Most people would be disturbed to see the term ‘road kill’ on a menu, but Melbourne’s The Royal Mail on Spencer restaurant is challenging that preconception and enticing diners with their extremely popular ‘Road Kill Wednesdays’, when a wide variety of dishes featuring Australian game are on offer.
Peter Moore, one of the restaurant’s proprietors, says the term ‘road kill’, while just two little words, “really says it all” about the evenings. Patrons can choose from just about any Australian game, including buffalo, goat, wild boar, possum, kangaroo, crocodile, mutton bird, rabbit, camel, duck, emu or venison. And if none of that tickles your fancy, there’s the traditional lamb, chicken and barra, and Peter says you’d be “crazy” not to try the steak. “I have always liked Australian game and food - and I think a lot of it is not fully appreciated,” he said. The game meat enthusiast has owned outback hotels his whole life and has featured Aussie game at each one of them.
Peter, his partner Jenny, her son Pete and Pete’s wife Anna purchased The Royal Mail, formally called Maitz, in 2007. Given Peter’s background, the type of cuisine they would feature was never up for discussion. What was discussed, however, was how they would stand out from the many fine establishments in Melbourne. It was when they agreed to do something a little different that they came up with the idea for the Road Kill nights. Four years on, you are likely to miss out on a seat without a booking.
The hotel dates back to the 1880s, when it was a ‘watering hole’ for the workers from the post office clearing house situated just half a block away. It’s a relationship that continues today. When you visit The Royal Mail on Spencer, you can expect something special. Peter prides himself on providing visitors with a friendly family atmosphere where they can enjoy a “little bit of the country in the city”. People feel comfortable talking to the owners and they’re happy to sample the variety of food on the menu. “We like to experiment with Australian game - that is our point of difference,” said Peter.
The food is fresh and seasonal and that means a great deal of thought and effort is required to source it. Peter heads to the skies in his Piper Cherokee six-seater to destinations such as Flinders Island where he gets the freshest kangaroo, wallaby, mutton bird and seafood. For other game such as emu, venison and duck, he trusts top-notch game supplier Yarra Valley Game Meats.
Touching back down in Melbourne, Peter hands the reins over to head chef Phil Gaby - the brains behind the extensive menu. When Phil offered his services, “We jumped at the chance because he is exceptionally good with game,” said Peter.
In addition to the Road Kill nights, the restaurant offers specialty game nights, with the goal of featuring one particular type of game and comparing it with its domesticated counterpart. Previous nights have seen patrons taking part in a blind taste test to determine whether they prefer domesticated or wild venison or pork or wild mutton bird over duck. “The idea is to give our customers a chance to taste what Australians used to eat before we domesticated many of these animals,” said Peter.
The time and energy involved with being both a restaurateur and a hotel broker has meant that Peter isn’t able to get out into the field as often as he likes, but despite his absence from the bush, Peter believes hunting is a great hobby. “It is a great form of entertainment and a great source of food. For someone to go out and get wild rabbits and wild pig and provide something for the table for weeks is very practical and a great idea.”
For those who already cook quite a lot of game meats at home, Peter recommends they try the hotel’s version of their chosen game to see how it compares. For everyone else, he says a visit is a great opportunity to experience something a little unusual. He encourages guests to ring before they visit because the Road Kill menu is seasonal. For example, the mutton bird is only available for three weeks. If your favourite game isn’t featured, the Game Grazing Plate is always a good option and at just $25, it features varieties of goat, rabbit, venison and kangaroo.
Indulge in a drop from the restaurant’s extensive wine list and the evening will be complete. One of the featured wine labels includes Plunkett Fowles’ Ladies who Shoot their Lunch, which was blended specifically to match with game meat. Peter has featured Plunkett Fowles wines for many years, but was thrilled when they came up with the new label. “It is an incredibly apt label for game food,” said Peter. It pairs so well with the restaurant’s theme that Peter features a large poster of the label in the restaurant. “We get asked three to four times a week if we will sell it [the poster],” said Peter, who has so far declined all requests. “The wine has been a good seller for us; in fact, when we do have our game nights, we usually find that one of the Ladies varieties will accommodate our dishes.”
The restaurant is definitely making its mark around town. Not only has it won radio 3AW’s ‘Hotel of the Month’ in Melbourne a couple of times, it has made its way onto the radar of Hollywood’s elite, including controversial pop star Lady Gaga, who had a booking in late 2010, but had to cancel at the last minute.
If an evening out is a rare occurrence, a visit to The Royal Mail on Spencer will make it a night remember. It’s just 10 minutes from Southern Cross Station, the Docklands and the Telstra Dome, and located at 519 Spencer Street, West Melbourne; phone 03 9329 6955, email or visit their website.