An Outback Odyssey at the Royal Mail Hotel
Royal Mail Hotel chef Dan Hunter. Photo courtesy of Royal Mail Hotel.
People had warned us to watch out for wallabies and kangaroos on the dark, four-hour drive west from Melbourne to the Royal Mail Hotel. But no one mentioned that we might risk hitting a sommelier crossing the road right in front of the property. Luckily, we braked just in time.
Set at the southern tip of the rocky Grampians National Park, the Royal Mail Hotel was a stop for 19th-century postal workers; it became a wine destination in the 1990s when Allan Myers bought the property and added a 20,000-bottle wine list to the restaurant. To bring the quality of the food up to the standard of his wines, Myers hired Dan Hunter, who was chef de cuisine at the Michelin two-star restaurant Mugaritz in Spain. By the time we arrived a few years ago in Dunkeld, population 450, Hunter was rumored to be cooking some of the best food in Australia.
Sous vide egg yolk on rye. Photo courtesy of Royal Mail Hotel.
Using exacting techniques and tools (sous vide, tweezers), he creates dishes like a saffron-orange egg yolk cooked to precisely 140 degrees, nestled on a bed of toasted rye. Some plates evoked nature scenes: The seasonal vegetable plate resembled a garden, with pinkie-size carrots popping out of a coffee-and-cocoa “soil.”
The food, though stunning, did not outshine the wine. To go with squab in a strawberry-and-rose-petal sauce, our sommelier (the one we almost hit with our car, coincidentally) fetched a 1999 Best’s Great Western Pinot Meunier. The satiny wine was made with grapes from vineyards near the Royal Mail and it had a spicy, floral perfume that worked well with the dish. The entire night was magical, but it was this pairing—which I couldn’t have had anywhere else—that made the dinner worth 20 hours on two planes, a four-hour drive and a near hit-and-run. royalmail.com.au.