Wickens: a destination to dine for.

1 January 2018


Wickens: a destination to dine for.

1 January 2018

The Royal Mail Hotel main entrance

Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel was awarded two hats in the Good Food Guide 2020. Image: Supplied.

Melbourne may be a foodie city, but some of the state’s best dining experiences are found beyond the urban sprawl. One such place is Wickens at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld where the focus is firmly on fresh produce, food and wine.

Wickens celebrates the talent of executive chef Robin Wickens – who took over from acclaimed chef Dan Hunter of Brae fame in 2013 – as well as the extraordinary wine cellar of owner Allan Myers AC QC.

Setting the scene

The restaurant, which opened in October 2017, boasts a sleek construction that takes in dramatic views of Mt Abrupt and Mt Sturgeon, the two rugged sandstone peaks that stand sentry over the tiny village of Dunkeld. This spectacular setting is just a three-hour drive from Melbourne, at the southern end of the Grampians National Park in western Victoria.  

Staff working in a kitchen

The dining room is designed so that diners have a full view of the kitchen staff hard at work. Image: Supplied.

Inside, floor-to-ceiling glass dominates the dining room – and provides diners an uninterrupted view to the mountains. In the evenings, as the sun retreats and the peaks melt into the shadows, outdoor lights highlight the sculptural forms of gum trees in the foreground: a breathtaking view.

The menu is set, with five or eight courses and optional matched wines (or choose from the 120-page wine list, voted Best Hotel Wine List globally by the UK’s Fine Wine magazine), and every ingredient used in the kitchen comes from the Royal Mail’s organic kitchen garden, the Myers’ farm and local producers.

Wickens and his team take these ingredients and let them sing in inventive ways. Maybe a delicate roll of carrot, as thin as paper with cardamom salt and orange, made to melt in the mouth, to start; or a morsel of sweetbreads on brioche with mustard greens and parsley root. The menu is designed to delight and surprise – and it does.

Beyond the restaurant

While the dining is sensational, there are opportunities to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes. There are daily tours of the kitchen garden – a guided walk through the gardens reveals the extent of the kitchen’s commitment to seasonal and heirloom produce.

A sommelier conducting a wine tasting with two people in a wine cellar

Guests can enjoy a wine tasting in the extensive wine cellar, which holds 28,000 bottles. Image: Supplied.  

Guests can also visit the hotel’s cellar door. Housed in a low-key wine store, the cellar is nonetheless home to the largest collection of Burgundy in the southern hemisphere. Visitors can try some of the world’s most iconic labels alongside sommelier Matthew Lance.

Most diners book in to stay at the hotel, which is popular with couples celebrating anniversaries or a weekend away. One nervous man even popped the question halfway through dinner on the night I visited. She said yes, of course.

* Mercedes-Benz New Zealand Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol.

By Nola James