The attractions of the Great Ocean Road are only a short drive away but there’s an excellent reason to set the GPS for the rolling green hinterland of the Otways instead: Brae. Tucked just outside the charming town of Birregurra, around 90 minutes from Melbourne, chef Dan Hunter’s pictureperfect farmhouse turned locavore-minded fine diner is one of Australia’s essential dining destinations.
A regional star but no country cousin, Brae’s brilliance is the sum of many parts. The dining room overlooking the showpiece open kitchen is a chic retreat from everyday cares, the small army of staff is as polished as the cutlery and the wine list is as deep and broad as the Southern Ocean. And let’s not forget the food, which is as finely crafted and technique driven as you’d expect, but also passes the “is it delicious?” test with flying colours.
Image credit: Aged pekin duck with clams and globe artichoke at Brae/Colin Page.
What you eat is entirely dependent on the seasons and the whims of the kitchen but take a look at the vast gardens on the way in for a few clues. Brae’s menu is a beguiling taste of its location, thanks to 12 hectares of organic farm, with a hardworking Alan Scott wood-fired oven, chicken run and beehives thrown into the mix. And it’s all supplemented by the region’s rollcall of artisan producers.
Image credit: The kitchen garden at Brae/Colin Page.
The multi-course dégustation flirts with native ingredients (be prepared for the unexpected, such as the minty pop of dehydrated green ants anointing pickled baby cucumber) along with a waste-not ethos that sees beef tendons turned into a crunchy, evanescent snack with the help of mountain pepper. Things go fashionably high-low with a Dutch cream potato cake dabbed with cultured cream and brook roe. To finish, well, hope to sample the Otways’ answer to Sicily’s cannoli: a parsnip crisp filled with apple and parsnip mousse finished with a sprinkle of dehydrated apple.
Image credit: The guest suites at Brae/Trevor Mein. Top image credit: Trevor Mein.
Our tip for the perfect Brae visit? Book the restaurant for lunch and one of six personality-packed suites for an overnight getaway. No cookie-cutter five-star stay, these boltholes are decked out with an array of classic vinyl for the turntable, the cocktail-making accoutrements for a classic martini and even designer gumboots for a traipse through the nearby paddocks.
And few things can rival pulling back the over-bed skylight to fall asleep underneath the magical constellations of the southern sky then waking up to breakfast brought to the door in the morning. Organic, woodfired sourdough bread (made from wheat grown on the farm) is a given, along with pastries, preserves and Brae’s own seasonal produce. Really, the only problem is leaving.