There’s a bit of the wow factor as you enter Dunkeld. Mt Sturgeon towers majestically behind the town, making a spectacular backdrop to this place dubbed the entrance to the Southern Grampians. But there’s more here than big views. There’s some pretty epic food too.
Getting to our campground was an adventure and Reflections at Rocklands tells the story. But fast forward 24 hours from our dramas at Rocklands Reservoir and we’re back in Dunkeld for our royal meal at the Royal Mail. Well, it’s not quite regal, but it’s close enough …
The Royal Mail Hotel is no ordinary pub, in fact it’s one of country Victoria’s finest. This highly awarded hotel is well known for its nature driven fine dining and its impressive restaurant kitchen garden. On the weekend we visited, Head Chef Chef Robin Wickens had just finished a tour for hotel guests and graciously agreed to meet us for an unofficial kitchen garden stroll before our lunch.
Robin is one of Australia’s most exciting chefs, having earnt consecutive awards and hats from both The Age Good Food Guide and Gourmet Traveller. Haling from the south coast of England he made his mark in the UK before doing the same in Melbourne and later Apollo Bay in his own gourmet bakery before taking on the role at the Royal Mail. He says he can’t see himself moving back to the city, loving the landscape and inspiration that’s found in Dunkeld. It’s no wonder.
The Royal Mail Kitchen Garden is known as the largest and most productive kitchen garden in Australia. It’s located only a few kilometres from the hotel, with the magnificent Mount Sturgeon rising behind it and it’s an oasis of changing seasonal produce. There are more than 1.2 hectares of kitchen gardens, stone fruit and citrus orchards and olive groves. As well, scattered around Dunkeld are farms of beef and lamb that are reared on 25,000 hectares of farmland.
It was a cold autumn day when I spoke to Robin and our chat was cut short by rain but still it was a treat to see the garden and talk to him about his passion for cooking local. Garden tours are held most weekends and even if you’re not staying at the hotel, non guests can arrange to join a tour. It’s a fantastic way to appreciate where your food comes from. Knowing that more than 80 per cent of the food on the menu is grown from the neighbouring farm and kitchen garden makes the experience a very special one.
The Royal Mail has two dining options, fine dining at Wickens Restaurant and the more casual Parker Street Bistro. It’s here we settle in, cosy and warm by the window, enjoying the relaxed ambience and friendly service. And then I’m handed the wine menu, all 99 pages of it!
It read like a bible and when I jokingly mention that to our waitress she laughs. “That’s exactly what we call it” she tells me. With 25,000 bottles in their wine cellar and the largest sparkly collection in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s enough to completely overwhelm a girl or send her to heaven. It’s a heavenly glass of Merlot for me!
The food menu was smaller, thankfully. But, what gorgeous choices, showcasing fresh colourful seasonal produce with snacks, small plates and mains offering a bit of everything, from marinated Dunkeld olives, golden linseed sourdough with Vegemite butter to an eclectic array of mains. And mouth watering desserts. Everything is artfully presented and bursting with flavour and freshness.
Our experience at Dunkeld was a wonderful reminder of our bountiful Earth. And how, when humans are passionate and visionary about what we do, we can work together with nature to co-create the extraordinary.
Whether it’s a herb pot in an apartment, vegetables in the backyard or a huge kitchen garden like the one at Dunkeld we all have a hand in creation, in the ability to grow, nurture and produce a bountiful harvest. Food to love.
“My mum used to say that everything tastes better in the great outdoors. How true that is! I didn’t inherit her green Italian thumb, unfortunately, but mum did cultivate in me a love of food and a passion for authentic cooking. Now, as a camper, as a lover of nature, of good food and a glass of vino I get it. Life, love and living mindfully is all about slowing down, it’s the art of being patient and purposeful. It puts us back into the slow circle of nature.”
After our meal I swapped my boots for runners and we walked to the Piccaninny summit, overlooking the majestic mountains of Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt.
Love your life. Honour your journey. Find joy and beauty in what surrounds you. Feel the blessing of life in simple moments and in the gifts that Mother Earth provides us. When we appreciate what the Universe gives us, we’ll be given more. When we focus on abundance we’ll always have enough.
Ground yourself in a new earth. Are you waking up each morning with a zest for the day ahead? If not, what do you need to do to bring more passion and light into your present? How do we create more heaven for ourselves, especially on the inside? What will shift the consciousness of this planet?
Maybe creating heaven is all about nurturing the small things today that will cultivate more growth tomorrow. Plant more seeds of kindness and purpose and watch how it grows. Love is the most fertile seed so love unconditionally and without limit. It’s what the world needs today.
Enjoy the journey. And all the deliciousness along the way.