Royal Mail: Bringing Nature and Technology Together
Looking through the window of the train, I can already feel an unusual sense of nature, which prepares me for one of the best restaurant experiences in my career. I’m travelling to the fantastic Royal Mail Hotel and Restaurant located in Dunkeld, 200 km west of Melbourne, Australia.
Since its opening in 2007, the 40-room hotel that faces the stunning Gampian Mountains has earned its place as one of the greatest restaurants in Australia and has become a key destination for foodies and wine lovers from all over the world.
The media was instantly attracted to Royal Mail because of Executive Chef Dan Hunter, who was the former head chef of the renowned Mugaritz restaurant in Spain.
"The reviews were good from the start. Today we have guests who land in Melbourne, come to Dunkeld direct from the airport, eat at the restaurant and the next day they take a flight back to their countries." explained Chef Dan during our interview.
The modernist restaurant is also a magnet for wine lovers, as their cellar houses the largest Australian, Burgundy and Bordeaux collection in the country with more than 16.000 bottles.
When I asked Hunter about the challenges that they faced opening a restaurant so far away from the nearest city, he responded, "Normally, it is not easy to find good produce outside the biggest cities in Australia, and to have a restaurant of the quality we wanted to open, we needed great produce to start with. Today, together with the restaurant, there a number of producers around the Grampians area who are getting their own identities and that is very positive".
This difficulty in finding good produce at the beginning pushed the chef to plant a beautiful kitchen garden of their own, where they grow all of the amazing varieties of vegetables and herbs they serve, both in the restaurant and in the bistro next door.
They have a full time gardener, and every day four chefs spend the morning picking all of the produce for the day. It’s inspiring to see the amount of respect and love that they put into their jobs. As Chef Dan said, "sometimes you can capture the sunshine in the produce."
All this hard work in the garden is later transferred into the modernist kitchen, where the job is also very intense. The chefs prepare everything from scratch every day, including the chardonnay vine wood-smoked butter, the fresh ricotta and the 60+ varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs for the fantastic Garden Salad.
Chef Dan is also very clear about his take on modern food and techniques. "I’m a chef in 2013. Today there is a whole range of information available, and all techniques are valid. One of the oldest techniques in the world may be grilling on fire which is a great technique and we use it, but today we also have sous vide cooking, and it’s also a good and applicable technique. We are always looking at all the techniques available, and we pull out what is the best for us at that time of the year with the produce we have."
This opinion is beautifully reflected on the degustation menu, where you can try a simple but fantastic warm tomato on a crumbled toast topped with fresh sheep ricotta and 8 types of basil, and soon after you get a baked marrow with eggplant, pickled vegetables, and smoked eel, which is prepared using the latest techniques to create a crispy, black nougatine.
Together with other big restaurants such as Mugaritz, Faviken or l’Argeg, Royal Mail is creating what, in my opinion, is the latest cuisine. They combine passion and respect with great technique to get the best possible product; through food, they connect you with nature and remind you when and where you are.
Degustation Menu by Chef Dan Hunter at Royal Mail
Rice paper, salmon roe, finger lime
Rainbow trout, coffee, black treacle and chicken crispy skin
Hot and Cold Prawns – prawn floss, warm prawns, cucumber ice, chive flowers
Tomato on toast, handmade sheep ricotta – on the base there is crumbled toast, on top there is warm tomato with chive oil, fresh sheep milk ricotta (made daily) and eight basil varieties!
Air dried stripped trumpeter, lemon cucumber, aniseed - Trumpeter is a delicious fish from south Australia. The air drying technique developed by Chef Dan Hunter consists of curating the fish first and then air drying it. The yellow flowers have an intense flavor of anise.
Garden salad- 100% made with fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers from the restaurant’s garden. Incredible flavors!
Line caught calamari, charred onion, zucchini apricot kernel
Eel and bone marrow, eggplant and pickled vegetables. Get recipe here!
Salt grass lamb, broad beans, chard steam, Malabar spinach – lamb is dry aged.
Parsnip, apple and blueberries, fennel and creme fraiche – The parsnip is what looks like thin tree bark, the crème fraiche was incredibly smooth and fresh and on top of the blueberries there is fennel polen.
Milk and berries, quandong cooked with roses – quandong is a fruit from the Australian dessert.