Monday, April 1, 2013

Royal Mail Hotel - Dunkeld, Victoria

98 Parker Street, Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia (03) 5577 2241
The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday, the Bistro is open 7 days for lunch 12pm to 2:30pm and dinner 6pm to 9pm

My favourite way to watch a movie is to go in completely cold - without having read a blurb or seen a poster.  This is getting harder and harder to achieve, with massive marketing campaigns for most major releases ruining any chance of surprise or genuine interest in the plot.  To have a story unfold in front of you and find yourself laughing at a joke that hadn’t been ruined in the trailer or being actually concerned for a main character is a great experience. 

For me this kind of experience sits somewhere in the same area as those unplanned afternoon get-togethers where a drink turns into two or three and a little food and conversation and suddenly five hours have gone by and you realise your cheeks hurt from laughing and you don’t know why you don’t do this more often.  But you couldn’t have planned that afternoon.  It was a culmination of particular people and moods and alcohol existing in that specific combination at that specific time. It is the same reason that New Year’s Eve is often recounted as an evening of regular disappointment due to the existing expectations around what NYE should be.  Reality doesn’t stand a chance trying to live up to hype and fictionalised memory.

Expectations will almost always lead to disappointment.  The details are what we need to pay attention to, the things that we weren’t expecting perhaps.

When we arrived at the Royal Mail we saw a sign saying that tomatoes from their kitchen garden were available for sale.  Not just regular tomatoes – heirloom breeds.  Varieties that have been left behind because their characteristics didn’t quite meet the requirements for industrial commercialisation.  Not a high enough yield per plant or not the right shade of red or they were just too soft for transit in mass quantities.  Their kitchen garden was currently turning out such high quantities of fruit that they were practically giving them away to diners.  Suddenly the conversation had turned from what we were looking forward to from the meal to what we were going to do with these tomatoes.  We were excited about tomatoes.

The Royal Mail Hotel has a definite casual air to its dining room.  ├╝berjoi commented that this was because of the noise from the other parts of the restaurant.  The mostly full bistro section of the dining room carried its air of amiable chatter throughout the whole dining room, which stopped the ‘formal’ side of the room from being too stilted or stuffy.  We felt fine casually chatting to the wait staff about the dishes and wine and our own happy alcohol-infused rambling conversation just mixed in with the atmosphere of the room. 

The food is a mix of locally sourced produce combined with inspired technique and preparation.  The menu changes every season but the individual dishes may change slightly each night based on what was available that day.  A more extreme example being that a squid dish had been replaced by the egg yolk dish we were served because quality squid was unavailable on that day.  I enjoyed the egg dish so much that I couldn’t imagine it not being part of the menu but a part of me is sure I would have felt the same about the squid dish. 

The food was all delicious. Its presentation and execution made me jealous of the skill of those preparing the food. 

We went into the weekend with the expectation of an amazing dinner.  Your companions, and their excitement, are thrown into the mix.  Add the weather and your warm wood cabin.  Then, wake up to an early morning in the country with an air of contentment. 

The ability to find enjoyment in unexpected small pleasures is something we should all hope to never lose.   Not that a meal at Royal Mail should be considered a small pleasure – but within that experience, the excitement of trying something new; the expectation and promise in a box of tomatoes.  A shared experience of a night in the country.  These small moments should be enjoyed on their own.  The meal was always going to be good.

Those expectations were clearly met.  The other experiences we take away are personal.

We wandered around Dunkeld the next morning.  We bought fresh eggs from the place we were staying and sourdough bread from the local bakery.  We hunted down fresh feta from the local sheep dairy. We picked up the tomatoes from Royal Mail when we ate at the bistro for lunch. 

That evening we made our meal with those ingredients – roasted tomatoes, poached eggs, feta and bread.  As simple a meal as you could make.  Trying to keep a hold of the weekend, making it last a little bit longer.  We wondered why we didn’t do this more often.


Sparrows Cafe, Beaufort, Victoria

Turns out Sparrows is run by Cameron from our Mushroom Tour adventures in Mornington Peninsula!

Southern Grampian Cottages

The Restaurant - Dinner

smoked house churned butter

omnivore menu: rice paper, finger lime and salmon roe
(vegetarian menu: rice paper, finger lime and fennel pollen)

vegetarian menu: brassica chips

omnivore menu: chicken crisp

omnivore menu: rainbow trout, coffee, black treacle
(vegetarian menu: flaxseed, rocket and sunflower)

vegetarian menu: summer asparagus and frozen daikon

omnivore menu: hot and cold prawns

omnivore and vegetarian menu: tomato on toast, hand made sheep's ricotta

vegetarian menu: zucchini flowers and smoked corn, almond and vegetable juices

omnivore menu: air dried blue eye, lemon cucumber, aniseed

omnivore menu: air dried blue eye, lemon cucumber, aniseed

vegetarian menu: garden salad

omnivore menu: egg yolk and brand new potatoes, salt fish and crackling

vegetarian menu: heirloom beetroots, bitter and sour leaves

omnivore menu: eel and bone marrow, eggplant, pickled vegetables

vegetarian menu: eggplant in white miso, dried grains, cured kelp

omnivore menu: salt grass lamb and broad beans, chard stem, malabar spinach

vegetarian and omnivore menu: parsnip, apple and blueberry, fennel and creme fraiche

vegetarian and omnivore menu: milk and berries, quandong cooked with roses

vegetarian and omnivore menu: carrot, cocoa and cardamon


The Old Bakery and Wild Plum Cafe

The Old Bakery and Wild Plum Cafe

Grampians Pure Sheep Dairy

Grampians Pure Sheep Dairy

The Bistro - Lunch

vegetables from our kitchen garden

milawa organic chicken, cauliflower and parsnip, wild rice and bread pudding

risotto of crayfish and tarragon

duck and muntries, beetroot, blackberry, bitter leaves

rum baba, plum poached in grenadine, coconut ice cream

baked meringe, berries, rose, pistachio

rhubarb and brown butter tart, almond crumble and myrtleford creme fraiche

Royal Mail Kitchen Garden - Organic tomato box, 5kg for $20

- words by pisso | images by ├╝berjoi.

Verdict? The Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld will always hold a special place in our hearts, as it was our first fine dining experience in Australia back in 2011. The weekend was a truly lovely way to revisit and validate our romanticised memories, while sharing with and showing our dear friends the place that inspired us to start our amazing food adventure.

Meal style: Dinner (degustation of 12 dishes)
Cost: $180.00 total per person for omnivore menu and $140.00 total per person for vegetarian menu (not including drinks)
Time and date of visit: 7:30pm Saturday 16 March 2013

Meal style: Lunch (4 main dishes and 3 shared desserts)
Cost: $169.00 total (between 4 people, not including drinks)
Time and date of visit: 12:00pm Sunday 17 March 2013

Royal Mail Hotel on Urbanspoon

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