Set on 12 hectares, Dan Hunter’s modern restaurant in Victoria’s picturesque town of Birregurra was reinvigorated by architect James Legge of Six Degrees
“Originally, the property was Sunnybrae, a pioneering paddock-to-plate restaurant owned by chef George Biron. When Dan [Hunter] and his wife Julianne Bagnato formed a partnership with Howard McCorkell and Damien Newton-Brown [of McCorkell Brown Group], they spent quite a while looking around. When this property came up, they knew it was perfect.
“It was a simple farmhouse that needed a new lease of life. Dan wanted a sophisticated space rather than a ‘country cottage’ feel. The interior was stripped back, we removed internal walls to create a larger room, and a new kitchen was fitted out. We left the original windows but cleaned them up so guests can see the beautiful landscape that stretches in every direction.
“There was a lot of work to do on a relatively modest budget, partly because Dan needed to spend a lot of money on the kitchen. The kitchen’s facilities were gutted and redone with the latest equipment. Guests are aware of this—they can see it without it being completely on display.
“There’s so much craft and skill in the making of Dan’s food that we wanted to reflect some of that in the architecture. Handmade elements appear in the door of the arrival area, and the steelwork looks as if it may have been welded up in the shed
by a farmer.
“There are other ‘rural’ cues in the restaurant and arrival experience. There’s a comfortable waiting area in front of the fireplace—perfect if you’re not sitting at your table straight away.
“We’ve purposefully made the interior palette straightforward and simple but materially rich, while a selection of artworks by contemporary Victorian artists provide a lot of colour. The materiality is also there within the food.
“Dan was very hands on with everything from furniture to dinnerware. There are white tablecloths and the upholstered ‘Catifa 53’ chairs are incredibly comfortable—an important factor for the four-hour dining experience Brae offers.
“To create Brae’s identity, Dan turned to Studio Round consultancy (round.com.au) which developed the restaurant’s menus, wine list, signage and website. They explored Dan’s food philosophy, and his respect for nature and the land.
“We’re still involved with Dan and Brae, and have recently put in a council application for accommodation, which will be in a separate building. It’s a reasonable drive to the restaurant for many guests, so I’m sure quite a few would like to stay the night. We hope to have that project completed by the end of the year.
“The restaurant opened last year, and Dan and his team have received stellar reviews as well as awards, including New Restaurant for the 2014 Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering HOSTPLUS Awards for Excellence and Restaurant of the Year for The Age Good Food Guide. Overall, we were always aware that the architecture was not the priority. Dan and his team are the main game, and they need to do their magic without the architecture getting in the way.”
Six Degrees Architects
Level 4, 252 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9635 6000