Monday, November 25, 2013

Royal Mail Hotel

So, as I've told you a bunch of times before, we have a tradition with our friend An where we shout each other a fancy meal every year as a birthday gift. (See previous posts: Tetsuya's, Embrasse, and Vue de Monde). This year, we went to the Royal Mail Hotel for a weekend, where An shouted us the nine-course degustation with matching wines. Wow! And for those who are interested in these things, we visited the Royal Mail after chef Dan Hunter left.

The Royal Mail Hotel

Royal Mail Hotel
98 Parker Street
Dunkeld, VIC 3294
Ph: (03) 5577-2241
Royal Mail Hotel on Urbanspoon

It was an easy 3.5 hour drive from Melbourne to Dunkeld (and I say "easy" because An was driving - what a treat to be chauffered!), with a stop in Ballarat for lunch. We chose Vegas and Rose, a cute little cafe with a vintage feel and generously portioned toasties. (They have an Etsy and an Instagram, but no menu on their website, hehe).

Lunch at Vegas and Rose

And here's Parker street in Dunkeld - quiet and peaceful with a lovely view!


We got there a little early, so checked into our room and freshened up before dinner. We were in a two bedroom apartment on the same property as the restaurant. It was very comfortable and clean, and whilst I thought the beds and amenities were great, (especially the Appelles Apothecary toiletries!), I felt the building itself was tending towards the older side, with some cobwebs in the harder-to-reach corners, and slightly old-fashioned bathrooms.

Royal Mail Hotel - 2 Bedroom Apartment

Here is the restaurant itself. The same space houses the formal dining area and the more casual bistro, with tablecloths and carpets in the formal area. We were also seated right next to the fireplace - so cosy!

The dining room


The kitchen

An and I went for the Omnivore menu, whilst our Sandra went for the vegetarian menu. (She's not a vegetarian but doesn't eat seafood or rare meat, and loves vegetables, so this works out well for her.) So yay! I get to show you both menus! 

We started with excellent house-made bread and soft butter.

House-made bread

Soft butter

The first course was made up of a selection of very pretty canapés.

First Course
Flaxseed, nettle, garden blossoms
NV Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs, Vertus France
Flaxseed, nettle, garden blossoms

The "garden blossoms" canapé, (which I imagine were picked from the Royal Mail's own kitchen garden), was like a flower bouquet on a cracker - a very tasty flower bouquet on a cracker!

First course continued...
Oyster and roe, citrus and sea lettuce
Vegetarian Option
Asparagus and rye
Oyster and roe, citrus and sea lettuce
Asparagus and rye

The oysters on rye were a little tricky to eat, with the rye base shattering once bitten, but the oyster topping was wonderfully fresh and briney. A great start to the meal.

The prettiness continued with the second course...

Second Course
Pancetta and scampi, rye cream, candied radish
2011 Kidoizumi Shuzo 'Hakugyukuko', Chiba Japan
Pancetta and scampi, rye cream, candied radish

I greatly enjoyed this course, with the lovely strip of stripey, salty pancetta contrasting well against the fresh meatiness of the scampi and the sweet candied radish. The wine match for this was, surprisingly, a sake which was very fragrant, with subtle hints of banana (for real). So cool! While we're here, I should tell you I loved the wine matching throughout the meal. There were some adventurous, unusual choices, most of which I really liked, and all of which complimented the individual dishes well. A special shout-out to the sommelier (who I think was the junior sommelier), who was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the wines without being overbearing. He was awesome!

Vegetarian Option
Carrot and almond, coriander and pickled garlic
Carrot and almond, coriander and pickled garlic

Sandra loved this dish! Not only did it look beautiful, but the different textures and flavours - the little carrots, the garlic, the almonds - were a delight.

Third Course
Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut, triple cream
2012 Schloss Gobelsberg 'Steinsetz' Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal Austria
Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut, triple cream

The third course, which was the same for both veggoes and omnis, was very, very strange. A whole Jerusalem artichoke was roasted, and filled with triple-cream brie cheese, which sounded nice, but as soon as you started slicing...

Oozy triple cream

... yup, the melted cheese started oozing out of a hole in the side, in an incredibly unappetising way. We were all quite confused by the dish, which to be perfectly frank, looked more Embarrassing Bodies than fine dining. On top of that, it was really bland, with the sweetness of the hazelnut, artichoke and cheese crying out for a little salt.

Fourth Course
Egg yolk and new potatoes, salt fish and crackling
2011 By Farr Chardonnay, Geelong Victoria
Egg yolk and new potatoes, salt fish and crackling

I much preferred the fourth course, with the liquid egg yolk oozing delectably over the tender little potato pieces and crispy salty fish crackling - it was very well balanced. I also loved the wine match, an oaky 2011 By Farr Chardonnay from Geelong.

Vegetarian Option
Egg yolk, toasted rye, legumes, yeast
Egg yolk, toasted rye, legumes, yeast

Sadly, the vegetarian option wasn't quite as impressive. The egg yolk with toasted rye, legumes and yeast looked very pretty, but it was very oversalted. (And keep in mind it was being eaten by someone who loves salty food, and when cooking at home routinely adds salt to food that I already find too salty).

Fifth Course
Blue eye, salsify, chicken broth and skin
2010 Nicolas Joly 'Les Vieux Clos', Savennieres France
Blue eye, salsify, chicken broth and skin

I wouldn't have thought to pair chicken broth with fish, but it worked really well. I loved the crisp chicken skin too!

Chicken skin

Vegetarian Option
Garden salad
Garden Salad

The vegetarian option for this course, the garden salad, sounded like it would be quite plain, but was actually a stunning mixture of different vegetables, salad leaves and flowers. Wow!

Sixth Course
Eel and bone marrow, eggplant, pickled vegetables
2010 Moorooduc Estate 'The Moorooduc' Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula Victoria
Eel and bone marrow, eggplant, pickled vegetables

Another pretty dish, but I found the large piece of eel stuffed with bone marrow too gelatinously rich, even with the crisp pickled vegetables alongside.

Vegetarian Option
Charred young garlic, cauliflower, aged pecorino
Charred young garlic, cauliflower, aged pecorino

I didn't try this course, but Sandra thought it was just alright, with the pungent pecorino overpowering the other delicate flavours.

Seventh Course
Salt grass lamb, black cabbage, chard leaf and stem
2004 Crawford River Cabernet Sauvignon, Henty Victoria
Salt grass lamb, black cabbage, chard leaf and stem

Sometimes simple things are the best, and I greatly enjoyed the perfectly cooked piece of salt grass lamb!

Vegetarian Option
Eggplant in white miso, dried grains, cured kelp
Eggplant in white miso, dried grains, cured kelp

The vegetarian option of the seventh course was, again, less successful, with the eggplant being too smoky (although I know some people adore smoky eggplant, so I suppose it comes down to personal taste), and the broth being one-dimensionally salty and not having much depth of flavour.

Now, dessert!
Eighth Course
Milk and apple, golden raisin and almon
2011 Domaine Dupont 'Dupont Cidre Reserve
Milk and apple, golden raisin and almond

I liked the way this dessert looked like a little Valkyrie helmet! The sorbet was delicate and milky, and the golden raisins were plump and juicy, with some tart apple and crunchy almonds underneath. It was a refreshing dessert.

Ninth Course
Beetroot and mandarin, cocoa and walnut
2011 Disznoko Late Harvest Furmint, Tokaji Hungary
Beetroot and mandarin, cocoa and walnut

This dessert was made up of a little semi-circle of mandarin sorbet (or ice-cream?), with a pile of chocolate and beetroot crumbs. Sandra found the earthiness of the chocolate and beetroot crumbs a little too earthy, but An and I really liked the subtle hint of chocolate. It was a nice way of having a chocolate dessert without being super rich or filling, and I also liked the texture contrast between the sorbet and crumbs.


On reflection, I must say we were a bit disappointed with the degustation at the Royal Mail. Whilst there were some excellent courses (the little crispbreads that made up the first course, the carrot dish, the garden salad, and the blue eye with crisp chicken skin, for example), there were also many that didn't hit the mark for us - too many to justify the $180/$120 price tag. Naturally, in a nine-course meal of creative and inventive cuisine, you're not going to like everything, but at those prices, and with that reputation, you would expect that any "misses" would come down to personal preference (e.g. someone who doesn't like rare meat might not have liked the lamb dish, but could still appreciate the skill that went into it), rather than actual problems with dishes (as per the oversalted egg yolk with toasted rye, legumes and yeast, and the really unappetising Jerusalem artichoke). The same kitchen services both the fine dining restaurant and the more casual bistro, and I must be honest, we saw a big bowl of amazing-looking hand-cut chips going out, and we were super jealous! I wonder if we might have been better off just having a more casual meal of steak and chips.

Now, if the dinner wasn't quite as good as expected, I was completely blown away by the breakfast! There was a small but totally luxurious selection of pastries, yogurts, ham, smoked salmon, cereals and more, most of which were house-made or locally supplied, as well as teas and filter coffee. (Hot breakfasts and espresso coffee are available at an extra cost, but I love filter coffee, and there was more than enough food to keep us going!)

Breakfast at the Royal Mail Hotel

Breakfast at the Royal Mail Hotel

I ignored the cereals in favour of the locally made items. Everything on the below plate was delicious, but I particularly loved the bread, the wonderfully oily smoked salmon, the house made ricotta, the Wessex Saddleback ham, the pork rillette and the bread and butter pickle. Ok, so I just realised I listed everything on the plate, haha!

Bread, Wessex Saddleback smoked leg ham, bread and butter pickle, house made ricotta, pork rillette, house made smoked salmon

We shared some donuts - they had vanilla custard ones, and quince jam ones. Beautiful!

Vanilla Custard Donut - my first Instagram photo to hit 100 likes!

And then, all too soon, it was time to check out and drive back home. Despite the disappointing degustation, we still had a fantastic fun weekend (when you're with good friends I guess it doesn't matter where you go or what you eat!) Would I come back to the Royal Mail? Not for the degustation, which we all agreed was quite disappointing. The accommodation, however, was good, (the breakfast was excellent!), and all the staff were really lovely. Perhaps the next time we visit the Grampians, we'd use the Royal Mail Hotel as a base for exploring the region, but have dinner at the bistro or pub, rather than the restaurant itself.

View from the Gardens

View from the gardens


Hannah said...

I feel like that butter will melt if I simply look at it.

I must admit I'm less and less interested in degustation/fine dining fanciness. But the breakfast spread? All over dat.

Cara @ Gourmet Chick said...

Sounds like a lovely weekend but your comments are interesting as I've heard a few people now say that it's not the same now Dan Hunter has left and also that the accommodation is a little tired.

Libby said...

Wow, what a treat! I'll make the drive up there at some point - personally, I think it'll still be divine sans-Hunter!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Oh what a shame that you were disappointed by it. I was wondering what it would be like now that Dan has left. At least the breakfast was great :)

Winston said...

Oh nooo... Sad to hear it wasn't what you'd hoped. But hey, that is such a cute tradition you have with your friend! And what a nice thing to look forward to each year and continue to build more memories with one another. Wonder where else you guys are headed to next =D

Daisy@Nevertoosweet said...

It's so nice of your friend An takes you out every year so fancy :) A shame that it wasn't up to your expectations but I have heard that it's simply not the same since Dan Hunter left...I guess he did give the Royal Mail Hotel personality.

But the breakfast sure looked good, doesn't matter Dan Hunter has gone to another restaurant so maybe you can go there instead ~

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Awww such a shame that dinner was a disappointment for you but too funny that you fell in love with breakfast instead! The food did look amazing. I'm fascinated by the pancetta - the fat layers are so see-through and yet it looks crisp!

Jo said...

Fakebooo and I used to celebrate our birthdays with a fancyschmancy degustation. Last year I drove to and fro to the Royal Mail Hotel and it was wonderful. I'm sorry to hear that you were disappointed, some of the elements sound familiar to the dinner that I had.

Ashley said...

Woah, that doughnut is really something else! Shame the dinner live up to expectations, I've always been keen to organise something for Brad and I, but just haven't had the budget yet, maybe will hold off for a little while still then... :)

Amanda @ Gourmanda said...

That butter! Looks gorgeous. Pity about the degustation, but it's nice to know that you can find food of a decent quality outside of the top city restaurants as well. :)