What Dan Hunter did next

The outgoing Royal Mail Hotel chef speaks to GT's Michael Harden about the eatery he's about to open and why he left Australia's highest-profile regional restaurant.

"Creatively, I just want to be in charge," explains Dan Hunter of his newest venture. "I don't want to have to be considering external factors that don't necessarily help the operation, or always having to consider what someone else thinks. This is about running something that's a true reflection of my ambition and personality."

Hunter, the Australian-born, Mugaritz-trained chef who brought international acclaim to regional Victoria's Royal Mail Hotel, is talking about Brae, formerly Sunnybrae, the restaurant and cooking school run for decades by paddock-to-plate pioneer George Biron.

While working for someone else was partly the reason for change, it was also about having to accommodate three different outlets - plus regular functions - at the Royal Mail. "I really wanted to put all that effort into just one outlet," he says.

Hunter had been looking for his own place for a couple of years, but with some fairly specific requirements - room for vegetable gardens and to build accommodation, and somewhere that wasn't more than 90 minutes from Melbourne ("this is a touch over that, but it's pretty close"). When he heard that Biron was looking to sell Sunnybrae, everything fell into place.

"The garden was really important," Hunter says. "The beauty of this property is that they've treated [the land] organically for 25 years, so we can open and be operating with a garden straightaway."

That means by the end of the year, after the house is given a major renovation. "Something a little more contemporary," he says, courtesy of business partners the McCorkell Brown Group in collaboration with Six Degrees architect James Legge. Purpose-built accommodation is on the cards, but will not be part of the package until the end of 2014.

Until the accommodation becomes available, Hunter says the opening hours will be as much about lunch (Friday to Monday) as dinner (Thursday to Sunday). The food at those meals will, he says, be "stylistically similar" to what he cooked at the Royal Mail. "I'll be focusing as much on produce and product as technique, as always, and just extending a little bit."

He says he doesn't intend to go backwards creatively or offer a simplified version of the cooking for which he's become known "just because it's too hard. I think there's an opportunity in Australia to have the highest quality dining experience in a regional area, to have a regionally focused, but internationally recognised restaurant".


Newsletter

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
Catch Borago chef Rodolfo Guzman in Australia next month
19.10.2017
Firedoor launches Sunday brunch series
18.10.2017
Donovan Cooke opens new restaurant Ryne in Melbourne
10.10.2017
KingFish opens, sampling poke, hip-hop and matcha treats
07.09.2017
Bridge Bon Appetit, the latest addition to Hubert, opens tonight
06.09.2017
Get to know Orana, Australia's Restaurant of the Year 2018
25.08.2017
GT
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for fresh dinner ideas? Not sure how to make the most out of seasonal produce? Or do you need to plan the perfect party menu? Our recipe collections have you covered.

See more

You might also like...

Australian chefs to follow on Instagram in 2013

There are a lot of food shots on Instagram: the good, the ba...

Where our chefs want to eat

We asked Australia's leading chefs to name the restaurants t...

Hot 100 2015 - Restaurant news

The world is getting hotter and we’re not talking about glob...

What the hell is Gelinaz anyway, and why is it shuffling?

On the eve of the second outing of one of the world’s strang...

Nahm named best restaurant in Asia

The 2014 50 Best Restaurants in Asia were unveiled this week...

Restaurants cooking with seaweed

With its complexity in flavour and texture, seaweed is the c...

On the pass

Tell us about Tomahawk’s menu, Ali...

S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015

A mighty fine plate of beef short ribs with roast celery vin...

Dan Barber talks sustainable food

Farm-to-table is a neat catchcry but, argues Dan Barber, one...

Alessandro Pavoni, Ormeggio, Sydney

You’ve just released your first cookbook, a tribute to Lomba...

The 2016 GT Restaurant Guide Top 100

Here's the list of our 2016 Restaurant Guide Top 100. How ma...

First look: 108 at Noma, Copenhagen

Rene Redzepi may be headed to Sydney next month, but he's ba...

Dear Sainte Eloise to open in Potts Point

Sydney’s new wine bar is going back to basics.

Party-starting playlists

Music is a key ingredient that can turn your party from good...

Grant Achatz interview

Pat Nourse talks to the chef of Chicago’s Alinea ahead of hi...