Brae: The Lowland Scots word for the slope or brow of a hill.
Gravel crunches beneath our heels as we make our way along the pale grey drive to the homestead housing one of Australia's finest restaurants. The farm house is ghostly white, an image strengthened by the lichen covered tombstones of the disused graveyard in the background. And yet, somehow it doesn't feel stark, in fact, the opposite is true. It feels less like we've entered the domain of a highly celebrated chef and more like we've come to lunch with a distant relative, one that will become a cherished friend by the end of the day.
We arrive deliberately early in order to take a stroll around the kitchen garden. Even the icy wind slipping unwanted between our layers of clothing can't deter us. Vegetables have been grown on these grounds since the 1860's. One hundred and fifty years of organic matter evident in a rich patch of freshly turned soil. Looking around, it's clear this garden doesn't supply all of the produce required to cater for the one thousand visitors Brae receives each month, but it was pleasing to hear that chef, Dan Hunter, draws inspiration from his surroundings and any additional produce is ordered from local growers. The olive grove is especially enchanting. Laden with hard, green fruit the silver leaves rustle in the persistent wind. Aside from the soft clucking of a brood of contented hens, it's the only sound we hear in this peaceful place.
Once inside the feeling of being welcomed into someone's home is magnified. We pass a wood burning fire and are greeted just as warmly by staff. They don't even ask the name of our reservation, they simply welcome us into their elegant yet unassuming dining room. Brae epitomises my ideal way to dine. Twenty different dishes, from snacks to desserts, make up the menu but there's no need to choose. Throughout the afternoon dishes were delivered with impeccable timing ensuring we were never left wanting, or worse, too full. The service was hospitable, knowledgeable and friendly without ever intruding on our conversation. The dining room was full but it felt as though we were the only party there.
And the food? Creative, intelligent, technical and with a strong sense of connection to the land. Each dish was surprising in its own way but never theatrical. The menu is understated, elegant, intriguing but always with flavour at its heart. Four hours on, as the late afternoon sun warmed my back, I felt content. This is how Sunday lunches should be. Surrounded by nature and unhurried. Sharing food and stories with family and friends.
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