Towering vegetable shrubs meet incongruent vines and what, at first glance, appears to be utter chaos. However, the kitchen gardens at the Royal Mail Hotel are a finely tuned machine of experimental food production. Here, there is a dynamic interplay between nature and gastronomy, where the garden haul continually finds its way onto the plates of diners at the hotel’s famous fine-dining restaurant, Wickens.
Nestled at the southern end of the majestic Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park, Victoria, Wickens, and the Royal Mail Hotel, continue to draw visitors searching for luxury and escape.
A key pillar of the dining experience at Wickens is to be grounded in the location, from the locally made leather coasters, to the immersive view of Mt Sturgeon and, perhaps most viscerally, with the exquisitely plated food, nearly all of which is cultivated on-site.
The gardens were first planted some 13 years ago and showcase a vibrant amalgamation of horticultural trial and error. While materialising in an organically formed and rambling manner, there is a core of design and planning that has seen the gardens evolve fluidly over time.
An ethos of ecological stewardship underscores the gardening practices. Kitchen waste finds purpose in the form of compost, enriching the soil with the restaurant’s organic remains, where items such as cardboard and compostable plastic wrap come full circle.
Being at the base of a vast mountain range, the volcanic clay soil sets a good foundation for growing and harvesting.
Executive chef Robin Wickens confirms that “everything is grown with seeds”, allowing the team of three dedicated gardeners the opportunity to try out lesser-known varieties. This is where the experimentation happens.
Wickens adds that the process ensures the restaurant has “access to produce you wouldn’t otherwise be able to use”, which also means more creativity on what is concocted in the kitchen.
The gardeners and chefs collaborate on a year-long plan, working with the rhythm of the seasons to match the garden’s offerings with the culinary aspirations of the restaurant. Perhaps most surprising, and a testament to the seasonality, is the fact there are 35 different menus throughout the year (not including variations designed for allergies and dietaries).
The kitchen gardens that feed Wickens are an expression of culinary artistry and sustainable horticulture – a connection that chef Wickens reiterates when sharing they will never use crops that aren’t suited to the climate and land in rural Victoria.
Royal Mail Hotel
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