Provenance Beechworth is a small restaurant with a big reputation. Owner/chef Michael Ryan opened the Provenance in 2010 and in that time has built up big reputation for his forward thinking cooking which combines contemporary Australian and Japanese techniques with regional ingredients and Japanese flavours. These are all things that appeal to me, and I was excited about heading up to Beechworth to see what this Age Good Food Guide 2 hat restaurant had to offer.
Ryan is involved in all aspects of the restaurant. My wife and I had a booking for 8:00pm and wanted to know if we could bring it forward an hour. We rang the doorbell of the restaurant and were greeted by Ryan in his chef whites, who checked the reservations book and amended our booking. Throughout the meal itself it wasn’t just the wait-staff, but also Ryan himself who was bringing food out to the tables, explaining the ingredients and what was going on with each dish.
The restaurant is housed in a former bank building dating back to the 1850s. The high ceilings, timber floors and era appropriate fittings give the space a sense of old world charm. The bank’s vault is now the Provenance’s wine cellar, with an impressive list from around the world, with a focus on the local being put together by Ryan’s partner Jeanette Henderson. A decent selection of spirits and a small but good selection of beers are also available. I was impressed to see a Mikeller Green Tea beer on the list.
The menu changes frequently to reflect what’s in season and different things that Ryan wants to try. The balance between simplicity and innovation (Ryan has a chemistry background) is present throughout the menu. Diners can go for the degustation or order a la carte off the menu. We went for a range of starters, followed by the “3 courses (entrée + main + dessert) for $80” option.
Bread With White Miso Butter
The miso added a unique touch to the butter which had an airy whipped texture to it.
An Anchovy And Its Fried Bones ($4.00)
This starter was so simple, and was brilliant. The deep fried bones were delicate and crispy and the anchovy was salty and soft as would be expected. Proof that experimentation and simplicity are not mutually exclusive.
Air Dried Squid, Aioli ($10.00)
The air dried squid was another highlight, with the air drying giving the squid a very unusual texture. It didn’t have the usual chewy squid texture but did retain an element of that texture. It’s a tough one to explain. What I can say is that the texture really worked as did the flavour which was quite classic.
House Made Silken Tofu, Prawns, Crab, Soy, Pickled Ginger ($10.00)
This beautifully presented, delicate dish really hit all of the right spots. There were a variety of textures here – the softness of the tofu, the crunch of the spring onions, the pop of the crab and the bounce of the prawn. Flavour wise, this had sweet, sour and saltiness coming up against each other, with neither gaining the upper hand – a perfect balance.
Seared Beef, Roasted Broccoli, Citrus, Miso, Dried Blue Cheese
Another example of simplicity combining with forward thinking. The dried blue cheese was very interesting. The cheese wasn’t present in a form that most people would recognise as cheese but the blue cheese flavour was noticeably present. The tang of the citrus added a further level of complexity to the other ingredients. An great example of a dish where the the sum of all the ingredients rose above their parts.
Fried Quail, Broad Beans, Ginger, Braised Tofu, Pickles, Shisho Hishio
The quail was really tender and worked really well being crumbed and fried. There was a real mix of sweet and salty going on here and the flavour was amazing. Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the night.
Mushroom Congee, Umemoshi, Kombu, Pickles
In a recurring theme of the night, the congee was another example of a dish which managed to be simple yet innovative at the same time. There was a lot going on in this plate, yet nothing overly complex. It worked brilliantly.
Berkshire Pork Chop, Silverbeet, Parsnip, Dashi Butter, Burnt Garlic Oil
I really enjoyed this dish. Probably the least innovative of the dishes that we tried during the night it nonetheless tasted amazing.
Chicory & Earl Grey Ice Cream, Feijoa, Mandarin, Rice Paper, Spicy Flowers
This dessert was, my wife and I agreed, the highlight of the meal. It was one of those dishes that worked well no matter which way you ate it. Whether it was one ingredient, a combination of your choosing, or a bit of everything in one mouthful, it worked each and every time. The earl grey really stood out in the ice cream and went well with the spicy flowers.
Miso Custard, Apple Jelly, Chocolate Meringue, Fermented Cherries, Caramel Powder
This dessert was overshadowed by its predecessor. It was a great dessert and texturally it really impressed with the soft custard, jelly textured jelly, crunchy chocolate and, dare I say it, powdery powder. Despite the textural complexities and great taste, it still wasn’t able to beat the prior dessert for excellence.
I’m a big fan of places that are committed to showcasing local ingredients, especially when rural restaurants are concerned and the link between farm and plate is that much stronger, and local means regional rather than state. Ever since I returned from my first trip to Japan in April, I’ve been super keen to try food that blends this philosophy with Japanese technique and flavours. I’m not referring to Japanese food, but food that is clearly the result of someone who has eaten in Japan being inspired. Northern Light, Supernormal and Tani Eat & Drink have all found the right balance in 2014 and it was a pleasure to eat at the place that arguably started doing this first. The food, the service and Ryan’s genuine passion left me very satisfied with my experience at the Provenance.
86 Ford Street
Wed – Sun: 6:30pm to late