Whilst getting around the Melbourne dining scene is a fun pastime for me and Mrs LTLT, AA Gill I ain’t.
But. A recent experience has inspired me to have a crack, and ability has never stopped me from having a go before; so let’s roll. Today we’re talking about Brae, the new venture for hero-chef Dan Hunter, he previously of the legendary Royal Mail in Dunkeld. Opened in December it’s his place, his show, and hence represents a pretty big step into the unknown (as unknown as it can be when you’re the sort of chef that has people fly in from all over the world to eat your food).
As part of a last flourish before baby LTLT makes it a little more difficult to have a 4 hour meal, we decided to lock in a booking, which we thankfully made before this happened (presumably one needs to plan a little further ahead now). The restaurant is located in a great part of Victoria – Birregurra – about 90 mins from Melbourne and about 30 mins from the Ocean Road at Lorne and serviced by a bunch of great B&Bs (we stayed here, and I can HIGHLY recommend it; the breakfast alone is worth the trip).
On to the main event. Rather than add to the cacophony of more qualified voices on fine dining, I’ll look at things from the punter’s perspective and see if I can highlight what it was that made it blog-worthy. At the pointy end, fine dining is all about the one-percenters. The floor team work tirelessly to make sure that they are exactly as involved in your meal as you want them to be; no more, no less. The chefs work to continuously push the envelope with flavours and textures. The whole thing works as a well oiled machine, ensuring everyone gets ‘special’ treatment.
But it doesn’t always work, not completely. Maybe the flavour combinations get pushed a little too far and you get a dish or two that is a bit confronting. Maybe the staff are a bit too efficient and leave you feeling cold.
At Brae, in a manner similar to only one or two other dining experiences I’ve ever had, there was absolutely nothing out of place for the entire duration of our stay. From the moment you walk in, the room is breathtakingly modern and airy; the sun setting across the paddocks giving a uniquely Australian feel to the place. You realise just how good the art is the longer you have to soak it in (I don’t think I’ve ever commented on artwork in another restaurant, ever.).
The food is next level. Too often, top flight chefs lose sight of what (in my opinion) is the most important part of dining; it has to be delicious. It’s no use if you can identify 8 textures or if every ingredient lights up a different part of your palate, if the end result doesn’t taste great. All you’ll remember is that the nice looking arrangement of seeds and herbs was actually kind of hard to enjoy. Seems obvious, no?
Dan Hunter’s food nails this in a way that few others’ do (nor can). I reckon it’s a step up from his efforts at the Royal Mail too. I’m not going to bore you by listing dishes and ingredients as it will have all changed by now but everything was great. Everything. In the same way that a truly great wine is both impossibly intricate and incredibly easy to understand, such was every single dish that we were served and the manner in which the experience was delivered.
The staff are poised and friendly, and happy to explain as much or as little about the dishes as you wish to hear. There is no stuffiness nor machine-like efficiency anywhere to be seen. The matched wines looked really really good (I don’t often find them interesting), although on the night I chose to enjoy a couple of great half bottles (the beyond great Ben Leroux’s incredible 2011 Savigny-Les-Beaune and a very well priced Louis Moreau AC Chablis) before grabbing some of the matched wines to go with the dessert courses.
The bottom line, if you are considering any top end dining then I can’t recommend it highly enough. Just do it. Take a whole weekend so you’re not buzzing in and out as the region is great (particularly the excellent small winery ‘Dinny Goonan’, whose wines will soon be stocked at LTLT after a visit to the cellar door on the way home), and give yourself in to everything on offer; you won’t regret it.
Happy Drinking (or in this case, dining),