, Gateway to the Grampians
, is a little country town at the foot of Mt Sturgeon in western Victoria. Just three hours from Melbourne
, Catriona Rowntree had heard stories about its Royal Mail Hotel and went to see if all she had heard was true. It was, and more.
The Royal Mail Hotel was established in 1855 as a bluestone inn offering accommodation, stabling, and a reception room for concerts and meetings.
On the town's main street, it has become the destination for foodies. Forget about waiting an hour for a table on a Saturday night. How about a wait of three months! Winning a couple of awards, including two chefs hats from the Age Good Food Guide, and some fantastic publicity, have put the Royal and Dunkeld on the gastronomic map.
Dan Hunter, executive chef, is responsible for the stream of diners and admits it does feel a little strange to be in such an eclectic atmosphere in one of Australia's quietest towns. His experience in many of the world's top restaurants became Australia's gain when he returned home in 2007 and took up his role in Dunkeld.
For Dan, the secret to success is having the freshest produce. He has his own market garden in town, kitchen gardens, greenhouse, fruit trees and free-range chickens. While most people have to be content with four seasons, Dan says Victoria has around 16, so his choice of what to grow is wide and varied.
The Royal Mail Restaurant serves dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. Tasting menus are prepared on those days, each a progression of small, refined dishes. There are up to 15 courses, so a meal at the Royal isn't a pop-in, pop-out affair. It's a gastronomic journey and can take up to four hours to linger over.
Diners may elect to be served accompanying wines and a sommelier is available to suggest perfect selections from the extensive wine cellar. The Royal Mail possibly has one of Australia's most comprehensive wine collections.
If you prefer something a little quicker, the Royal Mail Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and light refreshments are served all day. Dine by an open fire in winter and in a shady courtyard in summer.
The tradition of good food continues in the hotel's public bar. Have a game of pool or sip a glass of red by the open fire and tuck into a beef and stout pie, corned wagyu beef or venison terrine. There's a wide range of local and imported beer as well as wine to accompany whatever you choose.
Hikers and picnickers haven't been forgotten. They can order barbecue packs or hampers to take on their outings.
Accommodation comes in mountain- and garden-view rooms and one- and two-bedroom apartments. Directly opposite the hotel, Mulberry House sleeps up to 11 people in four bedrooms. It has polished hardwood flooring, lounge room, two dining areas, two bathrooms, kitchenette and barbecue. It's centrally heated and has a peaceful garden setting.
Mt Sturgeon estate, still on Royal Mail property, is a five-minute drive away. There are eight semi-self contained cottages which were shearers' quarters in the 1800s.
Enjoy a walk around the town, known for its production of superfine wool and pop into the historical museum, galleries and bookshop. The town's main attraction is the looming Mt Sturgeon.
Dunkeld, a three-hour drive from Melbourne.
Royal Mail Restaurant is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Bookings are essential. The Royal Mail Bistro is open for lunch between noon and 3pm and dinner 6pm to 9pm every day. The public bar is open for lunch from Tuesday to Sunday between noon and 2pm and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday between 6pm and 8pm.
Royal Mail Hotel rooms start at $160 for Garden View rooms and $200 for Mountain View. One-bedroom apartments are $310, two-bedroom apartments are $290 and Mulberry House is $540. Breakfast is included. Forty-five-minute cellar tours with the Royal Mail sommelier, including wine tastings, are $15.
Virgin Blue has one-way flights to Melbourne from:
- Adelaide $79
- Hobart $85
- Sydney $90
- Canberra $99
- Brisbane $129
- Darwin $179
- Perth $245
There are limited seats, which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares quoted are one-way booked on the internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at October 28, 2010, and are subject to change.
Price correct at October 28, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 136 789
Royal Mail Hotel and Restaurant
Ph: (03) 5577 2241