It was recently my 29th birthday and D and I headed to the Royal Mail Hotel for a long weekend to celebrate the occasion. Located in Dunkeld in the southern Grampians, about three and a half hours west of Melbourne, the Royal Mail Hotel has a reputation for superb food, and a wine cellar that exceeds many people’s wildest dreams; 20,000+ bottles ranging from the 1975 Penfold’s Grange to unopened crates of Bordeaux.
As we were staying two nights, we booked in for dinner at the bistro on the first night and the restaurant on the second. There is a bit to this post, so I’ve divided it up into three sections – the bistro, the restaurant and the hotel itself.
Located off to the side of the restaurant, the bistro is the middle tier of dining (for want of a better term) at the hotel. The food is moderately priced and the menu is a-la-carte. We each had a three course meal.
For entrée I had ham hock pressed with orange and parsley, grilled cos heart, cider mayonnaise while D had salmon smoked over vines, warm potato salad, hen’s egg and rocket.
Both meals were delicious, well portioned and got us off to a good start!
For main, I had slow cooked suckling pig, nashi and turnip, shallot and black mustard pickle and D had duck and calamari, melon, grilled cucumber, coastal plants.
The suckling pig was delicious – tender with a thin layer of crispy skin, whilst the crunchy nashi and turnip offset the tenderness of the pork beautifully.
From D: My duck was sublime – pink, juicy, full of flavour. The melon provided freshness and sweetness and the calamari was cooked to perfection.
We shared a bottle of the 2009 Eric Bordelet ‘poire granit’ cider that we drank over the entrée and main courses; D found it overly sweet and lacking bite or complexity, but it matched my double-pig meal rather well!
For dessert I had the hazelnut mousse, chocolate and honeycomb and D had the warm pear and quince tart with vanilla anglaise.
The hazelnut mousse was out of this world good – think Nutella mousse. There was also a lot of it. The honeycomb was exquisite and the best honeycomb I’ve ever had.
From D: This was some of the thinnest pastry I’ve ever had. The delicate flavours in the tart were over-powered by the anglaise, leaving me a little underwhelmed, but overall a nice end to a lovely meal.
On our second night we ate in the restaurant and had the 10 course degustation. We both had the omnivore menu ($170 pp), but as I don’t eat seafood, I substituted the fishy dishes for the equivalent from the vegetarian menu, so a few of our courses differed over the night (where they have differed, I’ve indicated this by including a (D) or (L) in the photo caption). We also chose to do the wine match ($115 pp), but as I’m not really a wine drinker, my match was tailored more to my tastes – I told them I really only liked sweet white wine and that cider and cocktails were ok. I have listed the wine match D had with each meal only. So, here we go, a course-by-course commentary …
Wine: NV Ulysse Collin “blanc de blancs” (Champagne, France)
Somewhere between amuse-bouche and a course of their own, three little items to get you started. The rice paper was light and delicious, the pork sandwich (made with pig’s tail) was delicious and the chicken crisp was a piece of wonderfully crisp chicken skin. D thought the chicken crisp was too salty, but then he does have a low tolerance for salt.
Wine: NV Sanchez Romate Palo Cortado (Jerez, Spain)
The radishes were the surprise star of this dish; we all know what good pancetta is like, but the radishes added crunch and an unexpected sweetness.
Wine: 2010 Cantine Giardino “Volpe di Rosa” (Campania, Italy)
My dish featured a variety of tomatoes and a variety of different basil leaves. I had no idea there were so many kinds of basil. Each mouthful was wonderfully different!
From D: Rare prawn (think tartare) is not something I expect to see on a plate. But Dan Hunter knows what he’s doing, and it tasted good. The ice provided a real contrast in both texture and temperature (everything else on the plate was served at room-temperature). The rosé was like no other rose I’ve ever had – cloudy, deep in colour (closer to a pinot noir than your typical rosé) and absolutely delicious. A perfect match.
Wine: 2008 Dalwhinnie “Moonambel” Chardonnay (Pyrenees, Victoria)
This meal was just about the highlight of the savoury courses for me. A roasted Jerusalem artichoke filled with triple cream brie that oozed out once you cut into it. Heaven.
From D: This is the first of the dishes in the degustation that shared key themes with dishes in the bistro. Instead of smoked salmon and rocket, there’s salt cod and fish crackling. The salad is the same – creamy and delicious – and whilst the salt cod was nothing special, the crackling was fantastic. And for someone who doesn’t like Chardonnay at all, the Dalwhinnie is good enough that I’d buy it if I saw it at a reasonable price at Dan Murphy’s.
Wine: 2010 Crawford River Riesling (Henty, Victoria)
This was probably my least favourite dish of the night. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with it, and it was certainly beautifully presented, but a plate full of veggies just doesn’t really excite me.
From D: Move along, nothing to see here. A solid dish, a good wine (Crawford River are one of the highest-regarded Australian Riesling producers for a reason) but overall, a course that didn’t distinguish itself with flavour, texture or adventurousness.
Wine: 2007 Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy, France)
This dish surprised me. Not only was the soup a beautiful pink/red colour (the photo does it NO justice), it was full of flavour.
From D: I’ve not eaten a lot of eel, and I’m now in a quandary – I like it, but can I trust someone without three hats to cook it well? Bone marrow I can take or leave, but the pickled vegetables carried on the excellence established by the earlier radish and impressed. A superb wine to round out a really good course.
Wine: 1998 Majella “The Malleea” Cabernet-Shiraz (Coonawarra, South Australia)
Here our courses came back together. We knew from the bistro that the duck would be fantastic, and it was. Cooked to perfection, this would have to be the best duck we’ve had in a long time.
From D: Frankly, it didn’t matter what was on the plate, because a fourteen-year old Coonawarra Cabernet-Shiraz was always going to steal the show. The 1999 vintage is priced at $179 on the wine list, and I now understand why some people are prepared to pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of wine (but can’t say that I am). A brilliant match, and a highlight of the degustation.
No matched wine
This dish intrigued me. It still does. I have no idea what they did to the apple to get it to look like that! However, there were lovely flavours spanning sweet, salty, nutty and subtle-flowery. There were a nice mix of textures and this course provided a nice transition from savoury to sweet.
Wine: 2009 Telmo Rodriguez “Mr” (Malaga, Spain)
Plum? Yum. Aniseed? Yum. Pumpkin? Not our thing. Pieces of plum, a syrup of plum and aniseed, depth of flavour and nicely matched with the wine … but the quenelle of pumpkin ice-cream just felt out-of-place and managed to bring the whole dish down a bit. If you love pumpkin, or even like it, you may have enjoyed this dish more than we did.
Wine: 2003 Pondalowie Vintage Port (Bendigo, Victoria)
This was a variation on the dessert I had in the bistro, and it was seriously good. Here the hazelnut was a sorbet and there was an added flavour of a pistachio ‘cake’ that is hidden under chocolate at the back of the photo. The texture of the ‘cake’ is really good. And it works in combination with the rest. This was the highlight of the deserts for us.
Overall, dinner was divine. Fantastic food, brilliant matched wines (and not-wines), a lovely ambience and service that is spot-on. In fact, they pride themselves on synchronised and simultaneous placing of plates on the table. When we win the lottery, we’ll be back!
We stayed in a deluxe mountain view room that was nice – the bed was comfortable, water pressure in the HUGE shower was great and the heating was great. Continental breakfast was also included. Was it worth $380 a night? Probably not in my opinion, and a garden view room would’ve been sufficient at almost 1/2 the price.
I did a short walk around the gardens which was lovely.
D did a cellar tour on the Saturday before dinner in the restaurant and was a bit in awe of the place. He came back mumbling things about wine fridges and needing more wine racks … Upon checking out we realised the cellar tour was an extra $15. Not a huge amount in the context of things, but given how much were spending there over the two days, I thought that was a bit rich to charge for it. Surely something like that should be included?
Here’s some photos from the cellar.
A big thanks to the Royal Mail Hotel for a great weekend.
Royal Mail Hotel
98 Parker Street (Glenelg Highway)
Dunkeld, Victoria 3294
Ph: (03) 5577 2241