98 Parker St, Dunkeld
Phone: (03) 5577 2241
When a country hotel is the recipient of two chef’s hats from The Age’s Good Food Guide, and named Gourmet Traveller’s Regional Restaurant of the year, you know that it’s no ordinary pub. Indeed, the Royal Mail is no pub at all. It’s a restaurant (and hotel) and one of the finest at which I’ve had the pleasure of dining. It is far and away my best dining experience of 2010.
The service is miraculously smooth, without being at all stuffy. Food magically appears at the table, and the waitstaff are remarkably unobtrusive, yet always seem to be there the second you might need something; which in our case, was quite frequently, as we quizzed them on the ingredients and techniques of just about every course!
While I may have complained about the three hour drive there, it was undoubtedly worth it, and I’d do it all again as soon as my wallet permits. Let’s face it, at $150 per head it’s not cheap, but it IS exceptionally good value. The menu changes seasonally, to reflect the (mostly local) produce which is at its best.
A lot has been written about the Royal Mail Hotel, so I’ve decided not to dissect each dish the way I normally do. Instead, I’m going to describe it to you in haiku. I figure that’s apt, given the subtle restraint and playfulness of Dan Hunter’s food.
sea salad, lemon and lychee
Born of the wild seas,
Garlands of sweet porcelain
Salt cling to her skin.
tomato on toast
A weekend away
Ordered by joint custody;
Breakfast as dinner.
jerusalem artichoke, triple cream cheese and chive
Hiding from the guns
He survived by wits alone.
Until the grenade.
egg yolk, toasted rye, legumes, yeast
Until she returns
I lie on the forest floor.
The sky is my home.
john dory, burnt potato, mustard, nashi
Deep into night’s ink,
Icy water holds his prize.
Round white ball of light.
asparagus, kohlrabi, duck ham, summer blossoms
Warm scent of the sun
Runs through my hair on the breeze;
I feel his hands still.
globe artichoke as pork, pea and parsley
Taut steel jaw spread wide
Waiting to embrace its prey.
Would you like some cheese?
lamb, eggplant in white miso, pine nut, chlorophyll
The Great Prince of the Forest
Snow gives way to grass.
“Faster!” she called out. “Faster!”
“… my son.” said the Stag.
rhubarb, licorice, almond, citrus
Thoroughly he searched in vain.
Was it really there?
banana in szechuan pepper, coconut and cocoa ice
It could happen to you, Sir.
Watch where you’re walking.
pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate
I tied knots and sang.
Then along came computers.
No more camps for me.
Thank you to all of the team at the Royal Mail Hotel for such an amazing experience.