September 3, 2010

Royal Mail Hotel

Dining Date: June 2010
Rating: 10th, 2 Stars
Chef: Dan Hunter
Location: 98 Parker Street, (Glenelg Hwy), Dunkeld Victoria 03 5577 2241

royal mail2

Recently, both the Gourmet Traveller Awards and The Age Good Food Guide have been announced. I always find it intriguing that two reputed guides can have such different views on the same restaurants, proving that taste is truly objective. The Gourmet Traveller awards has put Cutler and Co at the top of their list, whereas the Good Food Guide had The Royal Mail hotel as their winner. I’ve now eaten at both establishments, and if you were to ask me my opinion, I would put the Royal Mail ahead of Cutler and Co.

royal mail sign

The transformation of the Royal Mail Hotel

Daz and I celebrated out 7th anniversary not long ago, and as a treat we went away for a short trip to the Grampians. We had very little planned for our time away, mainly eating, bush walking and sitting in front of the open fire. The bush walking was good to counteract all the eating, and the open fireplace was a great way to warm up after some scary bushwalking. Lets just say that I’m scared of heights and I suffer from vertigo, we managed to test both of those elements in one walk. Anyone for tight tracks along cliff faces that go directly up?


Yes, we actually walked across that and yes there is a cliff face directly to the right. I'm glad I wore extra absorbent underwear that day.

I have wanted to go to the Royal Mail Hotel for some time now. I constantly hear of the exciting new dishes that Dan Hunter has been producing and all I wanted to do was sample them for myself. The Hotel is split into two parts, a fine dining section and a bistro. Since it was a special occasion, we went for the fine dining option...why else would you come all the way to Dunkeld if not to get your socks blown off.

All of the ingredients for our meal are locally sourced, some as close as their very own kitchen garden. Our ten course tasting menu started with Sardine on toast, Pork sandwich, Heirloom tomatoes. First of all...great presentation! And even a bonus point scored.....I’m a lazy person so presenting me an already forked tomato is just perfect. From plate to mouth in one swift move. The sardines on toast were crunchy, with a soft jelly on top. I love the addition of the baby radishes. The heirloom tomatoes was jammed packed with flavour and you cant go wrong with tomatoes and basil as a combination. Next was the pork sandwich. Soft juicy pieces of pork which had been slow cooked in between slices of toasted buttery brioche. I wish I could have a regular size portion of this with some seriously crunchy chips. YUM!

royal mail pork sandwich

Next was the Pacific oysters, snow pea, grapefruit, marine essence. This was an intriguing dish. Before the dish arrived Daz and I were discussing exactly what marine essence is. I thought it might be a fancy fish stock. Once the dish arrived, my curiosity was too overwhelming so I asked exactly what it was. Turns out it was the liquor from the muscles, which gave a intense marine flavour....exactly like drinking sea water. In fact the entire dish was designed to resemble the sea with mashed seaweed and crunchy snow pea to mimic the sea vegetation. It was just a joy to eat, once it arrived at the table to aroma of the sea was unmistakable, and then the soft perfectly cooked muscles made my taste buds rejoice with glee.

royal mail mussels

Egg yolk, toasted rye, legumes, yeast. Oh my god. This was the best dish I have ever eaten in my entire life! Every element on that plate was just perfection. The egg yolk had been slightly warmed, so when you burst the outer skin the crunchy bed beneath was flooded with a sliky sticky yolk sauce. It was the best. I cant tell you what any of the individual elements were, this dish was just so completely out there for me. That might be why I loved it so much. I would love to recreate it one day, but I’ll definitely need a recipe.

royalmail yeast and egg

And then there was Wild mushrooms, calamari, hints of autumn. So visually appealing and still so delicious once you ate it. The mushrooms were paper thin, so once you put it in your mouth you got all the earthy mushroom flavour with very little of the meaty mushroom texture. The calamari had be grilled or blow torched so there was a smoky element, leaving the calamari perfectly cooked. Not even a hint of rubbery-ness here. It was all sitting on a celeriac or parsnip puree which gave a sweet element.

royal mail calamari and mushrooms

Coral trout, brassicas, chicken broth and skin. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? What the hell is a brassicas?? The wait staff at the Royal Mail are so well versed that they answer the question before its been uttered. Brassica is the the genus of plants which broccoli and cabbages belong to. This was another stand out dish. The chicken broth was thick, so it covered your palate with richness. The trout was once again perfectly cooked. But who in their right mind would add chicken skin as a garnish? Dan Hunter is who. It was seriously good, crispy salty and just downright bad for you. I contemplated hitting Daz over the head with my plate just so I could steal his chicken skin....little did I know he was contemplating the exact same move. We called a truce and put our knives down before someone got hurt.

royalmail coral trout

Eel, beef tendon, kohl rabi, potato. There are a few things that make Daz uncomfortable, goats cheese, bone marrow, tendon, offal of any sort and spiders. Before this dish came out I watched as he squirmed and became increasingly agitated. Up until this point everything had been perfect and he didn’t want to miss out on a possible great dish just because he didn’t appreciated one element. When the dish arrived, he practically closed his eyes and just ate. I think that experience might have changed him. The tendon had been slowly cooked leaving it very gelatinous. In the end it didn’t add much flavour but a bucket load of texture. The eel was smoky sitting in an almost BBQ like sauce, the potatoes were really cute to...tiny poato balls. hehehe

royal mail beef tendon

Next there was Lamb, eggplant in white miso, pine nut, chlorophyll. This was an interesting dish. I totally respect the fact that the kitchen has gone to the effort of producing chlorophyll, essentially a thick spinach paste, but in the end I would have much preferred some un-adulterer spinach. The eggplant was spectacular, it had been coated in the white miso paste and then char grilled, it was the definition of yum. The lamb was un-faultable, perfectly cooked.

royal mail lamb

Rhubarb, licorice, almond, citrus. This dish made me rethink the way I have eaten rhubarb my entire life. Ordinarily I’ve eaten rhubarb as a soft stewed/bake sweet. But in this case it was still crunchy! So shocking to me. I actually thought it was a mistake, because on Daz’s dish half of his rhubarb was soft, after asking the waiter we were informed that it was supposed to be crunchy. The rhubarb is steamed in its own juices giving it its intense red colour. There were great chunks of lemon rind throughout the dish giving it an intense citrus flavour. The almonds were fresh, reminding me of my childhood when we used to eat almonds straight off the tree. But the best thing was the licorice sauce which tied the whole dish together. A perfect way to start the dessert section of our meal.

royal mail rhubarb and licorice

Fresh and dried berries, beetroot, black olive, rose. When strawberries taste like fairy floss life is being kind to you. This was awesome. The were so many things happening on this plate. On one corner you have dehydrated berries, dehydrated rose petals scattered all over the place, adding floral sweetness and then fresh strawberries covered in a berry thick gel. Not to mention the black olive and rhubarb dust. Just fantastic.

royal mail berries and sorbet

Last, yes we actually made it to the end, we had Pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate. Pistachio cake that tasted like fudge, chocolate and hazelnut ice cream that tasted like nutella and then honey comb scatted all over the place. This dish was a textural dream, creamy richness and crunch.

royal mail pistachio chocolate and hazelnut

All I had to say at the end of the meal was, can I have the whole thing all over again? Their website states that “Dining at the Royal Mail Restaurant requires time; time to experience a range of ingredients, temperatures and textures; to leave behind preconceived ideas; to experience a gastronomic journey highlighting the perfection of each ingredient.” Even with all the words in the world available to me, I simply could not put it better. It was an experience, one that I will never forget and most likely hold as my measuring stick for all great meals to come.


April @ My Food Trail said...

Hubby and I were planning to go to the Royal Mail Hotel for our anniversary, but we obviously didn't plan far enough in advance because we missed out on our preferred date!

I'm glad I got to see what I missed out on. The food looks wonderful and very creative!

P.S. You've put the heading as "Royla"!

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge said...

thanks April!! Didnt even bother to check if I made a boo boo!

penny aka jeroxie said...

OMG. I must certainly book soon! It is on my red hot list.

Fiona said...

They took the large plate thing a long way!

Chanel11 said...

Man I have been umming and ahhing about whether to make the 4hour drive and overnight stay JUST to eat at this restaurant, the more reviews I see the more I feel it might be worth a weekend away

thanh7580 said...

I was thinking that definitely Cutler and Co had to be restaurant of the year after seeing the Gourmet rating, but after reading this review, I can see why Royal Mail Hotel won. I'm sold. I need to make a booking for sure.

Saucy Thyme said...

After reading this, i realised that my mouth was gaping open and slightly drooling the whole time! that crispy chicken skin looks so damn tasty!!!!

My Restaurants Melbourne said...

I havent' been to the grampians in years, the food at this restaurants looks amazing.

Agnes said...

Sounds AMAZING, Maria! I so want to go! Might make a trip next year :)

Conor @ Hold the Beef said...

Firstly, I hope you changed your super absorbent underwear before going out for dinner.

Secondly, best dish EVER??? Whoa! Massive call!

Thirdly, one of those mushrooms looks like it is having a good sit down after some trekking of its on.

Anonymous said...


OohLookBel said...

What an epic meal! I've heard iffy things about Cutler & Co, so it's interesting to hear your take on the Royal Mail Hotel. It looks like a real destination.

Gourmet Getaway said...

Amazing!!! ...and dessert YUM!!!

Arwen from Hoglet K said...

I've never had a fresh almond - I'm jealous! The eggyolk dish sounds amazing, but I'm not sure about chlorophyll. Great to hear all the food was local too.

Anita said...

lol!! "extra absorbent underwear" great work Maria :) Everything looks amazing - although I want some of that last dessert!!!

Hannah said...

Oooh, that fourth photo looks like it has starfish in it! Edible starfish, hurrah! (or, erm, not...)

Love the pistachio dessert (or the look of it, anyway) too!

Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday) said...

LOL I think we are all going to the Royal Mail then. Me too!