Wine, dine and camp at Brown Brothers
Planning a gourmet road trip to Victoria’s High Country, including wine tasting, dining in a hatted restaurant and a free RV camp nearby, where to rest your head after a long lunch? Look no further than Brown Brothers Winery and Restaurant in Milawa.
The history of Brown Brothers wines goes back to 1885, when a young John Francis Brown planted 10 acres of Riesling, Muscat and Shiraz grapes on the family property at Milawa in the King River Valley. Thus started one of Australia’s largest and oldest privately owned wine companies.
By the time I first visited the winery in 1993, Brown Brothers had celebrated 100 years of winemaking, established a popular cellar door, tasting room and the Kindergarten Winery- a mini sized winery where experimental and innovative wines can be made on a smaller scale. Being total wine newbies, Mr T and I sampled everything on offer and filled the car with boxes of riesling, muscat and port!
It would be another 28 years before our return, in December 2021. By then, new wine varieties were on offer and the tasting room had expanded to include the restaurant and wine bar, now called Patricia’s Table after the family’s matriarch.
The cellar door was more sophisticated than I remembered. Tastings were seated and guided by a host who takes you thru the most popular varietals, premium and /or vintage wines ( all sessions incur a fee, from $10 to $20, depending on what type of wines you want to taste ). Again we piled the boot of the car with boxes, though this time we carted premium Sparkling from the Patricia range and experimental Fiano, thanks to our better educated palate.
We didn’t try the restaurant then, as it was late in the afternoon and we were due for dinner in nearby Bright. But as I watched people enjoying what appeared to be a very long and enjoyable lunch in the shaded terrace, I vowed to return if only to dine.
Never thought it would be so soon, but as we found ourselves booked to attend the Australian Adventure Film Festival in Bright earlier this year, I promptly added Brown Brothers lunch on the itinerary. In fact, I rearranged said itinerary around, so that we could secure the last seating on a Monday ( we were driving from Canberra where we spent the weekend).
Then we found out that the winery provides a free RV camping area for self contained vehicles. So if that’s not the stars aligning, I don’t know what is.
We parked the GX in the designated area and walked across the road to the sprawling complex. By-passing the cellar door this time, we head to the restaurant which, by the way, is no longer called Patricia and has recently been awarded a hat at The Age Good Food Guide Awards 2023.
Headed by chef Bodee Price and his team, Brown Brothers Restaurant offers a set degustation menu, comprising of 10 savoury plates. Fresh produce, minimal waste and sustainability are a big part of the kitchen’s ethos. Because of this and the restaurant’s ability to recycle food, the menu here is highly evolving and can change daily.
This is reitared by our waiter, who explains how every dish is designed using ingredients sourced from the kitchen gardens behind the cellar door, often that very morning. She is friendly and knowledgeable,. So much so that we leave the wine pairing to her ( Brown Brothers premium of course! )
We start with the house baked sourdough and garden “waste” oil. The bread is very crispy on the outside and deliciously soft on the inside. We dip it in the oh-so tasty olive oil, infused with leftover onion skins, hence the “waste” description…
The first four dishes come together on separate plates.
Some are very dainty and refreshing, like the radish topped with whipped sunflower cream and sunflower seeds.
As is the cucumber with whipped cod roe and grapes. This is such a pretty dish, with the little cucumber boats holding a spoonful of creamy roe and thinly sliced grapes. A cucumber flower finishes it off..
The garden fritters with pickled beetroot and pepper berry miso are more substantial. Filled with vegetables from the garden, I am stealing the idea to use any excess greens from now on.
The puffed tendon dish is the most intriguing of them all. Beef tendons are crisped up like chips and served with a thin slice of home cured beef bresaola, some jersey ricotta and julienned black radish.
These are paired with a glass of Patricia Pinot Noir & Chardonnay Sparkling.
The second round of dishes arrive and I can’t help thinking how green they all are. This is a masterclass on how to make the most of vegetables.
The Hiramasa kingfish is thinly sliced and served raw with equally thin slices of burnt avocado, buttermilk and fermented wasabi sauce. It is light, tangy yet satisfying.
The venison pastrami is hidden under turnip leaves, and sits atop macadamia sauce and some bush curry sauerkraut. It is a very flavourful and delicious dish, I particularly love the unctuous sauce.
The vegetarian offering consists of an eggplant, halved and roasted till tender, topped with a very generous sprinkle of hemp seeds, crips baked saltbush leaves on a bed of smoked yoghurt. A drizzle of hemp oil around the plate adds more green to the plate. I really wanted to like this dish but I’m afraid the hemp flavour was too strong, and my palate ended up confused.
These were served with a lovely glass of Fiano, one of the varietal grown in the micro-winery.
After a breather, it is time for the third and final course, consisting of two mains and a side dish.
One is free range chicken breasts, served with pine nut sauce, nduja, diced fennel and green olives. The chicken is supremely tender and flavourful, with the nduja lending a spicy kick to it.
The beef dish is a sliced piece of flank steak, cooked medium rare, served on a bed of artichoke cream, topped with smoked tomatoes and charred okras. I would describe it as a robust dish, compared to the chicken. I am not in love with it, but don’t mind it either. In fact I think it pairs well with the Patricia Shiraz we’re sipping on.
The side dish is zucchini ribbons and rapini salad, with a light lemon and olive oil dressing under a cloud of shredded house cheese. I could eat this everyday!
Dessert is not included in the set menu but is available should you still have room for something extra. We feel pretty full, but are quite keen to see what Chef Bodee and his team have come up with for sweets.
Mr T’s curiosity is piqued by the Shiraz lees ice cream, chocolate soil, charred orange and kipfler potato crisps. I taste every element separately at first, they taste great. Then have a mouthful of the whole thing together, and I am quite surprised how all the flavours melt well together. My tastebuds are somewhat confused, but in a good way.
However, my favourite, hands down, is the smoked chocolate covered chicken skin with mountain pepper salt. Sounds weird but hear me out. A piece of chicken skin is first baked dry and cooled in the fridge. Then it is dipped into dark chocolate, sprinkled with salt and pepper and set aside in the freezer to set. It is served as an individual “chip”. It is mind bending but so good, like having a party in your mouth. I am craving it as I write.
By then, it is late afternoon. Our table is the last one standing and we are very glad we don’t have to drive anywhere for the rest of the day. We dawdle across the road to the comfort of our GX, stretching in our camp chairs with nothing planned other than a nap and watch the sunset over the vines.
Note: Set Lunch $75 per person, plus dessert $20. Wine pairing $8-$18 per glass depending on the wine