The final stretch

Leaving the Royal Mail was a wrenching task, but it had to be done. Sydney was too far away for a single day’s drive, so we’d planned to overnight in Beechworth. And as it happens, The Age Good Food Guide’s Best New Country Restaurant 2010 is located there…

The drive itself was quite manageable, and we enjoyed spectacular views of the Grampians only a few minutes out of Dunkeld. But to be honest we were quite stuffed by this stage and the meal was building up to be a letdown. Arriving with enough time to get ready for dinner but not enough to explore the town, we walked the short distance to Provenance and were immediately captivated by its location in a beautifully restored bank building. Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion caused by eating so much good food for a week, perhaps the long driving, or perhaps the shortcomings of the restaurant itself, but we did not enjoy this meal anywhere near as much as we expected.

Opting for the degustation again, we were very pleased with the first course: confit baby artichokes, buffalo mozzarella, pangrattato and tomato butter. The tomato butter held together the delicate flavours of the other ingredients well, making for a pleasingly light starter.

Next up: roasted broccoli, broccoli puree, crisp pig fat, Sicilian anchovies, lemon, fried garlic. The roasted broccoli was a large horizontal slice through the whole head, gently cooked with soft texture. A good match for the other ingredients, though the roasted garlic was pretty rustically done. Matched with one of my favourite Australian chardonnays, 2006 Phillip Shaw No.11 from Orange.

From here though it was rather uninspiring, the execution not quite matching the concept. House made orecchiette, broad beans, proscuitto, chilli, Pecorino. Brined quail, compressed watermelon, pickled watermelon rind, walnuts, candied olives, watermelon sauce. Then a winning dish of confit duck leg, roasted breast, chestnut puree, candied parsnips, parsley and lemon salad with a shiraz grenache from Corbieres in France. Finally the dessert course of strawberries, pressed green tea cake, scorched pistachios, marmalade cream, strawberry cordial, jelly, paper and powder.

All nice stuff, and yet… the service left a bit to be desired, too. Of our three waiters only one was very good, one indifferent and the other verging on rude. Again perhaps we wouldn’t have been so critical if we had not experienced such high standards in the previous week, but it did leave a bit to be desired. Most disappointing was the wine matching. None of the choices were bad, but with only a $50 charge for six matched wines the house had no option but to opt for less subtlety given the price. The main wine list here is small but well chosen, and I think Provenance could benefit immensely by adopting the Royal Mail concept of two different matched wine options at different prices. With great wine the food would definitely shine brighter.

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