Brae Restaurant: Review

Brae Birregurra, in regional Victoria is the newest restaurant by chef Dan Hunter, formerly of Royal Mail in Dunkeld, Victoria and Mugaritz in Spain’s Basque Country. I never had the chance to visit Royal Mail while Dan Hunter was there and, given his pedigree and reputation, I was keen to see what he had created with Brae.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

The restaurant, which is located in what was a homestead that formerly housed the restaurant Sunnybrae, is just one part of what is a 30 acre piece of land. The restaurant is very much connected to the land, which is evident from the moment you drive up to the car park and pass the garden which you are free to walk through – Brae’s food is as local and seasonal as it gets, and what Dan Hunter is trying to do here is a natural extension of what he was doing at Royal Mail.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

I went to Brae with a group of friends and we were the first to arrive for our Sunday lunch sitting. The inside is modern and very much fits in with Brae’s remote rural setting.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Food wise, it’s a 13 course tasting menu for $180 that’s offered, and there’s the option of matched wines for $120. The wine list is extensive and contains a mixture of local and international wines. We ordered two bottles for the table over the course of our meal and the sommelier was very good at describing some wines that he thought we might enjoy based on the very non-technical way we described what we were looking for – it made the list very accessible. A small range of craft beers and a decent range of spirits are also available.

To begin the meal, a selection of 7 sharing plates were brought out simultaneously. The relaxed setting of Brae came through with the food from the outset, and we were encouraged to eat with our hands and “have fun”.

 

Salt & Vinegar Potato

These were tasty, as you’d expect salt and vinegar crisps to be.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Beef Tendon & Mountain Pepper

The beef tendon was quite interesting, with a prawn cracker like texture.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Burned Pretzel, Treacle & Pork + Fresh Ricotta & Dried Fig

These were both ok, but not quite as interesting as the other starters.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Prawn, Nasturtium, Finger Lime

The prawn was very tasty, and you would eat the whole thing due to the soft shells. The flesh from the rest of the prawns was wrapped inside the nasturtium leaves, with the tartness of the finger lime balancing nicely against the sweetness of the prawn.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Turnip & Brook Trout Roe

Another tasty dish, with a very “fresh ocean” flavour about it.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Short Fin Eel & Sea Urchin, Zucchini & Chicory

This was one of the highlights – even my friends who aren’t generally into seafood were surprised at how much they enjoyed this dish. Taste and texture wise, it was spot on, with a mixture of creamy and crunchy textures.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Bread & Butter

The sourdough is baked on site in a wood fired oven and as proof that the simplest things are often the best, the bread was delicious. A crunchy, almost caramelised crust and a smoky flavour made for the perfect slice of bread and the butter, which is churned on site had a ricotta, curd like texture to it and was equally delicious.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Calamari & Pickles

Moving onto the main courses, the first dish to come out was the calamari and pickles. This was really tasty and the pickled flavour was very subtle which complimented the calamari nicely.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Tomatoes & Uncommon Leaves, Lemon & Mussel Juice

Thankfully the last of the tomatoes before the arrival of winter were still around as this was a really nice dish. Very simple and it was great to be able to try the different types of tomatoes and really be able to tell the difference between them. The mussel juice enhanced the tomatoes but never overpowered them.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Southern Rock Lobster Cooked With Carrot, White Onion, Sea Butter

The lobster was perfectly creamy and tasty and the sea butter served to enhance this further. Unfortunately the carrots were very overpowering and took away from the other flavours. It just needed to be toned down a notch was the general consensus from the table.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Raw Wallaby, Wattle & Lemon Myrtle, Charred Beetroot & Radicchio

This dish really divided the table. I found it to be quite tasty but some on the table found that the lemon myrtle and radicchio overpowered the other flavours and made it somewhat unpleasant. It probably comes down to one’s tolerance of tangy food.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Wild Mushrooms & Milk Curd, Chicken Live & Chicken Broth

This was definitely the lowlight of the meal – something that everyone on the table agreed upon. The mushrooms were very earthy, as would be expected, however so was everything else which meant that there really wasn’t much going on in the way of flavour with this dish.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Dry Aged Tajima Beef, Leek, Cauliflower, Kale

Thankfully the next dish was brilliant. The thinly sliced beef was tender and full of flavour and the tastes and textures of the other components all worked well together.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Plums Simmered With Onions, Honey, Cultured Milk

This dessert certainly got the table talking. A few were suspicious of the idea of onion being used in a dessert but it really worked with this dish. The key was to eat everything together – individually this dessert did not work at all but get a bit of everything in one mouthful and it was a delicious medley of textures and flavours, sweet and sour.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Parsnip & Apple

Without a doubt this was the highlight of the meal. It was the one time that everyone on our table was silent, and we all came as close as one can in a fine dining restaurant to licking our plates dry.  The dessert consisted of dehydrated apple cubes with apple and parsinp custard. The parsnip shell was deep fried and layered on top. Texturally and taste wise, I can safely say that this is one of the best desserts I have ever eaten anywhere. We were all full by this stage, but we all wanted more – we couldn’t stop talking about it.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

Pistachio, Blood, Quince

Pigs blood mixed in with eggs formed the filling of these biscuits and while I appreciate the sense of adventure, the flavours really didn’t work with this finale. Especially after the amazing dessert we’d just eaten.

brae restaurant birregurra review dan hunter

At the end of all of that what then, is my final take on Brae? Disappointed seems like too strong of a word to use, but I suppose it’s the correct word. Dan Hunter has a huge reputation that I had no hesitation in making the 1.5 hour journey out of Melbourne to Brae. This did mean that I had big expectations. The setting is beautiful, the philosophy of the food is something that I am completely on board with and the service was brilliant – professional yet relaxed. It’s fine dining that’s very accessible and the experience itself was very fun. Food wise there were some very high highs but many occasions where the food was merely ok. Normally this isn’t a problem, but when you’re paying $180 and competing against the likes of Attica and Ezard, everything has to be excellent. It felt to me like a test kitchen still finding its feet. All of the ingredients are there for Brae to become one of Australia’s best restaurants – I just think it needs more time to get things right, for the food to the point where every dish matches the highs of what my friends and I ate.

Brae

4285 Cape Otway Road
Birregurra
Victoria 3242
Australia

Telephone: (03) 5236 2226
Email:           enquire@braerestaurant.com
Website:      http://braerestaurant.com/

Open
Thu – Sun: Dinner
Fri – Mon: Lunch

Brae on Urbanspoon


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2 Comments

  • Very interesting to read your thoughts on Brae, Paul. I liked your honesty and how you tell it as it is. There are certainly some dishes that will divide people based on what I have read about Brae. What I admire about Dan Hunter is his nature-based cuisine and his commitment to support the local producers. I can’t wait to try it myself in February :)

    • Paul says:

      Thanks Chris. There’s no doubting that what Dan Hunter is attempting to do down there is brilliant. I think writers in certain corners have been caught up in the hype however and they’re almost scared to be critical. I’ll be interested to see what you’re experience is like in Feb. I’ve got a feeling that a lot of the issues will have been ironed out by then.

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