There’s nothing I like more than escaping to the country for a weekend getaway. It gives me a chance to unwind, recharge the batteries and get in touch with my inner explorer. Despite countless road trips from Melbourne to Adelaide, I have never stopped at the Grampians. But after this visit I can’t wait to come back to discover more of its captivating charm. On this trip our final destination is the Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld (260 kilometres west of Melbourne) – a hotel which is a destination in its own right for its award-winning two hatted restaurant.
The road trip to Dunkeld reminded me of the many reasons I love Australia. The slightly sunburnt fields from the first glimmers of a scorching summer hold hundred year old river red gums towering over the roadside from the arid soil. If you listen carefully you can hear the hum of crickets and the sing song of birds from a distance. If you’re lucky you may see a kangaroo and its joey hopping from a distance or a wedge tail eagle soaring in he sky. Yes it sure is God’s country.
The town of Dunkeld
At the Southern tip of the spectacular Grampians National Park lies Dunkeld, a picturesque town which maintains the essence of rural Australia in its purest form. What it doesn’t have in size it makes up for in charm and character It’s home to some of the friendliest, most hospitable people I have ever met, and despite the town’s changes a strong sense of community pride remains.
Cute boutiques and shops line the well-kept main street. Venture to the Old Bakery and Cafe on Martin Street to find some of the best French pastries you’ll find this side of Victoria or browse endless vintage books at Roz Greenwood’s Old and Rare Book Shop. For shopping, check out Only Ewe – a cute shop chock full of Australian wool garments or the Dunkeld General Store for general necessities and local produce. There’s plenty of walks to do in the area; the more adventurous can hike to Mount Sturgeon, Mount Abrupt or the Picaninny. If you’re looking for a more relaxed walk head to the Arboretum which connects a series of lakes and the old saw mill. Keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, emus and ring tailed possums around every corner.
Of course Dunkeld is only the start of a trip to the Grampians – a region famed for its food, wine, nature and adventure. Spring is a perfect time to visit to see the flowers in full bloom and enjoy a picnic in the sunshine.
The Royal Mail Hotel is located in the heart of Dunkeld. You can’t miss the art deco style lime green facade and the rugged mountains as a towering back drop. Like Dunkeld, the hotel is steeped in history; it was originally established in 1855 as a bluestone inn that offered accommodation and stabling. The hotel was once an important link to the Western District for the Cobb and Co Royal Mail Service, hence its name, The Royal Mail. Despite its multi-million dollar refurbishment in 1997, the hotel has incorporated historical features and blended it seamlessly with its contemporary nature.
What I love the most about the hotel is that it celebrates Australian nature. Everywhere you look you can see River Redgums, banksias and earlybirds dotted around the countryside.
Accommodation ranges from simply furnished garden rooms to more contemporary deluxe mountain view rooms. For larger groups the two bedroom apartments and Mulberry House are good options, or if you’re looking to splurge a little check out the luxurious Mount Sturgeon homestead by the nearby sheep working station.
We stayed in the beautifully appointed mountain deluxe room, set within a gorgeous native Australian garden, with a bird’s eye view of the Grampians National Park and the towering Mount Sturgeon. The timber balcony is the perfect spot to listen to the sing song of birds and gaze at the rugged beauty of the region. Recline in one of their deckchairs with a glass of red in the evening and watch the sun set or stars alight the sky at nighttime.
Guests can also enjoy the nearby pool.
With an emphasis on sustainability, the room is comfortable and spacious. Its design focuses on nude earthy tones and takes advantage of its natural light through floor to ceiling windows. These also double as a sliding door so you can completely open the room up on a nice evening. The room is fully equipped with a flat screen television,WiFi, iPod dock, robes, slippers and of course a well stocked mini bar! Did I mention complimentary Market Lane Coffee (one of my favourites) and T2 tea?
The beds are super comfortable and perfect to rest weary legs after a day of hiking.
The bathroom is modern and spacious, complete with a walk in shower, heated floors and Appelles bathroom amenities.
The Dining Room
Of course the thing I was looking forward to the most was dining at the Royal Mail. The two hatted restaurant is famous for its emphasis on nature’s finest seasonal cuisine. Each day, chefs harvest produce that inspires that day’s menu from their large organic kitchen garden. The kitchen is overseen by executive chef Robin Wickens (ex Deanery and Glasshouse in London) so I knew we were in good hands.
The dining room is elegant and sophisticated. White linen draped tablecloths are spread throughout the venue giving diners plenty of space, making it the ideal spot for a romantic date or special occasion. Service is friendly, attentive and knowledgeable. But lacks the pretension of similar hatted restaurants.
Wine buffs will be impressed with the superb wine list. The hotel houses one of Australia’s most comprehensive wine collections and a selection of 2,300 local and imported wines and a whopping 26,000 bottles! There’s a great collection from Bordeaux and Burgundy, as well as plenty of local options. If you have a chance go on the wine tour with head sommelier, Deniz Hardiman.
In addition to the a la carte menu, a five ($115 per head) and eight course ($160 per head) Chef’s Tasting Menu is available. Wine matching is also available for the tasting menu ($90 per head for five course menu/ $120 per head for eight course menu).
We indulged in the five course tasting menu with matched wines, with a few extra goodies thrown in for good measure. Freshly baked bread was paired with a delicious vegemite house churned butter, while the scotch eggs were standouts for the amuse bouche paired with a shot of rocket green which was just enough to get the tastebuds going.
A spring pea panacotta was paired with holy goats cheese fromage frais and a generous drizzling of impossibly smooth carrot puree. Wafer thin slices of carrots, radishes and peas fresh from the kitchen garden bursted with flavour and zest. The earthiness of the carrot puree was just enough to cut through the creaminess of the fromage frais. Paired with 2013 castellari bergaglio ‘fornaci’ gavi di gavi cortese (Piemonte, Italy).
Next a picture perfect dish of flathead oozed flavour and style. Locally caught 50 kilometres away in Portland, the fish was topped with lardo which gave the dish a delicious smoky flavour balanced by turnip, apple and roast cous cous. Paired with 2013 best’s chardonnay (Great Western, Victoria).
The hero of the dinner was a Great Ocean Road duck, lavender sprouting seeds and witlof. The sous vide duck was firstly dehydrated in salt and lavender to enhance its flavour then barbequed and blow torched to give its skin a beautiful crispness. A couple of garlic flowers were sprinkled on the dish to give it a slightly light garlic flavour, without overpowering it. Paired with 2013 faively ‘clos des myglands’ premier cru pinot noir (Mercurey, France).
A spring lamp rump was cooked to perfection, nice and pink in the centre with a beautiful golden crust on the outer. Impossibly green peas and lettuce bursted with flavour and freshness, the perfect pair to the subtly flavoured sheep’s milk. Paired with 2005 restif cabernet sauvignon (Yarra Valley, Victoria).
The desserts were equally good; duck fat icecream was teamed with orange, vermouth and chicory while a honeycomb panacotta shone with rhubarb jelly, violet infused cream and angelique gel peas. The final surprise of the evening was in the pot plant on our table! I won’t give the whole surprise away 🙂
A perfect ending to a four hour feast!
No sooner had dinner been finished, we ventured back into the dining room for breakfast. There’s a great range of breakfasts options on the menu including an organic mixed grain porridge, a continental platter or, if you’re feeling really hungry, a full cooked breakfast. A semi buffet is also available at the counter with a selection of fresh juices,muesli, breads with condiments, fruit and yoghurt.
Eggs benedict with house smoked salmon with Market Lane cofffee.
French toast with caramelised orange and bacon and maple espuma.
Kitchen Garden Tours
Another added benefit of a stay at the Royal Mail Hotel is a complimentary tour of the kitchen garden and Myers private garden (Allan Myers is a local identity and owns the Royal Mail Hotel).
The Myers 24 acre property is beautiful, full of gorgeous native plants, roses and a lake. Alan has a huge passion for wildlife and gardening and the property even has its own basalt plain and aviary with quolls.
And in Spring time most of the flowers were blossoming.
We then explored the Royal Mail Kitchen Garden with one of the lovely chefs, Kira, who showed us a great range of organic vegetables, edible flowers and herbs. Set on just over an acre, this garden is one of Australia’s largest, most productive hotel kitchen gardens. Kira goes out to the garden most days to find out what’s in season then brings it back to the kitchen to inspire the evening’s menu (which changes daily). Up to 70% of produce for the kitchen comes from this beautiful garden. The Hotel has a philosophy that food should be produced using organic principles with as little impact to the earth as possible.
I am already counting down to my next visit.
Eat. Stay. Relax. From $465 Per Couple/Twin Share.
The Royal Mail Three Day Stay. Stay three nights (with breakfast each morning) and receive 25% off the entire stay (a saving of over $220). December 1, 2015 – February 29, 2016
Royal Mail Hotel Details
A 98 Parker Street Dunkeld Victoria
T +61 3 5577 2241
I was kindly hosted to stay and dine at the Royal Mail Hotel.