The Royal Mail, Dunkeld, Victoria hotel review: Home to one of Australia's best restaurants, this hotel is an ideal country stay

Our rating

5 out of 5

THE PLACE

The Royal Mail, Dunkeld, Victoria

THE LOCATION

The Royal Mail stands on the main street of Dunkeld, a small town in western Victoria at the southern foot of the Grampians mountain range (known as Gariwerd to the local Indigenous people). This makes for impressive views, as well as making it a convenient base to visit shops and cafes within the township. The hotel is also a handy starting point for hikes or drives into the national park.

THE SPACE

Having started as a 19th century pub, the hotel is an interesting mix of architecture: the bar end of its main building is contained within the original stone walls, while the restaurant end sits within a modern structure. The hotel rooms are in separate blocks, surrounded by stands of native plants. The long-term plan is to relocate guest parking to one side of this area, so the space between buildings can be a continuous garden. In the middle is a compact swimming pool.

THE ROOM

My recently renovated New Deluxe Mountain View room is an elegant, airy space with light grey carpet, off-white walls and an attractive headboard constructed from local timber behind the king-size bed. This carpentry extends to the open wardrobe and bar fridge area, which is concealed behind a wooden screen. The wardrobe contains a backpack for guests to use, containing maps and binoculars. It's a thoughtful touch, as is the welcome tray of ingredients for making gin and tonic (there's a mint plant on the balcony from which to pluck a garnish).

The bathroom is sizeable with olive-brown tiles, wood finishes, and a rain shower head within an open-sided cubicle. Toiletries are from Biology, and are commendably dispensed from large refillable containers.

The crowning glory is the balcony, a timber deck with comfortable low chairs and a view of Mount Sturgeon, the southernmost of the Grampians. With birdsong in the background, it's a fine place to sit and unwind.

THE FOOD

A decade ago, head chef Dan Hunter propelled the Royal Mail into the ranks of the nation's top restaurants, and his successor, Robin Wickens, has not rested on those laurels. The hotel now has two excellent restaurants.

Parker Street Project within the main building is open for all meals and has understated decor with timber tones. Diners' eyes are drawn toward a view of the Grampians, above an attractive courtyard with outdoor seating. Interesting dishes on the menu include blue eye with tartare sauce and roasted cauliflower, and pickled vegetables with nasturtium cream and sumac.

The next evening we enjoy an eight-course degustation dinner ($220 per person) at Wickens, which turns out to be more like 13 courses with extra amuse-bouches and palate cleansers. It's spectacular food, with highlights this night including wood-grilled John Dory with carrot, hyssop and borage leaves; and a meadowsweet mousse with strawberry juice and native mint.

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STEPPING OUT

There are several walking routes into the Grampians, and an easier local walk to an arboretum. The hotel also offers a wine tutorial with its sommelier in its cavernous wine cellar. The township is worth a stroll, with a gift shop, an art gallery, and an antiquarian bookshop along with casual dining options. Recently installed heritage signage adds interest.

THE VERDICT

The Royal Mail is an ideal country stay, at which fine dining and relaxation can be neatly combined with the grandeur of nature.

HIGHLIGHT

Eating excellent food with a view of the mountains.

LOWLIGHT

The lack of a desk in the room can lead to surfaces becoming cluttered.

ESSENTIALS

Rooms at The Royal Mail from $225 a night (from $470 for a New Deluxe Mountain View room). 98 Parker St, Dunkeld, Victoria. See www.royalmail.com.au  

Tim Richards stayed as a guest of The Royal Mail.