When organising a destination for our first wedding anniversary, it was really a one man race. Degustation (with matched wines) at Braeeee. It had been at the top of my wish list for a while and I knew it was time. (Cue inspirational music)
In case you have been living under a rock, Brae is headed up by Chef Dan Hunter, originally from the Royal Mail Hotel, and is situated in the absolutely divine little town of Birregurra. A destination I highly encourage you to visit, even if you don’t visit Brae. The Birregurra General store sells some damn good burgers, the pub has a great vibe and the Farm Foods store offers every cheese and charcuterie you could possibly imagine. And yes, I bought them all.
It has taken me a long time to process my feelings towards the brilliant Brae. I thought this was going to be the greatest day of my life…ok a couple of others might trump it, like the aforementioned wedding…but it was going to be up there. I, JP, was heading to one of the world’s greatest restaurants and I was going to see the err vibrant Dan Hunter in action.
Yes, it is on the World’s Best list, and yes, I was beside myself with excitement when I woke up that morning realising ‘today is the day’….but I have to say, I was a little disappointed. Only a smidgen. But it’s still stuck on my radar. Upon reflection, I probably should have sat myself down prior to entering and said “Jess, it’s still just food, remember, it’s.still.just.food”. I think I was expecting this out of body experience like nothing I had seen before that blew my mind, and unfortunately it didn’t do that. Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent experience, but would I go back? Probably not. When you’re forking out a motherload of cash, you want the experience to be impeccable and for me, it just (JUST) missed the mark.
I’m not going to comment on each dish alone as who am I to judge the skills and talent of those within that beautiful kitchen. I’m just telling you like I saw it. We were greeted by lovely staff who showed us to our table which had a full frontal view of the kitchen and I saw ‘him’ and giggled. As I do with most chefs. So awkward, JP.
Throughout the meal, we had various waiters which was a nice touch, as each seemed to have a specific purpose and refined skill. However, as refined as it was, for me, it felt slightly robotic. Yes they want to ensure the level of service in at the same standard for each table, but every word was the same as what they said to the next table (I eavesdropped whilst people watching), throwaway lines that appeared genuine were repeated next door and I wasn’t really keen on that. Service is a big thing for me, and although there was nothing necessarily bad about the manner in which they interacted, I would have liked it to be a bit more personal for that price. I recently ventured to Hentley Farm in the Barossa and that service was perfect so stay tuned for that post to learn what I mean.
Cucumber & Lemon Myrtle
Brook Trout & nut butter crisp
Emerald pearl potato & smoked eel sandwich
Every dish was so visually appealing. It is evident that the team at Brae have mastered this art. The table setting, the cutlery, the glassware was all of the best quality as you would expect in such an establishment.
Prawn, nasturtium, finger lime
Yes, I think a few patrons would be slightly turned off by the sight of a prawn head in a dish, but I loved it. I have eaten school prawns before and live prawns in Japan (not an experience you want me to document) and these were delicious.
Iced Oyster, beef tendon and mountain pepper
Now a tip for young players, as I was mesmerised by how the dish looked, I did not listen to when the waiter informed us this was not in fact an oyster but oyster icecream. So it’s going to be damn cold and not the size or consistency you’re expecting to consume when eating an oyster. Husband took the wise approach and halved the contents with his tiny utensils and enjoyed the food immensely. I on the other hand, decided to put the entire contents in my mouth, as I would with a regular oyster. Sensory Overload!!
The sharp flavour, the cold texture and the delicate mountain pepper coating atop the oyster just.went.everywhere. I was incredibly embarrassed at my complete lack of composure as my facial expression was apparently very entertaining for Husband. I am sure, if consumed appropriately, this would be a brilliant dish.
What I did thoroughly enjoy was the dehydrated beef tendon that accompanied the crazy oyster. It was delicious and like nothing I have had before.
Crayfish and burnt potatoes, sunflower, milk and mustard
I had seen this dish come out to a couple of other tables prior to us and was very excited to try it and it didn’t disappoint. I can’t imagine the thought process that went into creating this dish and I would love to pop inside Mr Hunter’s brain for one of those creative sessions. Imagine midweek dinners after that!
Whilst observing the kitchen staff go about their business, we had to bear witness to a rather heated exchange between Chef Hunter & a couple of the staff. They were quite young so could have been apprentices but their sheer horror on the poor girl’s face made me want to run in and give her a hug! So maybe….if these conversations had to be had, maybe…have them somewhere where the patrons can’t see it….Sorry, Dan. Please still be my friend. Insert smiley face here.
Eggplant & salt grass lamb washed with sweet onion juice, fragrant & acidic plants
The food came out at a good pace and we never felt rushed, as such, however I did notice a few other tables were invited to peruse the garden between their mains and dessert, and unfortunately we were not offered that opportunity when it came to dessert time. Yes, yes, we could have asked, but I didn’t want to impose.
It was around this time also that the team began cleaning the kitchen. Now I have to say, I completely understand the need to have a hygenic, clear workspace, especially with a full dinner service on it’s way in a few hours, but maybe the team could think about the impact on the lunch diners during this time, especially those facing the kitchen itself.
First up, the noise. Even though the door was closed, at times, we could hear that awful scratchy, eee eee eee noise of the brushes as they cleaned the kitchen top to bottom. It is a noise I personally cannot stand and found it took away from our overall experience. The level of detail in the cleaning they do is really quite commendable but it’s really not something I wanted to witness for almost half our meal time.
Hapuku, cured pork and mustard greens, fish roe whipped with onion
Aged Pekin Duck wood roasted on the bone, quandong & dried liver
Let us just take a moment to appreciate the sight before you. The team at Brae bake their bread fresh every morning and the flavour and texture of it is worth the drive to Birregurra. Their own butter, their own bread, I could have eaten an entire loaf, and almost did.
The matched beverages throughout the day were also a level above any matching we had had before, from a Chochokyu from Japan to Melbs’ own Edge Brewing Project. There are predominately white wines throughout the courses so if you’re a red drinker, probably best to order your own with the talented somm. (Side note. For those who have netflix, watch Somm. What those guys can do will blow yo’ mind.)
Plum simmered with vanilla, sheep’s milk & Brae Farm honey
Parnsip and apple
For me, this was probably the most ‘out there’ dish of the lot. Who would have thought to put parsnip in a dessert!? But it was sooo delicious and paired perfectly with the apple and the Cuvee de Paon from France.
Rhubarb and pistachio, blood and preserved blackberry
Yup that says blood. But give me pistachio anything any day of the week. This was a great way to end the meal and the dense chewy biscotti was so moorish.
So yes, I really enjoyed the food. It was an immense privilege to dine at one of the World’s Best restaurants, but unfortunately, a few small things got in the way of perfection. I read an article the other day about Neil Perry and he said (don’t quote me) that he was almost sick of fine dining. At first I thought, gee first world problem much (and it is), but after this experience, I do see where he is coming from. For me, atmosphere and service make an experience and sometimes you find the best of those at an awesome gastropub or your local Thai.
Woops that was a tangent, and please don’t think I am comparing Brae to my local thai, but I think if the food is going to be at that high level, service and atmosphere need to match it and unfortunately, on that particular day, they just weren’t right.
But honestly, go and experience it for yourself and let me know your thoughts. As I said, I am so fortunate to be able to visit places such as Brae and others I have experienced in the past and I hope you get to do the same.