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To celebrate our first wedding anniversary, Mr M and I decided to head to the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld. Being the slightly anally retentive person that I am, I booked our get away 6 months in advance. This ended up being quite fortuitous, as the Royal Mail later won The Age’s Restaurant of the Year and Gourmet Traveller’s Regional Restaurant of the Year and bookings became even harder to come by.

The restaurant offers degustation menus, you can choose from menu vegetarian ($110) or menu omnivore ($150 per person). The wine list is extensive and is also award winning, it won the Gourmet Traveller 2010 Reader’s Choice Award for winelist of the year. Faced with an abundance of choice on the wine front, we took the easy way out and opted for matched wines ($110 per person).

Our first course was sea salad with lemon and lychee, it was paired with a 2008 Gerard Boulay ‘Chavignol’ Sancerre:


At the base was a piece of squid, topped with samphire, dehydrated lemon and the lychee foam. The briney, salty flavour of the samphire, really gave the dish the flavour of the sea and the foam was reminiscent of the waves crashing on the shore. I liked the texture and the intensity of the dehydrated lemon. Very interesting.

Next was jerusalem artichoke, black truffle, triple cream, paired with NV Ca’ Del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Prestige:


The roasted exterior of the artichoke gave way to the earthiness of the truffle cream. The lightly seared spring onion was a nice counterpoint to the richness of the artichoke.

Next, john dory, burnt celeriac, mustard, pomegranate:


This was paired with two wines from Alsace, France (lucky us!), a 1996 Kuentz-Baz ‘ Pfersigberg’ Riesling and a 1997 Hugel ‘hommage a jean hugel’ Gewurztraminer. I preferred the minerally riesling on its own, but thought that the Gewurztraminer worked best with the fish. The delicate john dory sat atop the mustard seeds, smokey charred celeriac and the firm, juicy and tart pomegranate.

Next was a course I had read so much about – egg yolk, toasted rye, legumes, yeast (served with a 2005 Bannockburn Chardonnay):


This course was an amalgam of textures and I loved the nuttiness of the legumes.

Next, Hapuku, brassicas, chicken broth and skin (served with 1987 Rothbury Estate Pinot Noir – a wine that is pretty similar in age to me!):


I was quite impressed that the crispy wafer leaning against the fish was actually made from chicken skin. The chicken broth was quite strong but didn’t overpower the fish (which had been flown in from New Zealand).

Next was  one of the most memorable dishes of the night, eel, beef tendon, kohlrabi, potato (served with 2004 Chateau Lafleur-Gazin):


I ate quite a lot of eel when visiting Japan a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed the delicate texture and smokey-ness of the eel here. The gel like substance in the photo was the slow cooked (sous vide) beef tendon, which had taken on a gelatinous, unctuous texture. It worked well against the firmness of the turnips and potato.

Next up was the most ‘main’ dish of the night,  lamb, eggplant in white miso, pine nut, chlorophyll (served with 2005 Best’s Pinot Meunier):


I liked that the dish evoked a forest, with the white miso as a fallen log, chlorophyl grass and the lamb representing a tree trunk. As you can see from the photo, the lamb was perfectly cooked (I presume also sous vide) but had a nicely browned exterior. The salty miso was a good foil against the richness of the lamb and the freshness of the chlorophyl, with some nuts for texture, this was a great dish.

We moved to a palate cleanser, rhubarb, licorice, almond, citrus:


I just thought this was so stunningly beautiful. That tile of rhubarb was actually several pieces placed next to one another. The tart rhubarb and the aniseed worked very well together, with the citrus adding some nice acidity and freshness. Texturally it was interesting too, with the soft but firm rhubarb and crunch of the almonds. Those flowers are so pretty too!

The next dish threw me just a little, banana in szechuan pepper, coconut and cocoa ice (served with 2003 Gandia Fusta Nova Moscatel):


This was a real surprise. While looking at the dish, the upper coating has the appearance of something dry like brown sugar, it was actually shaved ice. I expected it to taste sweet and dry, but the cocoa ice melted in the mouth. Hidden under the cocoa ice was the szechuan pepper laced banana, and under that, the coconut ice. Taking a bite of all the elements, the sweet caramelised banana had a kick of spice, which was softened by the coconut and cocoa ice that melted in the mouth. Such a fun dish to eat and the highlight of the night for me (yes, I love sweet things).

On to more lovely sweet things, Mr M and I ate different desserts, due to me being wheat-free. Mr M was served the pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate with NV Sanchez Romate Cream Sherry:


The wheaty element of the dish was the pistachio cake, but I stole a taste of the other elements, the hazelnut parfait, crunchy honeycomb nuggets and chocolate straws. Yum.

Instead, I was served fresh and dried berries, beetroot, black olive and rose, which worked very well with the ruby, 2008 Marenco ‘pineto’ Branchetto D’acqui which had hints of rose:


This was another fun dish to eat, with lots of interesting components from a textural and flavour standpoint. The dehydrated berry powder almost had a sherbert quality to them. Then there was the crunchy, intense almost aerated texture of the whole dried berries and the contrast of lush juicy fresh berries. To cut through all that sweetness, there was a sourness from the beetroot and sheeps milk yoghurt ice-cream as well as an earthiness from the dehydrated beetroot. Awesome.

What a meal!

The next day, we awoke in our Mountain View room (though it was sadly sans Mountain view due to fog). We stocked up on continental breakfast at the hotel (highlights were Grampians sheeps milk yoghurt and stewed fruits) before Mr M insisted on going for a bushwalk to Mount Picanninny. I was none too pleased about walking in the fog and rain, but the foliage was stunning and we saw some beautiful wildflowers:

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We even saw a furry little friend:


On our way back through Dunkeld the fog had lifted and the imposing Mount Sturgeon was clearly visible:


All in all, it was an incredible meal and a lovely night away from the city in some really beautiful countryside. The Royal Mail is highly, highly recommended and you should definitely try to get out there, so long as you can get a booking!


Royal Mail Hotel
98 Parker Street (Glenelg Hwy), Dunkeld, VIC
Ph:(03) 5577 2241

Royal Mail Hotel on Urbanspoon


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10 Responses to “The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld: phenomenal”

  1. Christy says:

    Good to see you liked it as much as us Em! You even went on the same morning-after walk that we did 🙂 Good times!

  2. Hannah says:

    If there’s ever a time for a dinner to be spectacular, it’d be your anniversary! Congratulations!

    And now I’d like to kidnap someone and request those desserts as ransom.

  3. Yen says:

    Oh – I was at the Royal Mail on Friday 22 October and this is almost the exact meal I had.
    Although my John Dory had nashi instead of pomegrante, and our matched wines were different to what you had.
    But without a doubt, an amazing meal.

  4. Congratulations on your 1st Anniversary. What a beautiful and special meal (and winelist! Tres jealous) to celebrate.

  5. This place looks unbelievable! the food is amazing. congrats onyour 1st anniversary too. Ive never heard of Dunkeld before, so i’ll have to look it up

  6. Catherine says:

    Oh I’ve always wanted to go but the long trek from the city deterred me. I may follow your example and make a booking for a celebratory dinner sometime next year 🙂 Congrats on your one year anni!

  7. CAn’t wait … driving and staying over in December….

  8. Hi Emily,
    We’re so glad you enjoyed your time with us in Dunkeld and that you made the trek out to the national park for a wander as well. It really is a highlight of a stay here, and always worth the effort. Hope to see you again some time soon.

  9. Emily says:

    Christy: Yes it was a lovely time, and while going bushwalking in the rain isn’t really my thing, it was really beautiful.

    Hannah: I know! I have such a sweet tooth too and those desserts were so delicious, but not too heavy or cloying. I really want to have that cocoa and banana dessert again. Amazing.

    Yen: How funny. I actually went about a month ago (bad blogger!). Makes sense on the change with the John Dory as pomegranate has just gone out of season in Australia now (the ones available at the moment are from California). I guess the Nashi would add that same burst of freshness, but without a sourness. Interesting. Such a fun time!

    My restaurants: Yes Dunkeld is an out of the way place, and stunningly beautiful. The Royal Mail is absolutely worth the drive!

    Catherine: Thanks. While the drive is quite long its not a difficult one and the scenery is pretty nice. We broke up the drive with a stop in Ballarat for lunch which helped. Royal Mail also has stay/fly packages if you want to do it in style and forego the drive!!!

    Penny: Lucky you! I look forward to hearing what you think about it, and of course, seeing how the menu changes for Summer. Such fun…

    J: The walk was so beautiful and the wildflowers were pretty spectacular. I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that I am not a ‘natural’ bushwalker. Most importantly, we had such a lovely meal, thanks to all of you.

  10. Thanh says:

    I don’t think I’ve read a bad review of this place yet. It looks like a must visit place, hope I can get there soon.

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