Monday, June 3, 2013

Royal Mail Hotel

There are few restaurants that are as special as the Royal Mail. Perhaps it's the rare combination of being both highly awarded (Three Chefs Hats and Chef of the Year accolades included) and being so damn far away from well, anywhere. Settled in the Southern Grampians, the restaurant is over three hours away from Melbourne. Hardly convenient for a last-minute fancy dinner. 

Royal Mail Hotel
The effort required to travel to this restaurant, meant that when it came to planning a Melbourne-Adelaide road trip with M, I demanded suggested that we stop by Dunkeld because it wasn't too far out of our way. What a great decision it was, and although we messed up our booking by half an hour by forgetting to account for the SA/VIC time difference, we still managed to stop in for a relaxing lunch on a sunny autumn day.

Blueberry Hefeweizer
(Tony Abbot seemed to have the same idea, stopping in clothed in full cycling attire. Unexpected, but definitely good for a chuckle.)

Although I would have preferred to try the degustation menu, it's not offered for lunch and staying overnight didn't fit into our plans. The a-la-carte menu had plenty of options, all seasonal and tempting. To kick things off, a modest loaf of fresh sourdough with creamy butter.

Sourdough and Creamy Butter
I couldn't resist the autumn salad on the menu.

Autumn salad of pigeon and bacon, soft egg, lentils and bitter leaves
Beautifully presented, I'll admit that the pigeon that attracted me to this dish. I'm not particularly fond of them flying around the city, but how often to you get to dine on pigeon? I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty this dish was, although the lean meat is definitely tougher than other poultry I've had. It's definitely something that I'd try again.

M loves his risotto and I wasn't surprised when he ordered the crayfish and tarragon risotto

Crayfish and tarragon risotto
The scent of crayfish was intense when the dish arrived at the table, in a good way of course. There was a generous amount of cray, and the rice was smooth yet still had a decent bite to it. The tarragon just lifted the dish and my only criticism was that the dish was large enough to be a main (not that counts as a real negative).

When it came to the mains, I was once again tempted by poultry. 

Duck, beetroot and blackberry, bitter leaves
The fattiness of duck always makes for a delicious dish. The slight sweetness of the blackberry cut nicely through the richness though. I was slightly miffed to find a tiny stone in the dish, but management quickly and professionally righted things. Growing greens in your own garden, I guess it's inevitable that more stones/dirt are likely to appear than when chemically cleaned supermarket greens are used. I'd take the stone risk any day (with a bit of care though). 

M wanted something meatier and ended up with a delicious plate of local-ish lamb.

Flinders Island lamb, charred potatoes and onions, olive, caper and rocket
Slightly rare yet still tender, the dish was, for lack of a better word, very lamb-like. That's a pretty poor description, but everything on the plate highlighted the taste and freshness of the lamb. The salad was simple, and everything seemed either just-picked or recently-dug from the ground. Perfect.

When it came to dessert, even though there were only four options but we struggled to choose. With a bit of help from our waitress, we ended up with two simultaneously light but decadent plates to finish our meal. My choice was the
Hazelnut mousse, chocolate and honeycomb
Sweet but well balanced, the lightness of the mousse and the crunchiness of the honeycomb was superb. I really need to incorporate more honey into my diet - it's just so wonderful.

In hindsight, it seemed like the menu had all of M's favourite foods, including a rhubarb tart.
Rhubarb and brown butter tart, almond crumble and myrtleford crème fraiche
A very fancy rhubarb tart at that with brown butter, almond crumble and silky crème fraiche. Just the right size too to leave you satisfied but not stuffed. My favourite dishes were definitely the desserts.

In a word, the food at the Royal Mail Hotel can be described as 'fresh'. Everything seems like it's just come from the farm into the kitchen. The service was friendly, efficient and professional and the prices were amazingly decent (think mid-priced Melbourne damage). We had a great time, and the extra driving time was definitely worth it.

Royal Mail Hotel
98 Parker St, Dunkeld 
Bistro: Lunch 12pm-230pm, Dinner 6pm-9pm
Restaurant: Wed-Sun Dinner

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