Friday, 7 March 2014

The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld

The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld
Time to spoil myself! Despite visiting Dunkeld multiple times a year, I've never indulged in The Royal Mail Hotel's degustation. The bar and bistro menus are both great (and fancy!)- but it was time to test what the chef can really do. Last year a new chef (Robin Wickens) took over from the acclaimed Dan Hunter who moved onto Brae at Birregurra and I was intrigued as to what would become of the Royal Mail Hotel. The Royal Mail Hotel prides itself on using fresh produce, predominately from their own kitchen gardens or sourced from local provedores. The menu is seasonal and the produce is the star.

First impression - service. The sommelier was friendly yet professional and was able to answer all my questions regarding food and wine. He also managed to make dining for one a less awkward experience! He gave me some fabulous recommendations regarding local wines - the Syrah from Engima near Dunkeld was beautiful! The wine list was an absolute tome - over 100 pages, so it was lovely to have someone to help!

There are two menu options at the restaurant, an omnivore degustation and a vegetarian degustation, either can be matched with wines and were able to be adapted for dietary requirements or preferences. I went with the 8 course vegetarian degustation.

Here is what followed over the next two and a half hours....

Amuse Bouche - Exploding Beetroot, Carraway and Vodka
Served warm, this bursting amuse bouche could have been a disaster weren't it for the Sommelier warning me to put the entire spoon in my mouth at once! I can just imagine a dainty eater nibbling the edge and having beetroot explode all over their clothes! Taste-wise it was fairly simple, but the theatre of eating it made up for the flavour.
Alphabet Soup

The drab photo of this consomme is the exact opposite of the flavour of this zingy little broth. It came out as a sheet of parmesan gel with piped basil letters in a bowl. The tomato consomme was then poured over resulting in a fun dish to eat/slurp. I wish I knew how to turn tomatoes into such a fantastic, umami-rich broth. The flavour was stunning!

Confit Garlic Risotto
I must admit I was immediately disappointed when I saw risotto on the menu. BORING was my initial thought - the lazy restaurant dish to cater for all the gluten intolerant and vegetarians in the world. Thankfully, this was one of the best risottos i've eaten. Full of different elements of garlic culminating in a textural explosion of garlic! Confit, crumbed and fried, dehydrated, garlic chives, garlic flowers, it was an homage to garlic and it was absolutely delicious!
Beetroot and Horseradish with Pumpernickel Puree
The second beetroot dish of the night, luckily it is one of my favourite vegies! When a restaurant prides itself on using seasonal produce from the garden, you have to accept that some things will feature twice.  Similar to the garlic showcase that was the risotto, this was an ode to beetroot - raw, pickled, cooked, leaves and pureed. All brought together with a beautiful pumpernickel puree.

I loved the puree so much that I used the remnants of my bread to scrape every last bit! The breads presented were all made in house and numbered three - a potato bread, chive sourdough and a beautiful blackened raisin and fennel bread. All served with salty cultured butter.

Tomato, Basil, Pecorino, Gazpacho
Now this is what to make with the glut of tomatoes in the garden! So simple, yet delicious. A selection of raw heirloom tomatoes, with fresh green and purple basil leaves, pecorino shavings and a beautiful light gazpacho puree/mousse.

Brassicas, Cauliflower Egg, Wash Rind Cheese
The final savoury course - a showcase of brassica. This would get any kid to eat their vegies! The 'egg' was particularly cool - a soft creamy egg yolk encased in a caulflower and chive 'white'. It looked so realistic that I asked the waitress how the chef got the chives in the egg white, to which she responded it was cauliflower! Taste bud fail.
The tricky egg!

Onto the sweet stuff!

Plum and Creme Fraiche

Tangy and cleansing, this was a nice palate clenser. Cleverly presented with dots of the individual components of creamy creme fraiche, tangy plum puree and bitter eucalyptus gel, the flavours were then combined into a mousse and sorbet. Excellent combination of bitter, creamy, sweet and sour.
Zucchini Sponge, Angelica, Hazelnut, Buttermilk Ice-cream

The final dish - and surprisingly I wasn't overly full by this stage, perhaps due to the lack of protein. The zucchini sponge was fairly dry and the zucchini ribbon didn't really add much except to the presentation, however the hazelnut puree, buttermilk ice-cream and candied angelica were delicious. The hazelnut puree is what Nutella SHOULD taste like!

All in all it was a lovely dinner. I think the chef played it very safe as there was nothing mind blowing but perhaps this is simply his philosophy of using fresh, seasonal produce and letting the flavours shine.  It cannot be compared to Ultraviolet, but I think I need to resign myself to the fact I probably won't better that meal. I think Robin Wickens and the team at The Royal Mail Hotel have kept up the high standard that was previously set and I hope they continue as this establishment does wonders for a little town like Dunkeld.

If you're ever in Dunkeld, make sure you check out Cafe 109 opposite The Royal Mail and the Old Bakery which is two roads back from the main road - they have an old wood-fired oven and make the nicest bread and lunches.

Sarah xx

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