The three-hatted Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld in regional Victoria has a new chef. He is Robin Wickens, who has been running a gourmet provedore in Apollo Bay renowned locally for its pies. But Wickens's background is far more highbrow - having worked for top UK restaurants including Bibendum and Pied a Terre.
Born in Southampton, Wickens arrived in Australia in 2000 and cooked alongside Andrew McConnell before launching his own restaurant, Interlude, on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. He won The Age Young Chef of the Year award in 2005, but traded the city scene for life in Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road, where he opened a successful bakery and providore with wife, Kate. The chef said he has "never worked harder" running Wickens Provedore and Deli on the town's main drag.
Wickens says he is thrilled by the new opportunities the role, recently vacated by Dan Hunter, will give him.
"I was thinking about getting back into restaurants," he says. He was looking to buy the shop next door to Wickens Providore in Apollo Bay but when that was taking too long and the Royal Mail offer came in, "I decided to go with it."
On what he will bring to the restaurant, the chef says, "It's tough when you walk into something like this [referring to Dan Hunter's legacy] but my food is different to Dan's."
The Age chief restaurant reviewer Larissa Dubecki says: "Wickens's appointment to the Royal Mail has a certain logic. Like Hunter he's been a student of the molecular crew; like Hunter he reined in his avant-garde instincts to something far more grounded and real, and satisfying. He's gifted at presenting ingredients at their natural best, even if it sometimes strays into the hyper-real. There's humour in his cooking, as well as adventure and whimsy. It should be a good fit."
Dan Hunter, who took the Royal Mail to three chef's hats in the past two Age Good Food Guides, has announced he is opening a restaurant, Brae, on the Sunnybrae site in Birregurra.
Wickens will keep his produce store operating in Apollo Bay, "I have great staff who run it well," he says and will leave there at the end of August to start at Royal Mail in early September.