The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld. Bistro and Kitchen Garden

People who know about the culinary delights of the Royal Mail Hotel are prepared to travel three hours from Melbourne to dine there. Overseas travellers also make the journey into the Western District of Victoria: the word has spread far. The Royal Mail Hotel has been a two hatted restaurant for some years now and continues to win annual awards. The dining room, and the more affordable bistro, are definitely on the foody itinerary.

Carror risotto, with baby carrots and herbs.
Carrot risotto, with baby carrots and herbs. $26

The Bistro, now called the Parker Street Project, is open every day,  whereas the fine dining restaurant, with 5, 7 and  9 course set menus, is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday and lunch from Thursday to Sunday. We visited on a Monday and were delighted to find well priced and stunningly good food at an affordable price in the Parker St bistro. Under its present incarnation, with new chefs and a revitalised menu, it is even better than the last time I visited in 2009.

Fish and chips with a difference. Port arlington flathead, hand cut chips, baked vegetables and brocollini.
Fish and chips with a difference. Port Fairy flathead, hand cut chips, baked vegetables and broccolini. Smoky Pimenton aioli. $24

The key to the success of the hotel is not simply the dedicated world-class chefs, assistants and trainees who work here, but the vibrancy of fresh, organic produce. The Kitchen Garden, which was established in 2009, is the largest hotel garden in Australia. Run on organic principles, it spreads over more than an acre. Eighty per cent of the vegetables, herbs and fruit used in both the dining room and the bistro, comes from this huge productive garden. Chefs pick twice daily: it’s their larder, green grocer and inspiration.

Beautiful just picked green salad, with a paper thin slice of turnip, simply dressed
Beautiful just picked green salad, with a paper-thin slice of turnip, simply dressed. $8

The head gardener, Michelle, will tell you which flowers the chefs love best, ( for instance, society garlic, viola, nigella, cornflower, nasturtium ) and what wonderful beer they are now making with the Verbena. Most of the produce grown here are heritage vegetables and rare herbs, which are not generally available to chefs. Michelle uses a number of organic practices ‘such as using ducks to control pests like slugs and snails and using compost derived from vegetable waste, grass clippings, spoilt hay from chicken coops and animal manure from nearby farms to build up soil structure and provide nutrients.’ She also has fabricated wire cages to protect some crops from the ducks and white cabbage moth, has made circular shade cloth surrounds for blueberries, encourages early tomatoes with wind and frost surrounds, does some experimental planting in hot houses, and trains berries onto tall wire strained structures. The whole tour is an inspiration. If you are a keen vegetable gardener,  you must not leave Dunkeld without a visit to this garden. Ask questions and learn. And try to get your tour when Michelle is on duty, if you are a garden fanatic like me. The chefs lead the tours on the other days. Tours cost $15 per person and last around 45 minutes. A staff member will drive you to the site, given its location some distance from the hotel.

Royal Mail Kitchen Garden
Royal Mail Kitchen Garden

Take your own tour of this amazing kitchen garden by opening this media slide show of photos separately.

Staying at the Royal Mail Hotel is a treat, with private suites facing the grand view of Mt Sturgeon, a large swimming pool for hot days, and great walking, which start within the hotel grounds. If you don’t wish to splurge, the caravan park has spacious powered sites for $25 a night, which are set on a shady creek, and also has cheap overnight self- contained cabins.  Dining in the restaurant is rather special, but you will also do very well in the bistro. The new Parker Street Project, is managed by Stephen, a friendly, hospitable young man who really loves his job. Enthusiastic staff make a huge difference here.

Chefs at work. Dining Room, the royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
Chefs at work. Dining Room, the royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
a customer sits on a shady veranndah at teh Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, set under the watchful gaze of Mt Sturgeon.
A local sits on a shady verandah at the Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, set under the watchful gaze of Mt Sturgeon.

More details about the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia can be found here.

28 thoughts on “The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld. Bistro and Kitchen Garden”

  1. A vast improvement from 2009. That garden is very impressive. I like the steel rio for tomatoes. I’m going to use some to espalier cherries. Espaliering tomatoes makes a lot of sense. More air and sun than staking.

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    1. The garden is quite incredible Brian. And we only saw one acre. There is another acre for fruits and nuts, and another for garlic, onions and potatoes. Extraordinary and worth visiting.

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  2. Beautiful post. We have visited there and eaten from the Bistro twice but we did not do the garden tour. Gardening is so useless here that it only frustrates me to know what I can’t achieve! I love your photo tour, however. What a work of art (and no doubt labour of love) that garden is. As with most restaurants I found the menu very limited for what I can eat. I was a bit timid, though, and if we go again I will notify them ahead and speak with the staff about my diet limitations. Lovely post, thank you Francesca.

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  3. LOVE the Royal Mail. We had an incredibly memorable experience there a few years back, 9 course degustation with matched wines. It was mid winter and freezing cold, the first night of an outback adventure. We staggered down hill to the camp ground afterward, totally replete (and pissed). Robyn Wickens, the head chef at the RM had a cafe in Apollo Bay for a few years, a sea change. He made the best meat pies ever, but his talent was wasted and under appreciated there. We tried to get into Brae a few times before we left Vic but always booked out. It will be a similar set up and experience in time.

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    1. We also went there in 2009 with some friends and stayed in the flash accommodation- then under Dan Hunter, and did the 9 course degus. We found it a bit too precious- too many micro herbs, flowers and theatre and not enough subtsance. We all got totally whacked, and our friend B kept asking strange questions like, ‘When’s the swan coming’ and can I have a bowl of wedges. I liked it but he was unimpressed and played up madly. We staggered back to our rooms, but I think B went wandering about during the night, got lost somewhere and did something Van Goghian to his ear… long story. We were all a bit deranged and we will blame the bushfire that year.
      This time it was lovely. I really like the new chef’s approach and we may get to try the dining room again one day.
      Shame about not getting into Brae….

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    1. It is an amazing place Lisa, a bit of a drive but worth it, as you get the Grampians as well.
      B’s ear was somehow sliced open after a small fall in a bush when he was staggering around in the dark. He had stitches and wore Van Gogh patch for a while. I think we were all a bit crazed at the time- sort of funny/tragic memories. We are old enough to know better.

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  4. I’m getting a sense of having seen this on a TV cooking or travel show. My kind of hotel! I think this is going on the short list for when we next head in that direction. Looks beautiful and the colours of those dishes is very appealing.

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    1. The tomato guards are made from wooden stakes, 3 to a guard, and are made from a cardboardy bendy product. I suspect Dunkeld gets late frosts so these would protect them from that but also the plants seem to chase upwards towards the light and get some height on them before they are removed.
      There is another garden next door, set behind a massive wall, which is owned by the towns patrons. On occasion it is open. http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2009/10/30/2726311.htm
      Of course you must go, Julie.

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