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Dan Hunter talks Brae and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants

Fresh off the heels of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants accolade and the release of his first book, we catch up with Dan Hunter to talk world-wide success and his vegetable garden at Brae.

By Jessica Wilkinson
Published: April 28, 2017

Dan Hunter's Brae is a baby, really. It's only three and a half years old yet it's the type of child that can already play Mozart and read aloud the works of 18th century poets. Brae is gifted - exceptionally so. At the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in Melbourne, Brae came in at 44th place, an accolade that has surprised none who have experienced what Brae has to offer. 

Housed in an architecturally converted farmhouse in farming country inland from the surf coast town of Lorne, Brae offers more than just your regular farm to table, paddock to plate concept. Here, Hunter offers a place to interact with nature and eat from the land. The acreage includes established vegetable patches, an olive grove, an organic orchard, beehives and a bespoke charcoal grill.

Hunter seasons with native ingredients cooks with organic farm-fresh produce and offers the salty crunch of the sea to keep the palate amused. Hunter's goal is simple and easy to recognise in the food he serves: to recreate the surrounding region in flavour, and in this, he succeeds.

If ranking within the top 50 restaurants in the world wasn't enough, Hunter has also just released his first book, titled Brae. In the wake of his tidal wave of success, we took five minutes with Dan to talk all things Brae, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and his favourite Victorian hotspots.

Q&A with Dan Hunter, Restaurateur

Brae, Birregurra, Victoria

Brae came in at number 44 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 list after being open for only 3.5 years. It’s a massive success. How does that make you feel?

"Super happy! It’s a great moment to pause and reflect on what we do and look at ways to improve. It’s also great recognition for our hard working team."

How do you think the perception of food in Australia has changed since you opened Brae?

"From an international perspective, I think it’s improving all the time. Having events like The World's 50 Best Restaurants in Melbourne, for example, is a great way to show an international audience what’s going on here. I think most people were really impressed by the quality and diversity of our hospitality, restaurant and bar offerings."

So, tell us a little bit about Brae and the vision behind it.

"It’s a restaurant and small farm serving and growing food following strict organic principles. It’s a place to connect with and eat the immediate Australian landscape."

Brae guest suites, Birregurra, Victoria

What can visitors expect when they dine at Brae?

"Fun and deliciousness and Australian flavours."

Tell us a bit about the wines and beverage pairing.

"We serve wines that truly reflect the places where they were farmed and the people who grew them. We also stock many Australian produced spirits in our bar and put a lot of energy into non-alcoholic beverages to be enjoyed with the menus. Drinks made on site with produce grown at Brae, from the wild and by other local farmers. Australian native ingredients feature prominently with the non-alcoholic beverages made by our team."

And the accommodation?

"Lush!! There are six guest suites at Brae for six couples to sleep over. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world. Spacious and comfortable, environmentally sound, small wine list, cocktail equipment, turntables and records, books, baths and breakfast. They’re really special and we’re very proud of them."

Why did you choose Birregurra as the location for Brae?

"It’s a really vibrant and interesting town. There are many like-minded people living here, from artists to musicians. There are many small family run organic farms specialising in interesting products, it’s close to the ocean – only 25 minutes to the Great Ocean Road, easy to get to from Melbourne and Geelong and has a great climate for growing vegetables. The surrounding landscape is beautiful. It’s a perfect place to live and to operate a restaurant like Brae."

Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Victoria

If visitors to Victoria could have only one experience, what would you want it to be? (Aside from coming to Brae, of course!)

"If you don’t have time to leave Melbourne, eat a good breakfast, drink coffee, drink cocktails go see some art and then plan your next trip to include Brae and maybe the Great Ocean Road and Twelve Apostles."

What are your favourite locations along the Great Ocean Road?

"The section of the road from Lorne – (eat at Pizza Pizza) towards Apollo Bay. This part of the road is pretty special with spectacular ocean views and dozens of great swimming, surfing and walking spots. Include a stop at Wye River for a swim and great coffee and pastries at the Wye River General Store. In Apollo Bay there’s fish’n chips using fresh fish straight off the boats at the Fisherman’s co-op, with the best view from the port across the bay and La Bimba Restaurant for top-quality fresh seafood and local, ethical produce with ocean views. Heading inland to Forrest, at Bespoke Harvest, sit in the vegie garden out the back for a hyper-local lunch, or sample beers at the Forrest Brewery before a walk through the rainforest to Lake Elizabeth."

What are the top 4 things you suggest visitors do when they visit the region?

"Brae / walks to waterfalls in The Otways including the giant red woods / lay on a beach in Lorne or Apollo Bay / visit the Twelve Apostles. Take a copy of The Otway Harvest Trail Map with you and stop in at all the local producers along the way." 

Apollo Bay, Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Dan Hunter's local hit list

Favourite day trip:
"As above – Birregurra / Lorne / Wye River / Apollo Bay / Forrest / Birregurra."

Best coffee/breakfast spot:
"Birregurra General Store, Captain Moonlight, Anglesea, Wye River General Store."

Favourite bar:
"Forrest Brewery, Airey’s Inlet Pub, Rogue Wave Brewery."

Describe the local dining scene in three words:
"Honest. Committed. Organic."

Where to stay overnight:
"Brae/ Harvest Birregurra/ Ocean House, Lorne/ Blanket Bay Camp Ground/ Johanna Beach Camp Ground."