The Royal Mail Hotel is changing

The Royal Mail Hotel's executive chef Robin Wickens

The Royal Mail Hotel's executive chef Robin Wickens

The winds of change are blowing wildly in Dunkeld, 270 kilometres west of Melbourne. The Royal Mail Hotel, which put the tiny town on the food-tourism map, has formalised its relationship with executive chef of the past four years, Robin Wickens, with a bold move to create a new restaurant on the site.

Most telling is the name: Wickens at the Royal Mail Hotel. The British-born chef, who made his name with the experimental modern food at his Fitzroy restaurant Interlude, is a partner in the venture with Royal Mail owners Allan Myers QC, and his family.

"I'm really happy to commit to the restaurant and to life in Dunkeld," says Wickens. "John (Myers' son) has become a lot more involved in the business and he agreed we need to move the restaurant to make it clearer, nicer, more exciting. It's what I've been working towards for the past four years. I didn't want to just come in and change the menu - I wanted to change the whole restaurant, and putting my name to it gives a sense of permanence."

The creation of a discrete restaurant is designed to solve a problem created by the last major refurbishment of the hotel, back in 1998, which left it with an ungainly entrance shared by the dégustation-only restaurant and the hotel reception. It was also arguably facing the wrong way, with the dramatic edifice of Mount Sturgeon obscured to the back of the room. The new 45-seat restaurant will be built at the rear of the property to capitalise on the views of the Grampians while adding a sense of adventure for diners as they tread a native plant-strewn path to arrive at their destination. The bistro, Parker Street Project, will move into the current restaurant space, while the area it vacates will be returned to a traditional front bar.

Also boasting a 10-seat private dining room and separate bar and lounge area, Wickens at the Royal Mail Hotel is designed by Melbourne-based, Dunkeld-born architect Nick Byrne. It incorporates local materials including sandstone and timbers, while wool-lined shelves in the cellar will make a design feature of the hotel's colossal nationally significant wine collection without stealing the thunder from its newly refurbished wine storage across the road, where hotel guests can now go for tastings: "The cellar has never been part of the restaurant so bringing in a bit of that was something we really wanted to do," says Wickens.

RMH general manager Mark Whitnell says once the new restaurant opens at the end of October - possibly after a pop-up in Melbourne - they will concentrate on taking the accommodation up a notch. "Our main focus is on the restaurant but ultimately it's moving down the line of not just being known as a great restaurant but as a luxury destination," says Whitnell.

As for the food, which is grounded in the huge kitchen gardens and the Myers' livestock including sheep, beef and goats, it's the one constant amid all this change. "I think it's just a great new phase of the hotel," says Wickens, who admits his predecessor, Dan Hunter, cast a long shadow. "It puts a few ghosts to bed, and we can start fresh and do our own thing. I don't know if it's less pressure, or more pressure."

The restaurant will be open as usual in the meantime.

Wickens at the Royal Mail Hotel will open in October 2017; 98 Parker Street, Dunkeld, Vic, (03) 5577 224,


Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
Three Blue Ducks to land in Brisbane this April
Guy Grossi will open a Roman restaurant in Perth this April
A look inside Charlie Carrington’s new restaurant Colours by Atlas
Toby Wilson is hosting taco degustations in Sydney
A new phase for Carlton Wine Room
Now open: Moor's Head Carlton
The Gourmet Traveller podcast

Each fortnight we round up the most interesting characters from the food world for your listening pleasure. We chat to chefs, cooks, authors, bar tenders and baristas - anyone who has something new and interesting to say about the way we like to eat and drink.

Recipe collections

Looking for fresh dinner ideas? Not sure how to make the most out of seasonal produce? Or do you need to plan the perfect party menu? Our recipe collections have you covered.

See more

You might also like...

Australian chefs to follow on Instagram in 2013

There are a lot of food shots on Instagram: the good, the ba...

Where our chefs want to eat

We asked Australia's leading chefs to name the restaurants t...

Hot 100 2015 - Restaurant news

The world is getting hotter and we’re not talking about glob...

What the hell is Gelinaz anyway, and why is it shuffling?

On the eve of the second outing of one of the world’s strang...

Nahm named best restaurant in Asia

The 2014 50 Best Restaurants in Asia were unveiled this week...

Restaurants cooking with seaweed

With its complexity in flavour and texture, seaweed is the c...

On the pass

Tell us about Tomahawk’s menu, Ali...

S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015

A mighty fine plate of beef short ribs with roast celery vin...

Dan Barber talks sustainable food

Farm-to-table is a neat catchcry but, argues Dan Barber, one...

Alessandro Pavoni, Ormeggio, Sydney

You’ve just released your first cookbook, a tribute to Lomba...

The 2016 GT Restaurant Guide Top 100

Here's the list of our 2016 Restaurant Guide Top 100. How ma...

First look: 108 at Noma, Copenhagen

Rene Redzepi may be headed to Sydney next month, but he's ba...

Dear Sainte Eloise to open in Potts Point

Sydney’s new wine bar is going back to basics.

Party-starting playlists

Music is a key ingredient that can turn your party from good...

Grant Achatz interview

Pat Nourse talks to the chef of Chicago’s Alinea ahead of hi...