.

Brae Calamari Crayfish Lamb

We began with the Calamari and black lip abalone, broccoli and blue mackerel, which had a decidedly Japanese accent, with the thinly sliced seafood barely-poached in the delicious liquor and topped with nasturtium leaves. This was matched to 2013 Sutton Grange ‘Estate’ Fiano from neighbouring region Bendigo, a waxy, honeysuckle, barrel fermented, textural beauty.

Crayfish and burnt potatoes, sunflower, milk and mustard was a parcel encased by the milk ‘skin’, with crayfish, slightly underdone but smoky-burnt potato cubes and mustard, an impressive technical display served with 2014 Chikuma Nishiki ‘Kizan’ Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu, Nagano Japan. We recognised the winter Olympics city, a definite mountain producer but were astounded by the balance, texture and dynamic character of this sake.

Eggplant and salt grass lamb washed with sweet onion juice, fragrant and acidic plants was a piece of salty lamb that seemed to have been poached in a sweet onion liquor, with shavings of garlic, soft, collapsing eggplant and some gorgeous leaves from a plant we’d never seen before, Ice Plant, with tarragon. The cloudy-natural-wine look of the 2013 Testalonga Bianco Vermentino, Liguria, Italy worried us a little, but the robustness imparted by the extended skin contact, with its wild hay bale, oyster shell, honeysuckle, yeasty characters made this (usually searingly-austere variety) just an inspired match.

Brae Hapuka Duck

Hapuku, cured pork and bok choy, fish roe whipped with onion was a gorgeous fillet of Hapuku (found in deep offshore reefs around the continental slope across the southern portion of Australia) that fell into buttery flakes, with pork cubes, spears of bok choy and a jus of onion and roe. Matched to a cellar release of arguably Australia’s best Riesling 2006 Crawford River ‘Museum Release’ Riesling, Henty, Victoria was still youthful with lime peel and melon but with some creamy lemon curd notes and length for days.

Aged Pekin duck wood roasted on the bone, quandong, dried liver was rich, smoky and delicious. (Simon told us later that the ducks are stuffed with straw and roasted in the Alan Scott brick oven and then smoked on the grill, with the straw that had been in the duck.) The sharply acidic native stewed quandong was a great foil and the powdery liver added a lovely complexity. Matched with a cellar release of 2009 by Far ‘Tout Prés’ Pinot Noir, Geelong, Victoria, a single vineyard from iconic winemaker Gary Farr (influenced by his many vintages at Domain Dujac) was a deep, complex, spicy, mineral, seamless wine, undoubtedly among Australia’s best pinots.

Brae Apricot Parsnip

On to the desserts, Apricot simmered with honey and vanilla, sheep’s milk and dried custard was an incredibly concentrated reduction of apricot, with a sheep’s milk ice cream providing a lovely acidic twang, with crumbled sheets of dried custard and honeycomb made from honey collected on the property. The 2012 Domaine Barmes-Buecher ‘Rosenberg’ Pinot Gris, Alsace, France had the concentrated, blooming-floral notes and sweet viscosity to match this complex pudding.

Parsnip and apple, which was a parsnip, cut in half with most of the flesh removed and the skin ‘shell’ deep fried, brushed with honey and served with a crème, dried apple powder and a small piece of roasted apple – possibly the dish of the day in an incredible line up. Matched with the 2012 Domaine des Baumard ‘Cuvée de Paon’, Coteaux du Layon, France, a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc with honey, marmalade, lanolin and marzipan characters that were a beautiful complement.

After lunch, we couldn’t help but enjoy a digestif (Auchentoshan 12 YO and Amaro Nonino, both charming) and hear more about the project from Simon. In a little over 18 months, Brae has swept all before it in the competitive Australian food scene. Three Hats in the Good Food Guide, Three Stars in Gourmet Traveller, Chef of the Year in both and cracked 87 on the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant list.

It seemed very much that this great leap forward was driven by the uncompromised, authentic vision that Dan Hunter, Simon Freeman, their partners and vastly impressive team have been able to execute. The balance of each dish within the context of the entire menu was amazing! Very well worth the gastronomic pilgrimage (the local Birregurra Farm Store is a must-stop on the way home), which will be even more delightful when their luxury suites open from March 2016!

Brae +61 3 5236 2226

Twitter @BraeRestaurant Instagram braerestaurant

4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra, Victoria, Australia