Set in acres of idyllic Otway hinterland amid orchards and vegetable gardens, chef Dan Hunter’s Brae is a restaurant that uses its remote Australian location to its advantage. Recognised as one of the world’s best restaurants, Brae marries sustainability with technology and fine dining. Inspired by Melbourne’s cosmopolitan creativity, here, Dan shares with Emel & Aris his favourite places to drink, dine and soak up culture along with the philosophy behind Brae.
You use rare and unusual indigenous Australian ingredients. How do you marry these with modern cooking techniques?
“In the same way as any ingredient you discover and are not familiar with – trial and error. Many Australian ingredients are unusual and quite different to using cultivated ingredients that have been bred over time for flavour and pest resistance. They’re often very complex, with super astringent qualities. It’s about harnessing those qualities and finding ways to make them shine.”
At Brae you keep to organic principles, using regenerative farming techniques. How does technology have a role to play in maintaining sustainable food practices?
“At Brae we use electronic watering systems, solar energy, worm farm wastewater treatment plants and an in-house sparkling rain water system hand-in-hand with traditional composting and windmill-operated water transfer. I believe technology should be used to describe advancements and processes, which can be human-based and not just gadgets.”
What underpins Brae’s ethos, how did the restaurant come about?
“Hospitality in the truest sense. Food that’s memorable. Sustainability. The restaurant came about as an alternative to every place that does not have those three things as part of their mission statement.”
How have you witnessed Melbourne’s restaurant scene evolve over the last decade?
“With great fondness and respect. It’s a great city to eat and drink in at all times of the day, and I think Melbourne can now lay claim to some of the more interesting hospitality models currently seen around the world. The fact you can have breakfast in a venue then later that evening be back there drinking great cocktails or wine is something very true to this city. There’s now a host of artisanal coffee houses, bakeries and cocktail bars that are doing really great things.”
What and where was the best meal you’ve ever had in Melbourne?
Do you have any favourite up-and-coming or off-the-radar restaurants that are doing something really special in Melbourne?
“I hope the guys from Choto – an incredible pop-up serving authentic Japanese breakfasts – open another venue soon. That place was great.”
Where do you like to go to have fun when the sun sets in Melbourne?
“I love Black Pearl, a stylish bar in Fitzroy that serves inventive cocktails. Romeo Lane near Chinatown is another nice intimate bar serving good cocktails and craft beers. The guys at Bar Americano are doing great things mixology-wise and serve great coffee, too. Finally, Bar Liberty in Fitzroy serves an amazing array of excellent global wines.”
Where do you go to find inspiration in Melbourne?
“Galleries. I enjoy visiting the National Gallery of Victoria, which showcases classic Australian works and contemporary pieces. I love the suburbs of Fitzroy and Collingwood; they’re where to most exciting things are happening in the gastronomic and nightlife scenes.”
What are your three favourite Australian ingredients you couldn’t live without?
“Finger limes – they’re similar to regular limes but longer and with caviar-like spheres that burst when you eat them – Southern rock lobster and flowering eucalyptus.”
Define Melbourne in three words.
“Local, cultural and delicious.”
All images © Colin Page