Perfection at its Purest
Claim to fame: Mugaritz madness down under?
Reason to go: A radical spirit of inquiry embedded in powerful flavors
To look out for: Brilliant new rooms for overnight stays
Paddock-to-plate is what they call it in Australia, but it’s the same farm-to-table doctrine you’ll hear all over the world. Ho-hum, we hear you say? So last century, you groan? It sounds like you’re more than overdue a visit to the small town of Birregurra, where you’ll find the wonder that is Brae.
Mugaritz, the alma mater of Chef Dan Hunter, could be said to be ideal in its location, the lush hinterland of the Basque country giving it access to that perfect combination of mountains and sea that so defines the cooking of that corner of the world. In Birregurra, which sits 130 kilometers southwest of Melbourne, Hunter might just have found a similar confluence of ecosystems. It’s rich agricultural land, home to farms producing berries, sheep and dairy, but it’s also not far from Victoria’s famed Great Ocean Road and the port of Geelong. Brae itself is set on 30 acres, planted with extensive well-established and productive gardens and orchards. The farmhouse cottage looks out over olive groves, past fruit trees and onto beehives and chicken runs.
From these fertile beginnings comes food that is at once grounded yet simultaneously invested with a welcome flight of fancy. In person Dan Hunter is laconic and blunt. On the plate that personality translates to focus and intensity. There are no inverted commas around the dishes here, and no trompe l’oeil tiddlywinks: Hunter gives it to you straight. Oyster ice-cream is oyster ice-cream, standing simply on the quality of the flavor of the mollusk and the creaminess of the churn. “First
asparagus, peas and frozen radish” could be a ham-handed haiku, it also does what it says, delivering purity of flavor and a perfect invocation of season.
Chicory root powder in bread pudding provides an earthy counterpoint for the tang of sea urchin roe, while cured kelp and white miso bring a meaty richness to eggplant with lemon confit and toasted grains. Hapuku gets carefully poached in milk and served in a crisp of its own skin with mackerel mayo and parsley oil. Simmering plums with onions and plating them with a cultured milk ice-cream gives them a vibrancy beyond their Instagram appeal.