Degree With Honours
Brae at Birregurra has added another string to its bow - accommodation on site designed by Six Degrees. It's the perfect place to digest the banquet and fantasise about staying permanently.
Expectations of a visit and stay-over at a regional restaurant and guesthouse are typically tempered by past experiences, hearsay and ghosts of crocheted doileys. But when you land in the bosom of creative expertise, those assumptions are quickly dispelled.
Brae at Birregurra is fast becoming the Australian destination for international visitors, local food lovers and those wanting to treat themselves on a special occasion. Set on 30 acres of rolling hills in Victoria’s Western District, the property produces a range of vegetables, fruit and herbs for the restaurant’s kitchen. With a second collaboration between the venues owners and Six Degrees Architects complete, an overnight stay complements the quintessentially Australian fare.
The brief from Brae’s proprietors, Jules and Dan, was to create a home for guests. Six Degrees project director James Legge has responded after several design iterations. Initially stand-alone suites were envisaged but, due to practicalities, a connected series of six suites has resulted. And in hindsight this evokes traces of the classic Australian motel arrangement, but overlaid with a palimpsest of considered design. As Dan notes, the themes behind the menu and presentation are matched in the accommodation design. “The food is quite pared back, yet there’s a lot of complexities in terms of flavours (similarly in the architecture), not embellishing too much and letting the detail speak. The user-friendliness and comfort being the real aesthetics.”
The six suites appear as a pitched corrugated-roof shed from the distance of the southern paddock fence-line. And from the approach up the driveway the accommodation hugs the hill rather than being perched on a ridge. James comments that “they learned from projects like Heller Street to allow the landscape to grow up to offer a buffer whilst soaking up the northern sun”. Once inside, a private homely retreat awaits. There is a definite Australian style: pitched ceiling and recycled timber, steel and stone finishes. A European essence emanates from the cosiness of the hydronically heated slate floor. Importantly, the design has achieved 7+ stars on Nathers and has a passive solar focus.
Framed views express the Six Degrees trademark and overhangs draw the eye to the distant hills past the iconic shearing shed to the south. James points out, “We had to deal with the southerly aspect – we have a significant window to the north, and a skylight for daytime that is also used for stargazing at night-time.” There is a strong bespoke nature to the fitout driven by the client and the agricultural setting. The steel windows have been made by Ficus and the large cross pendant lights have been designed by Six Degrees.
The attention to detail is formidable. Six Degrees’ response has been to create a home environment on a working farm with suites that resonate indulgence in a simplified manner. You enter via the weighty spotted-gum door and the turntable immediately grabs your attention. As the first blue notes of Miles Davis resonate through your new home you spy the view from the bath. Glad to have dined at lunch, you have the westering sun for company as you morph into an antipodean version of Giuseppe Di Lampedusa’s Prince of Salina.
But put to rest those pangs of guilt; the accommodation runs offgrid, the bricks are recycled, the worms are feasting and the chooks are laying. The meal is unquestionably a journey of indulgence, yet the produce is predominantly locally sourced. The property has seasonal offerings from 280 fruit trees, a large vegetable garden and pressed olive oil from 110 olive trees below. From this bountiful feast Dan has created an array of degustation delights. You may be treated to a cucumber and lemon myrtle starter, smoked eel sandwich, sumptuous crayfish in a milk skin, local slow-cooked pork, salt grass lamb washed with sweet onion juice and then, to finish, desserts of apricot simmered with honey and vanilla, followed by a tumescent deep-fried parsnip skin.
Even with all the comforts of the room, one is roused by the bush air wafting through the louvres or an urge to explore more as the distant Otway Ranges emerge above the valley mist. The morning sun floods the breakfast courtyard and, in the fields beyond, the restaurant staff are busily foraging for the new day’s fare. The sous chef stokes the outdoor oven in preparation for the day’s loaves. Once the bread dough is proved, the cooler oven slowly roasts locally farmed duck. As the kitchen bustles with activity the apartments’ occupants orientate themselves to their north-facing courtyards for a spread of Birregurra pastries, Brae preserves and juices.
The accommodation project is remarkable yet only the second stage for Jules and Dan. The next step planned is a rural provedore – and who knows what else will be conjured up along the winding track of their collective imagination.