Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December 12, 2009: Provenance

Ever since I read this review in The Age, which combined raving positivity with an explicit focus on the number of vego options, I've been keen to head out to Beechworth and sample the vegetarian degustation at Provenance. After a number of false starts, Cindy and I managed to find a weekend where both ourselves and our dining companions (and drivers!) were free and we booked in a food-focussed road trip to Beechworth. Given the hype (e.g. Best New Country Restaurant, 2009), it's surprising how few bloggers have made the trek out to Beechworth to sample Provenance's wares (I guess if you're setting up a foodie road-trip, then Dunkeld is probably higher on your list). Jess' seems to be the only review out there, and her unbridled enthusiasm had me optimistic that we'd be enjoying something pretty special.

The restaurant has a la carte options (including a vego entree and main), but if you're driving three hours for dinner, then you're duty bound to try the six-course degustation ($80; $130 with matching wines). Okay: to the food!

First up was a confit of baby artichokes, with buffalo mozzarella, pangrattato and tomato butter. A fantastic combination of textures and flavours, with the crunchy breadcrumbs, tender artichokes and slightly rubbery cheese combining wonderfully with the smooth and sweet tomato butter. What a start!

The second course - roasted broccoli served on broccoli puree, with lemon, preserved lemon and fried garlic - was one of the vegie meals that feels a bit like they've just picked the meat off the standard option (which was basically this with anchovies and crisp pig fat). Lucky it was so fantastic then - the little crispy garlic pieces were ridiculously tasty, and broccoli and lemon is clearly a match made in heaven.

Next up was a house made orecchiette, with peas, chilli, ricotta and pecorino. Fresh peas are great. Fresh peas with hints of chilli and pecorino are astounding. The little pasta pieces were fresh and tasty, but this was all about the peas for me. This was another dish that had been vegetarian-ised (by removing bacon) and, unlike the broccoli, it felt a little bit lacking.

By the fourth course it was time to shift onto more main-style dishes: deep-fried silken tofu, soy and wakame salad. Cindy was turned off this by the seaweed flavours, but I loved it - it had a slight sweetness along with the usual fishy taste, and worked well with the delicate tofu and fresh beans. (It's worth noting that the tables were turned here, with the meat-eaters getting a slice of our leftovers as part of their beef course.)

Our last savoury dish was the biggest: spring vegetables with a crisp rice cake, Arabian curry sauce and preserved lemon. This was the perfect vegetarian degustation dish - lots of wonderful vegetables cooked to perfection, with a rich, complex sauce. The rice cake was a little too crispy for me by the end, but everything else was top-notch.

Strangely, the vegetarian degustation included a different dessert to the meaty one. This gave us the option of doing some quick plate swapping leaving each couple sharing two different desserts - it was almost like adding a seventh course.

This was the vegetarian dessert: Tocino del Cielo, confit pineapple, coconut crumble and toasted coconut icecream. Hilariously, the vego dessert was the one that included Tocino del Cielo, which literally translates as 'bacon from heaven'. It's the little disc of caramelised sweetness on the right and was the highlight of dessert for me (I just read what goes into one of these and I imagine they're a hairsbreadth away from being banned as health hazards). The pineapple and icecream were excellent as well, but they paled in comparison.

The meaty dessert (which I'm pretty sure was meat-free) was a plate of berries (Wooragee strawberries and Stanley raspberries apparently), served with pressed green tea cake, scorched pistachios and marmalade cream. The berries were about ten times more flavoursome than the ones you get in the supermarket, but I was surprisingly unenthused by this - I think I needed some chocolate.

Provenance put on an excellent meal for us - friendly, helpful service, and outstanding array of vego dishes, great wine and a spacious and relaxed setting. You can see why they're winning awards. From the looks of other reviews, they change the menu around fairly often, so we'll have to make a return journey when they've mixed things up a bit.

Address: 86 Ford Street, Beechworth
Ph: 5728 1786
Prices: $80 for 6 courses, $130 with wine


  1. this looks great - we had a wonderful holiday in Beechworth a few years back and all that was missing was this sort of vegetarian meal - yet another reason to return when we can

  2. Looks fab! One of my favourite wineries is in Beechworth, and there is an excellent and long rail trail there as well. I always want to go up there but it always feels like a long way to go for a weekend, esp on the train!

  3. It sure is a pretty town! I'd like to return and explore further, taking a little more time at it.