Brae Restaurant – degustation dinner in the little town of Birregurra

“…The entire day was to be a grand lead-up to what would emerge as the highlight experience of the weekend. Dan Hunter’s (ex-Royal Mail Hotel) newest venture – Brae – was one of the reasons the Great Ocean Road was the destination elected for this road trip…” [Great Ocean Road – A weekend Getaway]

The drive inland to the little town of Birregurra from the coast (Lorne) was an interesting experience through the pitch-darkness of winding rainforest roads. Fortunately once you arrive you can’t miss the illuminated property. I’d recommend against doing such a drive if you are not familiar with driving in the countryside. The interior is of sleek and contemporary housed inside an unassuming country farmhouse. Produce is sourced locally where possible, with the surrounding 30 acre property having much potential for growing onsite harvesting. This really sees that the set menu adapts frequently in line with what is available.

The autumn menu, with half pours of the wine match…

Small bites:

Prawn, nasturtium, finger lime
Beef tendon, mountain pepper
Burnt pretzel, treacle, pork
Fresh ricotta, dried fig
Short fin eel, sea urchin, zucchini, chicory

Salt, vinegar potato
Turnip, brook trout roe
Sourdough – made on site; served with Timboon butter.

Paired with:
2010 Blake’s Estate ‘Blanc de Noirs’. Deans Marsh, Victoria.
Mikkeller Hop Series ‘Mt Hood’. Copenhagen, Denmark.

There would be plenty of little surprises in each bite-size morsel. The beef tendon is braised for hours; sliced, dried, and then flash fried at 220 degrees in order to create an amazingly moreish ‘prawn cracker’ made out of beef collagen. The squid ink imparted the burnt pretzel a light fragrance with a lingering of smoke. Even the simple salt & vinegar potato chips provoked some curiosity as to its creation – these were not dyed, but sliced from crimson pearl and purple potatoes (originating from Peru but grown locally, as distinct from sweet potatoes). The bursts of flavours, contrast of textures, and use of local ingredients is present throughout.

Calamari and pickles.
2012 Lethbridge ‘Dr Nadeson’ Reisling. Henty, Victoria.

Tomatoes, uncommon leaves, lemon, mussel juice.
2011 Domaine St Nicolas ‘Gamme en Mau’. Fiefs Vendeens, France.

I found the following two dishes, accomplished a balanced act of palate cleansing and showcase of produce excellence with light, refreshing tones and sweet acidity. The second wine in particular – served chilled to mask the fruit – accentuated the freshness against the tomato acidity.

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Southern rock lobster cooked with carrot, white onion, sea butter.
2012 Journey Wines Chardonnay. Yarra Valley, Victoria.

A luscious bisque of lobster and sea butter. If only there were more.

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Raw wallaby, barbecued beetroot, cured yolk, charred leaves.
2011 Le Clos Perdus ‘Prioundo’ Grenache Carignan. Corbieres, France.

Hidden beneath the charred foliage, were slices of almost blue wallaby – bitter, gamey and sweet in contrasting harmony. The sweetness came from a grenache blend (sourced from the western corner of France).

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Grass fed wagyu, salted radish, rock samphire, pine mushroom.
2008 By Farr Shiraz. Geelong, Victoria.

Having heard stories of chefs going crazy with wild mushrooms, the “poisonously colourful varieties” (which we spotted plenty of on our rainforest walks the next day) on the plate left us just a tad unnerved, but hardly deterred. The wagyu was as it should be – incredibly juicy with an earthy fragrance. The uncooked mushrooms offered a distinct bitterness and rawness to balance the sweetness of the meat. I remain ambivalent on the notion of raw mushrooms however.

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Plum simmered with onions, honey, cultured milk.
2011 Fritz Haag ‘Brauneberger Juffer’ Spatlese Riesling. Mosel, Germany.

The first sweet course would again test our palates with an unusual pairing of onion, plums and lime – an unexpected balance of savoury, sweet and sour. The plums were simmered in onion; the lime rind triple boiled then candied.

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Parsnip and apple.
2004 Domaine des Baumard ‘Cuvee de Paon’. Coteaux du Layon, France.

The crispy snap of the dried parsnip, sheltering the velvety custard and freeze dried apples really struck my Achilles tendon – for every bite was an ethereal joy and for me it was the highlight of the night. This would convert even those who do not consider themselves sweet tooths.

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Blood, quince, pistachio.

Our petit fours to end the night would be of blood (yes literally), quince and pistachio – with the slightest hint of savoury richness.


Rating: Almost Divine. This was an ethereal experience that sung nearly all the right notes on this autumn night. At restaurant Brae, Dan’s aspiration to draw on the country surrounds is not lost in the complex layering of molecular gastronomy, nor drowned by the high caliber of wine matching, but instead alongside the beautiful regional produce, the rustic use of wood fire and smoke, he makes an exemplary showcase of regional Australian cuisine. This will be a destination in its own right.

[Brae restaurant]
Where: 4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra. (1.5 hour drive from Melbourne)
When: Dinner (Thur – Sun). Lunch (Fri – Mon).
Cost: Menu $180pp; Matched wines +$120pp ($60 half pour available on request).
Contact: 03 5236 2276
Booking: phone / online.

>> p.s. don’t forget to check out my road trip: Great Ocean Road.
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  • Food RATING scale

    Unpleasant: damn upset my desire to eat

    Average: palatable but many shortcomings

    Yummy: a pleasant experience

    Yummy +1: mouth-watering like rain

    Yummy +2: exquisite flavours that hit all the right notes

    Divine: sheer culinary perfection!

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