Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Royal Mail Hotel-Dunkeld, Southern Grampians

Mount Stapleton

I've been away for the last 4 days having the time of my life at the Grampians with Mr HSH and a close group of friends. We had an awesome time traversing the forbidden trail from Mount Stapleton to Mount Hollow. We also visited the always popular Pinnacles trek at Halls Gap and enjoyed a less scary time navigating the Grand Canyon, Silent Street and finally the Pinnacles.

In between our adventures in the rugged outdoors, Mr HSH and I found some time to enjoy some fine dining at the Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld.

The Royal Mail Hotel is located about 1 hours drive from Halls Gap, which was where we were staying. We drove through deserted country roads for an hour, watching out the window for any signs of kangaroos (you do not want to hit one of these going 100km/hr), before finally arriving safely at the restaurant.

The Royal Mail Hotel was very different from the other small town businesses located in Dunkeld. It was almost out of place in an otherwise sleepy township. Nonetheless, the minute we arrived, we were served with the same professionalism and efficiency that any big city restaurant would have provided.

We opted for the Omnivore degustation which was $170 per head. We did not go with matching wines, instead choosing to share two large bottles of ciders between the 3 of us. 

A copy of the menu
Limitless supply of sourdough-rye or wholewheat with smokey butter. 

We were first presented with two different types of sourdough bread, served with smokey butter. Admittedly, although nice enough, I found the bread a bit heavy and dense. I would have preferred something a bit lighter pre dinner. The butter was nice, but I did not detect any smokiness within it's buttery goodness.

rice paper, finger lime and salmon roe
rainbow trout, coffee, black treacle, and chicken crisp.

The amuse bouche was interesting but lacking the wow factor. However, I did particularly like the rainbow trout, coffee and black treacle. I believe, the Chicken crisp was simply fried chicken skin and I suspect that many people who don't like eating skin, will not enjoy this part of the meal.

tomato and prawn, cinnamon basil, daikon ice
egg yolk and new potatoes, salt cod, fish crackling
pancetta and spanner crab, rye cream, candied radish
The entrees were all very pleasant. I found the tomato and prawn, cinnamon basil, daikon ice especially delicious and refreshing. The other two entrees were all of very high quality. However, one thing I found with a lot of the dishes at the Royal Mail Hotel which I would regard as a fault, was that, some of  the produce/key ingredient was very hard to detect in the dish. For example, I couldn't find the spanner crab anywhere in the last entree. Nor did I know that I had salt cod with the egg yolk and new potatoes, fish crackling. Anyway, not a big issue, but I found myself often puzzled through the meal as I tried to find the ingredients named. However, perhaps this mysterious element was one of the appeals of the meal.

Sand flathead and tomatillo, mustard, toasted nori
eel and bone marrow, eggplant, pickled vegetables
Pigeon, salsify and medlar, cabbage braised in pecorino
Again, the mains were of equally high quality. My favourite was the pigeon which was perfectly cooked. The sand flathead, although beautifully cooked, lacked seasoning and flavour to me. The eel and bone marrow was nice, but I could not find the eel anywhere in the dish. I suspect, the chefs have become some culinary skilled that sometimes this gets away with them and the true star of the dish is lost in the process of molecular gastronomey.

fallen fruit; apple, almond, caramel, chamomile
quice and coffee, pumpkin, plum, aniseed
pitachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate
Lastly, the desserts. I observe a deliberate process to transition the customer from the savoury to sweet as the first dessert-fallen fruit was more savoury than sweet. This is then followed by the quince (which looked more like scallops) and a gorgeous scope of pumpkin ice cream and finally the pitachio and hazelnut, honeycomb and chocolate. As I have a sweet tooth, I found the more traditional dessert at the very end of the meal the most appealing.

We had wonderful service the Royal Mail Hotel. The restaurant is quite simple and had modern decor. The dishes were generally well paced and we felt we had time to eat and breathe and chat inbetween courses. The wait staff was efficient but non obtrusive. Whilst at the restaurant on Sunday 3rd of June, there were some issues with the fire place, causing some leakage of smoke into the dining area. I thought the smoke I was smelling was due to the chefs cooking the pigeon! Little did I know. However, I did notice the wait staff repeatedly opening the front door which I thought was odd. Also, we had lots of cold air rushing into the otherwise warm room.

At the end of the night, we were happy to find that 10 percent have been taken off our bill for the fireplace mishap.We were also pleasant surprised that our friend who asked for sparkling water, was not charged for this service.

Overall, I can highly recommend the Royal Mail Hotel as a foodies location.  Despite the flaws I have mentioned, the food were all of very high quality. Each dish was gloriously presented and impeccable. It was a labour of love indeed from the chefs in the kitchen. I have nothing to complain about, nor did any of the dishes wow me or sent me raving to others. If you are in the area, it is certainly worth the visit but I probably will not be visiting again due to the distance. It was a meal I thoroughly enjoyed, but not one that I will reminise.

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