Whilst its reputation precedes it, the Royal Mail is not quite what we expected – but in a good way. We were expecting a more traditional looking pub-style building, nestled deep in Victoria’s west in Dunkeld, about 30 kms from Hamilton. Instead we find a more modern building, a little retro looking, with a curved façade, nestled among Australian native gardens.
Inside the décor is simple – minimalist with clean lines and simple elegant table settings. The use of expanses of glass not only makes the restaurant look bigger than it is, they are perfect for soaking in the glorious view of the Southern Grampians Ranges. There are three main seating areas: dining room, bistro or public bar. There’s also a courtyard for al fresco dining which would be lovely on a warm summer’s day. And let’s not forget the restrooms - simple with their ocean tones, hints of jasmine and delicious Aesop balms and hand creams.
As walk-ins we were worried we may not get a table but on this Friday lunch, the restaurant is sadly very quiet – great for us as we have a choice of tables and select one with the best views. We’re offered a choice of the bistro or a la carte dining, and we choose a la carte simply as we’ve not driven all this way for bistro food, no matter how good it may be. No, we’ve come to sample Dan Hunter’s award winning ‘nature-based’ cuisine. And sample we will!
Dan’s Spring menu features artichoke which is in season and there are some really interesting offerings that read like an encyclopaedia of ingredients. We ordered Vegetables From Our Kitchen Garden (E$22, M$30), Angus Short Rib Cooked Overnight, Charred Potato, Chestnut And Broccoli ($37), and the Milawa Organic Chicken, Cauliflower, Jerusalem Artichoke, Wild Rice And Bread Pudding ($36).
As expected the wine list is quite extensive and, whilst some may find it daunting to be presented with 94 pages, any wine lover will find it a delight to meander through their offering of over 3,000 bottles (which does make you wonder where they store it all). The wine list features the best of the New and Old Worlds, and a selection of Grand Cru’s to make you weep at prices to match. But with bottles starting at $40 there’s definitely something to suit every budget. We try the 1998 Riddoch Cabernet and it’s a refreshing change to see a wine of this age offered by the glass.
It’s a perfect prelude to our meal enjoying a glass of wine, the complimentary delicious Spiced Almonds, Marinated Olives and Home-Cooked Sourdough Bread and the views, and so it doesn’t seem long before our dishes arrive.
The ‘Vegetables From Our Kitchen Garden’ is an amazing visual feast, but that’s not to say the taste buds are forgotten. A crisp array of fresh-plucked vegetables have been individually lovingly prepared. They sit artistically arranged and caressed by a warm complex broth of beetroot origin. The amount of time and effort that has gone into this dish is quite extraordinary and it’s completely delicious.
The ‘Angus Short Rib Cooked Overnight, Charred Potato, Chestnut And Broccoli’ is impressive. Tender fall off the bone beef is enveloped in a rich sticky sauce making this quite a hearty meal but without being heavy. The accents of chestnut round out the flavours and the perfectly cooked broccoli is playfully arranged with florets and flowers.
The ‘Milawa Organic Chicken, Cauliflower, Jerusalem Artichoke, Wild Rice And Bread Pudding’ was also exceptional. The softness of the juicy, tender and very flavoursome chicken was perfectly complimented by the nutty wild rice and the bread pudding was not stodgy but rather quite light.
What’s interesting about Dan’s food is that it’s not futzed with – it’s not over complicated by inappropriate sauces, foams or emulsions and it doesn’t have any redundant additions. Every component of the dish is there for a reason, a synergistic masterpiece of vision, texture and flavour, and to take one part of it away would detract from the dish as a whole. The only other chef I have seen who is as technically skilled and can achieve this extreme balance is Mathew Macartney at Chateau Yering (and funnily enough Matt and Dan are both friends and rivals).
Like Tipperary, it’s a long way to go to the Royal Mail but it’s definitely worth the visit. From my experience it’s obvious to get the best of the Royal Mail and Dan’s exquisite delights you need to do an evening degustation which promises you a culinary journey of extraordinary heights. And after this visit it’s now definitely high on my agenda!
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