Chasing a Plate dined and stayed at the Royal Mail Hotel as guests of the Royal Mail Hotel and Hatching Communications
It’s hard not to fall in love with this country. The drive to Dunkeld from Melbourne leads you past fertile ochre fields of soil, vast green pastures and lazy, elegant wind farms all set against a backdrop of never-ending blue sky dotted with puffs of clouds. Dunkeld itself, is a tiny town that sits at the southern tip of the Grampians National Park. You feel the angst of the city melt away as you step out of your car and breathe in crisp air and take in the quiet, save for the chirping of birds. If you’re looking to get away from the rat race for a weekend, you could do a whole lot worse.
We’re here to stay and dine at the Royal Mail Hotel, where visitors looking to escape can enjoy a luxe foodie experience in regional Victoria. With accommodation ranging from the deluxe mountain view rooms to cottages at the nearby Mt Sturgeon Station, the Royal Mail is well suited to couples on a romantic weekend as well as families and larger groups.
Check in is flawless and swift and we make our way to our room where the heating has been popped on to ward off the chill. The generous sized room (deluxe mountain view) is furnished in grey, mushroom and white tones and is easy on the eye, as is the spectacular view of Mount Sturgeon from the balcony. It’s a room for relaxing in with a king sized bed, flat screen television, WiFi, complimentary Market Lane coffee and T2 tea together with a welcome gift of house-made hot chocolate mix and marshmallow. The bathroom is equally comfortable and equipped with a rain head shower and Appelles bath products.
It’s tempting to kick off our shoes and sink into the wide armchairs but we venture into Dunkeld village to explore. We find a second hand book shop, a small art gallery, the General Store and the Dunkeld Old Bakery where we stop for a cup of tea and slice of chocolate and pear tart. It’s quaint and charming, the epitome of a small country town. And for those keen on hiking, the Royal Mail’s proximity to Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt makes it an ideal starting point. There’s a number of walks within Dunkeld as well as on the Mount Sturgeon property and in the National Park which range in difficulty.
If you have the time, seize the opportunity to learn a bit more about the property and its kitchen. A Wine Collection tour with sommelier Deniz Hardman (there are around 28,000 bottles in the cellar!) and a tour of the kitchen garden are available to guests and we found both hugely enhanced the enjoyment of our meal. Food tastes so much better when you know where it comes from and how it was grown, does it not? Around 70% of the produce for the kitchen comes from the Royal Mail’s organic garden with pest control manned by two friendly ducks. On our visit we taste stevia and wasabi leaves and gawk at the rows of herbs and mountains of pumpkins. They fish for their own yabbies and eels too and there are plans to rear their own meat.
We head to the Royal Mail’s pub which adjoins the dining room for a handle of Season’s Harvest (lemon verbena and pink peppercorn) before dinner. The heat from the open fire is inviting and it’s the ideal spot to while away an afternoon. The menu looks good too, think spiced crisp whitebait with tarragon mayonnaise as bar snacks and beer battered flathead or bangers and mash with Yorkshire pud if you’re feeling hungry.
Most guests who stay are here to eat in the Royal Mail’s dining room where a five or eight course tasting menu is offered. The dining room is full when we arrive. The carpeted space is understated and comfortable with tables arranged so that diners feel as though they’re in their own world. The meal starts off with a bang with some small bites. Linseed crackers with lovage butter and flowers, pumpkin crisps with manchego and a beef and artichoke explosion. Two amuse follow, one of which, the bone marrow, is spectacular. A smoked eel cream is piped onto the bone and garnished with glazed eel, mushroom gel, capers, sweet pickled onion and potato puffs. It tastes like the most intense roast beef.
We eat Port Fairy squid and delicate lamb tongue before moving on to melt in your mouth John Dory. The next course, the suckling pig has a thin crackling that shatters in your mouth before the layer of fat and meat makes itself known. It’s delicious. The Sher Waguyu sirloin is cooked to perfection and is rivaled by the glossy, intense mushroom ketchup.
Amuse: ‘Green eggs and ham’: nettle custard, bacon foam, scrambled eggs, coppa cola, brioche
Amuse: Bone marrow: smoked and glazed eel, mushroom gel, crispy capers, potato puffs, pickled onion
Port fairy squid, medlar, meadowsweet
2009 Alvaro Castro ‘Reserva branco’ Encruzado, Dao, Portugal
Garden parsnip, lamb tongue, parsley cheesecake
2014 Brokenwood Pinot Gris, Beechworth, Victoria
John Dory, cauliflower, chestnut emulsion
NV Paul Bara ‘Grand Rose’ Grand Cru, Bouzy, France
Suckling pig, yam, acorn, chard
2011 Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico DOCG Sangiovese blend, Tuscany, Italy
Sher wagyu F1 7+ sirloin, pine mushroom ketchup, carrot, nettle
2005 Restif Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarra Valley, Victoria
The meal gets better and better as we progress through the courses. The ‘Grampians Pure’ sheep milk sorbet is tart and creamy, complemented by the sweet, brilliant red beetroot dust and freeze dried segments of mandarin. The quark cheesecake with nettle, buttermilk ice-cream and lemon doesn’t look like much but is soft and rich, the nettle gel offering a lively bitterness to the dessert. We finish with doughnuts. The small balls of sugar dusted fried dough are swiped through the puddles of ginger gel and enjoyed with mouthfuls of vibrant quince. A great ending.
‘Grampians pure’ sheeps milk, beetroot, mandarin, raspberry
Quark cheesecake, nettle, buttermilk, lemon
2012 Royal Tokaji co. Furmint blend, Tokaj, Hungary
Poached quince, ginger, doughnuts, Japanese pepper
Amaro Montenegro, Emiglia Romagna, Italy
Throughout the meal we’ve travelled the world through our wine from Portugal, the Yarra Valley, Hungary to France (the champagne match with the fish was stunning). If you can stretch to the wine match deferring to the sommelier’s wisdom is the way to go. The staff are knowledgable and friendly, happy to engage in conversation with anecdotes about the wine you’re being served or the dish that’s been placed in front of you. You’ll find yourself well looked after.
The beauty of staying at the Royal Mail Hotel is that your room is only a stumble away from the dining room when you have a full belly. We roll into bed and drift away to the blissful sound of silence.
The eating continues the next morning where breakfast is included for guests and can be taken in the dining room between 8:00am and 10:00am. Cereal, juice, tea or coffee and a choice from the menu means you’ll be well equipped for the drive home. There’s plenty to choose from including toasted crumpets, a continental platter and buttermilk pancakes with pancetta. I opt for the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs whilst TBS can’t go past the eggs benedict with smoked ham hock.
Both choices prove to be good. The 63 degree eggs in the benedict perch atop shredded ham hock and are drizzled with hollandaise. It’s a classic executed well. The smoked salmon and scrambled eggs arrived on two slices of buttered toast and are a generous serve. The eggs are creamy and rich but I find the smoked salmon on the salty side.
We end our stay with a stroll around the Royal Mail boardwalk and spot a giant kangaroo having a morning nibble in the field and a couple of wallabies lazing under trees.
We jump into the car with regret. Dunkeld is a special part of Victoria and it’s worth making the trip out here. A stay at the Royal Mail will provide an inspiring, peaceful and utterly relaxing break, this is one getaway to put on your list.
Good to know:
5 course chef’s tasting menu $115 per person
8 course chef’s tasting menu $160 per person
Accompanying wines $120 per person
Deluxe rooms from $245 per night
Royal Mail Hotel
98 Parker Street
Telephone: +61 3 5577 2241
Images: Thomas Southam
The Royal Mail is holding an exclusive event on Friday 23 October 2015, the Langtons Exceptional Wine Dinner on. Six courses, eight wines, overnight accommodation and breakfast for just $450.00 per person. Click here for more details…