Dinner at the Royal Mail Hotel was an exciting proposition even before arrival. The restaurant’s reputation and that of Chef Dan Hunter preceeds it. After numerous failed attempts to secure a booking, I was finally there at Dunkeld in Regional Victoria. But not at the restaurant, I was dining at the Royal Mail Hotel bistro. In fact, it is one long room, with different menues, but with the food coming from the same kitchen: the open kitchen pass sitting snuggly at the bridge of the two.
Entree: slow cooked egg, salt fish and mussels, potato and fish crackling
Main: hopkins river angus short rib cooked overnight, charred potato, horseradish and broccoli
Oh my! Lightness and intensity, variations of textures, purity of flavours. Chef Dan Hunter sent me out some extra dishes from the restaurant menu to try. OMG OMG: asparagus, hazelnuts, chive flowers was just incredible. I’d never eaten asparagus like that, that good, that small and sweet, but punchy, before. Of course the gorgeous tiny asparagus was fresh from the garden. Each element of every dish we ate on the evening was stunningly beautiful. The man is a genius.
Perhaps the most important part of the role of a chef is the produce that he procures (and in this case grows.) Chef Dan Hunter, The Royal Mail Hotel has a kitchen garden. It started out small, inside the walled grounds of Royal Mail Hotel owner Myers Dunkeld home but now has a generous adjoining allotment, and more recently has appointed a dedicated gardener. What is also amazing is the amount of hands-on time that the whole team of chefs from the Royal Mail Hotel spend in the kitchen garden. The chefs spend 1 1/2 to 2 hours each morning just picking the produce for the day.
In each of my dishes the perfectly cooked potatoes had a fullness in nutty flavour, and in soft rich floury texture. Yet this was not surprising, when I learnt that the Royal Mail Hotel kitchen garden has 1,000 potato plants and grows 18 different potato varieties. Sous Chef Jeff Trotter explained that the garden has 12 varieties of garlic (not that horrid bleached Chinese stuff – we both nodded in agreed disgust.) Pollination and the eco system is looked after too, as Fraser McKenzie runs the beehives that produced 30kg of Royal Mail Hotel honey last year. Trotter enthused that “the honey almost gets a savoury flavour” as the bees are feeding off such a variety of vegetables and herbs.
Add to this stunning produce the commitment of an incredible Executive Chef. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a chef like this. Our table was the second last to leave, and Dan Hunter was still at the pass to check those last desserts as they went out.
I’m thinking of moving to Victoria, and to Dunkeld, so I can eat there every night.
Royal Mail Hotel
98 Parker Street Dunkeld Victoria Australia
+ 61 3 5577 2241