98 Parker Street, Dunkeld - ph: (03) 5577 2241
I've booked this trip to the Grampians to sleep at the Royal Mail Hotel and dine at the restaurant about 3 months ago. It was hard arranging a night when both the hotel and restaurant were available.
We arrived at the hotel around 5pm and had some time to relax in our room before heading to the restaurant.
The restaurant is a large, bright open space with minimalistic decoration. Its key drawing card is the 'nature-based' cuisine focusing on organic and heirloom seasonal produce grown on site and harvested daily from the restaurant's own kitchen gardens, collected from the wild and sourced from local artisan producers.
From the very beginning of the meal, we could tell this place was serious about it's food. The humble bread and butter was transformed with a touch of smokiness in the butter - something that I've never seen before. The waiter explained they smoke the milk to make their own butter.
The first entree was a sea salad served with lemon and lychee. I have to say I didn't really like this dish. The 'sea' component had the texture of raw calamari and the green algae had no taste of their own. Disappointing.
Next came the artichoke with cream cheese and chive. Again, I didn't love the dish. Thought the artichoke was a bit dry and the dish overall resembled baked potatoes with cream and chive. I didn't find it any special.
The hapuku in chicken broth was one of my favourite savory dishes. According to wikipedia, Hapuku is a highly rated eating fish found in Australia, NZ and Chile. I found it really tender and tasty - and was perfectly complemented by the slightly salty broth. Didn't want this course to end.
Still in the seafood department, the next dish was a beautifully presented eel with kohlrabi (German turnip - thanks again wikipedia!) and potatoes. I'm slightly embarrassed to say I have no idea what the herbs decorating the dish were. All I can say is that it tasted great. Eel was nicely cooked and again, slightly salty, which I loved.
King brown mushrooms served with carrot and buckwheat were a great example of Royal Mail's ability of creating complex dishes out of simple ingredients. This dish tasted fantastic
Now to the sweets. We started with a 'transition' dessert that was only slightly sweet and quite different: rhubarb served with licorice and almonds. I normally hate licorice, but quite liked this dish. The flavours blended really well and opened my appetite to the sweeter desserts that followed. And the presentation was lovely.
What the second dessert lacked in presentation was made up by its taste. I simply loved the delicate coconut and cocoa ice covering the smooth and spicy banana. This was an amazingly complex, yet subtle dessert. Loved it.
Last dessert was my favourite. The pistachio block had a great crunchy texture and the chocolate ice cream was decadently creamy.
Overall, I really enjoyed Royal Mail's sophistication and creativity. One big let down for me was the lack of explanation of the dishes being served. I thought service was very attentive, but the waiters only read the description of each dish and did not elaborate on explanations of the rare and exquisit ingredients used. I was much more impressed about our meal after I got home and did my own research. :)