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Royal Mail: Dunkeld, Victoria

By:
Michelle Tchea
 

Where Is It: The Southern Grampians in Victoria.

Why Go: Rural fine dining at its best.

Best For: Couples on a romantic weekend away.

Three Things We Loved: The wine list, the kitchen garden, the fresh flavours.

The Ultimate Factor: The artful presentation.

Overview:

The Royal Mail Hotel is owned by Australian Allan Myers, one of the country’s wealthiest commercial lawyers and president of the National Gallery of Victoria’s trustees. Set in the small town Dunkeld, with a population of just 460, it’s approximately a three-hour drive from Melbourne, offering a luxury experience in Southern Grampians for both foodies and art lovers. This is a restaurant which speaks for itself, along with its self-professed ‘luxury’ hotel rooms, which offer clean, crisp rooms a few hours out of Melbourne CBD.

The restaurant has very popular over time, however, gaining the attention of internationally foodies such as Anthony Bourdain when Chef Dan Hunter (now Chef and owner at Brae), set the bar high with his contemporary Aussie cuisine in rural Victoria. Australia’s best collection of Bordeaux and burgundy are also on offer here, among 2200 varieties of wine. The property has been awarded The Age Good Food and Wine Best Restaurant, as well awarded two-hats in 2015.

The Decor:

Arriving for dinner on a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was 60 per cent full. The space feels very clean, like many Michelin-rated restaurants in Europe: white table cloths, murmurs from nearby tables, and of course the indulgent silence of diners enjoying and savouring their meal. As you enter the dining room, past the reception of the hotel, you must make you way to the restaurant reception, oddly located in the middle of the restaurant and in front of an open kitchen. The restaurant is well designed and smartly built, during the entire dinner, I never heard a single spoon drop or salt shake from the expert chefs.

The Menu And Wine List:

The primary experience of the Royal Mail Hotel Restaurant is the Chef’s Tasting Menu. Following the long hour drive, I opted for the ultimate, the eight-course tasting menu, but there is also the option of five courses, or simply ordering à la carte. If you’re dining with friends, you have to choose and decide on one menu only, though. Chef Robin Wickens, who’s from the UK, has stepped into some very big shoes following the departure of Chef Dan Hunter, however, he has some fresh ideas to bring to the menu and the restaurant. Following the expansion of the Royal Mail Kitchen Garden, every day Chef Robin and his crew harvest produce that inspire the day’s menu from the organic kitchen garden. The orchards and olive groves provide seasonal produce and eggs from the free range hens are collected daily, but if you really want to enjoy all the produce – in their glory – go for breakfast, where ingredients come out as expected; eggs are eggs.

What We Enjoyed

In the dining room it’s a time to open your mind and allow your senses to be taken over by Chef Robin’s creativity in the kitchen. Presentation is unexpected and plays to the same idea as the art-driven region of Dunkeld; the portions are delicate in the gourmet food world, with flavours delightful and quite strong when they needed to be. However, the small portions are something that is not common in Michelin-rated restaurants in Europe anymore. On this occasion, my tasting menu consisted of sashimi-grade fish presented under organic flowers, which was delicious but so tiny that I couldn’t really decipher what protein I was eating. The pork belly with apple and celeriac which followed was definitely much more ‘meatier’.

Chef Robin’s strength definitely lies in bringing a fresh, new flavor to each dish – I never felt one sauce being used in the same dish. The desserts were not memorable, unfortunately, with many sorbets and crushed dried sorbets to fill up the plate, but at least there was no evidence of the 2014 trend of foam on the plate, which definitely shows Chef Robin’s creativity and innovation. Overall the experience was quite pleasant, and the staff were friendly when they realised I was also talkative, otherwise they were quite stilted to begin with.

The Verdict:

This is an enjoyable dining experience for gourmets, and it’s good to see gourmet food and hospitality coming to rural Victoria for those that look for unique experiences. The restaurant feels like everything is curated, possibly under the influence of owner Allan Myers, who looks like a man of great tastes and a discerning palate.

The Royal Mail Restaurant and Hotel is located at 98 Parker Street, Dunkeld, Victoria 3294, 03 5577 2241, www.royalmail.com.au.

You can read more food and dining reviews by Michelle Tchea at www.cookingjunket.com.

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