A journey worth taking
Since starting this website I have been under more pressure when organising dinners
for other people than I used to be. I'm now seen as one of the go-to guys when deciding
where to eat, and if the meal is a let down I often feel as if it's somehow my fault.
The flip side of this of course, is that when I invite people to dinners at places they
wouldn't usually go and have a fantastic time it's actually quite heartening. And so it
was when travelling to Beechworth for a work retreat, thanks to The Provenance.
If I'd wanted to shed my foodie reputation amongst workmates, the evening started badly,
when I was met (by name) at the door by the chef and owner Michael Ryan. As a fellow
twitter user he knew I would be there this particular evening, and I'd hoped I might be
able to say hello at some point, but being greeted in such a manner still felt like an
honour. I hope my dining companions were suitably impressed.
We had all pretty much agreed on the six course degustation for $85 before we turned up,
($135 with matched wines), although when researching I thought it was only four courses
and still thought it was a pretty good deal. One of us, let's call her "Bec" (because that's
her name), took a little convincing after carefully studying the a la carte menu, but when
she was reassured that it would be no trouble to swap out a few of the degustation menu
items for corresponding courses on the vegetarian degustation to avoid certain ingredients
decided it was one in all in. It turned out to be a good move on her part.
The food was amazing, and not at all what I had expected. Although had I done my research
properly I probably should have expected it. The first two dishes were common to both the
normal degustation and the vegetarian version Confit baby artichokes, buffalo mozzerella,
pangrattato,tomato butter and Butter sauteed cauliflower, cauliflower puree, Mt Buffalo
hazelnut-polenta crumble, brown butter jelly, mustard sabayon. Both wonderful in both
flavours and particularly textures, with hidden surprises (the tomato butter was delicious,
and the brown butter jelly as good as it sounds). The following two dishes House made
orecchiette, cime di rape, Sicilian anchovies, garlic, chilli and Calamarti-seared
and slow cooked, crisp chorizo, Jerusalem artichoke-raw and cooked, orange, squid ink,
capers formed the seafood portion of the meal. My highlight was always going to be
the Crisp pork belly, slow cooked carrots, carrot puree, sumac, prawns, Moroccan spices,
but I also had a soft spot for the dessert, a simple dish with some exciting twists:
Worragee strawberries, pressed green tea cake, scorched pistachios, marmalade cream;
strawberry cordial, jelly, paper, powder. That's a whole lot of different strawberry
textures on one plate. And it was delicious.
Another point worth mentioning is the wines which accompany each of the dishes. While I
expected a lean towards the local (which there was for the last two dishes - an 06 Smiths
Shiraz and an NV Pennyweight Gold), there were several imported selections which added an
element of surprise and unfamiliar. At least to me, I'm still in my infancy in terms of
increasing wine knowledge from beyond our shores. A German riesling, a Spanish Rose,
and a French Gamay were all interesting matches. Some of them (the rose in particular) seemed
unconventional choices, but I though it worked (Dave may have more to say on this point).
At the end of the night, once we were all a bit more relaxed and comfortable, we once
again got a chance to chat to Michael Ryan. Firstly to thank him for the wonderful
evening (and highlight of our trip), and also to congratulate him on the recent
accolades which had been bestowed upon his establishment The Age Good Food Guide's
Best New Country Restaurant. And although I may be vastly unqualified to say so,
I suggest The Provenance deserves all the accolades it gets.