THE ROYAL MAIL HOTEL, DUNKELD

There are few rural restaurants that warrant an overnight trip. A three hour drive, the added burden of finding accommodation, leaves you wondering is it worth the travel? Looking at the map from Melbourne to Dunkeld for The Royal Mail Hotel, the infamous regional establishment, I am glad to say it was and not just for the food.

Entering the dining room you are bathed in light and surrounded by wine glasses. Having one of the biggest collections of Burgundy wine in the Southern Hemisphere and known for its excellent food and wine pairings, I was nervous about my lack of knowledge. It didn't matter, my server put me at ease instantly, recommending Champagne.

I visited mid-week and there was still a hum in the dining room. The restaurant had several bookings, with enough space between diners to be intimate but not too much to feel cold. An eclectic mix of older sophisticates, young hipsters and intrigued chefs filled the tables. The dining room doesn't exclude anyone. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Sipping on my Champagne I contemplated the menu. A la carte, five or eight course tasting, all with the option to be paired with wines. I was game for the eight.

While there are too many specifics to write here (an image of the menu and wines is attached), the food was a journey through the Royal Mail garden and it's local surroundings. Artichokes were flourishing at the time and featured three times, including dessert.

Gnocchi with sweetbreads (a first for me) were pillows of heaven. The duck could have been served twice and I wouldn't complain. Pear, white chocolate and dulce de leche was gone before I remembered to photograph it.

The wine was incredible. And despite my palette being easily impressed and admittedly unrefined, the wines were perfectly matched with each dish. With my head bobbing by the end, I couldn't quite finish the Iberia Cream, but I can still distinctly remember my 2009 Trimbach Muscat - Alsace, France. Smooth, crisp and yellow.

My sommelier, from Spain, was an example of the high level of knowledge and service by the staff at Royal Mail. It's rare to find great staff, and even rarer for them to move to a regional establishment. My server, from South Australia, lives on site in the staff quarters and it was my first clue in to what Royal Mail was all about.

The Royal Mail is not just a restaurant and boutique hotel. It's a manifestation of Australian Lawyer, Allan Myers, giving back to the town from which he came. Acquiring over 10,000 hectares, never before has a restaurant and hotel drawn tourism and jobs to the Grampians. Completely changing the town, you can now see art galleries, bookstores, produce shops and cafe's popping up, sustained by the injection of tourism from the Royal Mail.

The bar and adjoining bistro served up wholesome fair. Curry night was a hit with the locals and the chips were thick-cut and crunchy (perhaps thrice fried?).
Breakfast served in the dining room drew inspiration from the restaurant menu. Mixed grain oats with whiskey pears and sixty-three degree poached eggs were satisfying enough to help with the feeling of perhaps having a little too much wine the night before, but delicate at the same time.

Walking around the grounds of the property, which is vast, the rooms and apartments are dotted around in their Australian landscape.

Siting on the balcony and watching the sun go down on Mt. Sturgeon, the end point of the Grampians, I forgot I came to Royal Mail for the food.

The newly refurbished Deluxe Rooms are modern without being flashy. Large rainshowers and organic amenities from Appelles bring the rooms up to a luxury level.

Hotel walks are throughout the property, from a short 15 minute boardwalk stroll to more intense climbs up the mountain. The hotel can even pack a picnic lunch for you.

The architecturally designed pool sits rustically in its surroundings and the evening sun made it warm enough for a dip. Facing Mt Sturgeon, you couldn't have asked for a better view.

Wildlife and Conservation tours are Monday to Saturday at 4:30pm on their Mt Sturgeon station. There you can see the once extinct Quoll specie along with squirrel gliders and other native wildlife.

The hotel garden turned my inner farm-girl green with envy. Produce is bountiful and you can stroll the gardens marveling at fennel, artichokes and squash being grown.

Ducks patrol the grounds in charge of pest control, happily reminding me their produce is pesticide free.

I may have come to The Royal Mail Hotel for it's food. But learning it's story, there seemed to more to it than just that. The growing tourism, creating jobs, wildlife conservation and produce garden give the establishment substance. The people who live and work in the area are fiercely protective of it, and rightly so. It's something special, and it's worth the trip to experience it for yourself.

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CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Burnished and Australian.
ROOM PICK: Deluxe Room
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
BREAKFAST: Included - artisanal selection with breakfast buffet.
RATES: Deluxe rooms start at $295 p/n. Enquire about stay and dine packages.
CHILDREN: Yes.
IN-ROOM: Balcony, rainshower, Appelles products, mini bar, King bed, TV, work station.
DINING: 8 course menu $160, accompanying wines $120

I stayed and dined courtesy of The Royal Mail Hotel.
http://www.royalmail.com.au/