Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Provenance, Beechworth

P1140869Chef: Michael Ryan      Website:       Cuisine: Modern Australian

A series of event started unfolding the night I discovered Giaconda wineries chardonnay at Attica, paving the way to the inevitable journey to Australia’s gourmet region of the High Country in Victoria. As my wife and I hadn’t been able to get away on our honeymoon yet, we decided we’d make the most of this “mini-moon”. Our weekend was packed with food related events ranging from the blue cheese making course with Anna-Kate Pizzini at the famous Milawa Cheese Factory, to the winery visits across the region. The icing on the cake was of course our indulgent two-night accommodation at Provenance’s luxurious suite and a full tasting menu dinner on our second night.

P1140841Originally from Adelaide, chef and owner Michael Ryan has been a strong advocate of the regions produce over the past 15 years. Following his success at Range with a respectable two-hat accreditation, Ryan has since moved on to his latest restaurant, Provenance, in the quaint little town of Beechworth. The restaurant occupied the old bank of Australasia that was built back in 1856, at the height of the gold rush.

P1140873The dining room boasting a six-metre ceiling, ornate rosettes, brass light fittings and original arched windows were reminiscent of the glorious gold rush era. Further impressive was the vault in its original state, built with thick granite blocks that now housed the wine cellar collected by Ryan’s wife Jeanette Henderson. At a quick glance of the wine menu, it was evident that the restaurant supported many of the great local wineries, and why wouldn’t they?

P1140898As we had opted for the weekend package, we were given a choice of two tasting menus (one vegetarian), and each course matched with wine. Gazing at the menu, it wasn’t difficult to see where Chef Ryan got his inspiration for cooking. From umeboshi to tsukudani, not to mention the matching wine option that was dominated by sake, I was surprised to see such a heavily Japanese influenced menu in a location like Beechworth. What was most impressive here was that Chef Ryan had managed to maintain some focus on regional ingredients and produce, whilst adding his Japanese twist.

P1140900Chef Ryan was kind enough to prepare last minute a plate of home cured charcuterie, cheese and bread the previous night when we arrived late from Melbourne. It was then that we had encountered this delicious smoked miso infused butter and an interesting bread that had been flavoured using okara (the leftover soy pulp from the process of making tofu). We were glad to see it on the table that night in the restaurant as we didn’t have the courage the previous night to venture out of our room to ask for more.

P1140904I thought I had a fairly good knowledge of sake, helped by being half Japanese of course, but many of the choices that night were foreign to me. The first match of the evening was the Matsuo Junmai Daiginjo, Nagano, 2010, JapanBeing a junmai daiginjo, it was refined, light and complex with elegant aromas.

P1140908Despite opting for the normal tasting menu, I was very curious to try the supplementary option of the House made silken tofu, shitake tsukudani, wasabi, ginger which was normally available for the vegetarian menu option. Chef Ryan had made the tsukudani himself and I was very impressed by the quality. Tsukudani is a popular Japanese method of preserving fresh food, typically seafood, meat or vegetable, by simmering with soy sauce and mirin in low heat until it reduces to a thick paste. The silky tofu was also of high quality and the dish itself a perfectly light starter to stimulate the taste buds. Given my Kanto heritage where I was accustomed to saltier food, I could have however done with a bit more soy sauce.

P1140913Next up was another sake I had never heard of by the name of Kirei Shuzo, Hachiku, 2012, Hiroshima, Japan. It had a vibrant fruity fragrance and flavours of oxidised pear with a sweet intensity. The finish was dominated by refreshing acidity and an almost tannic grape-seed astringency.

P1140917The second course of the evening, Vegetables, pickles, okayu sauce, puffed rice, umeboshi took me back to my childhood. The combination of okayu (rice porridge) and umeboshi (pickled plum) is the classic Japanese folk remedy for colds and I certainly remember having my fair share as a child. Obviously the dish here was far more sophisticated and enjoyable, and I did like the textural variation from the crunchy pickled vegetables to the crispy puffed rice. It was a comforting dish that married Japanese techniques with local vegetables. I admired Ryan’s courage as the umeboshi’s salty and sour taste is an acquired taste not often appreciated outside Japan.

P1140918The showcasing of the local produce continued with the Roasted cauliflower, raw cauliflower, yuzu dressing, fish floss, Sevilla Orange. We moved on to South East Asian flavours with the fish floss although I wasn’t convinced it added much to the dish. The roasted and pickled cauliflower however was remarkably delicious and I was impressed by the way in which he drew out the flavour of this humble brassica.

P1140922Matching the next course was another first with the Mukai Shuzo, Ine Mankai, Kyoto, 2013, JapanThe Master Brewer (Toji) of this family run business was one of the first female Master Brewer in Japan. The sake itself was made from an ancient variety of red rice. The rose petal coloured sake with high levels of sweetness balanced by high levels of acidity had a complex smokey cherry, vanilla and pickle aroma with a unique savoury and umami rich palate.

P1140924On to the Braised octopus, chickpeas, confit artichokes, chorizo, blood orange, green strawberries. There were quite a few strong flavours competing here and the octopus was borderline chewy although with a nice charred flavour to it. I personally find octopus to be a difficult dish to perfect in terms of texture and drawing out the delicate flavour. Compared to the other dishes we had that evening, this was definitely not in the same class.

P1140928Our first meat course of the evening commenced with a bit of humour with the Pork cheek cooked in hay, grain salad, blood pudding, crisp pork skin, coriander. Enjoyable crispy and crunchy textures from the pork skin, richness from the blood pudding and the pork cheek was tender and delicious. A lot of work and attention was paid to the preparation of this piggy’s food, the grain salad which formed the bed.

P1140934My second meat course was initially served to me as a wagyu cut. That was strange. I was confused as it certainly didn’t have the marbling nor could I recall it being on the menu. It was only after we had finished our course that a rather apologetic waitress came out to correct what we had which in fact was Cape Grim beef striploin, beets cooked in clay, beetroot jam, garlic, horseradish. Despite the flavours oozing from every bite, the cut was too thick to be served rare, making it slightly tough. I would have preferred a slightly fattier cut or a thinner piece of this Tasmanian breed.

P1140936And finally the last for the evening was Poached rhubarb, rhubarb jelly, buttermilk curd, gingerbread rosemary, lavender milk. A very pretty dish decorated with flowers that worked well as a palate cleanser. The poached rhubarb married well with the curd and gingerbread but I felt it was a weak dish to finish off what had been an enjoyable meal. I thought that something more hearty and warm would have been more appropriate given the cold temperature outside. 

P1140940Despite the calm and collected demeanor of Chef Ryan, there was a lot going on with the cooking at Provenance. I admired Chef Ryan’s dedication and passion in introducing Japanese elements to his cuisine and this ambitious approach had certainly paid off with the likes of the silken tofu and home made tsukudani, not to mention his delicious miso infused butter which on its own is worthwhile coming back for. Whilst his meat dishes came across weaker, he demonstrated a far superior knowledge and skillset in handling vegetables; his confidence evidently stood out in those dishes. In hindsight (and of course that’s the beauty of hindsight) I would have opted for the full vegetarian tasting menu. Perhaps on our next trip…
















Sixpenny, Sydney

P1140635Chef: James Parry & Daniel Puskas         Website:

Cuisine: Modern Australian

Watch out Sydney! There’s a little restaurant in the inner-western suburb of Stanmore. It only serves degustation menus. It’s new, it’s young and it’s exciting. The name is Sixpenny and it may possibly be the best thing that’s happened to Australia since Attica. For starters, head chefs James Parry and Daniels Puskas are of pedigree having trained at some of the world’s finest restaurants including big hitters like Mugaritz, Alinea and Noma. Having opened their new restaurant only a year ago in 2012 after a stint together at Oscillate Wildly, these two talented chefs have not wasted any time in making their mark in the fine dining scene in Sydney.  This restaurant alone has redeemed Sydney from all my disappointing meals to date.P1140638At Sixpenny there were no jaw dropping views or architectural marvel to feast your eyes over. The decoration here was rather quietly confident and elegant, and the main focus was around the service and good food – a simple equation to achieve gastronomic pleasure which appears to elude many chefs. And when you have fresh home grown vegetable sourced from your very own back garden and a plot of land in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, what more do you need? Well, perhaps there was one tiny complaint: the acoustic of the main dining room. It can get quite noisy when operating at full capacity but it certainly didn’t dent my experience.

P1140650The menu here was simple. There was a choice of a six-course or eight-course menu with the familiar matching wine option. I was particularly impressed by our sommelier who managed to match each course for my non wine drinking companion with a variety of rare ales. Before getting stuck into our meal we had an opportunity to visit the kitchen and catch up with Chef Parry in the back garden over a glass of champagne. From our lengthy discussion around sourcing, locality and sustainability, I could sense that our meal here was going to be quite different to any other place in Sydney I’d been to. P1140652To kick off our meal we had a thin and brittle sheet of Kipfler potato chips. They had been seasoned with a perfect balance of salt and vinegar and certainly whet my appetite.

P1140654To go with the array of amuse bouches was a glass of Jacques Puffeney, Cuvée Sacha, 2009, Arbois, Jura, France. It had a beautiful waxy nose of lemon and a smooth citrus palate with an earthy mushroom finish. A very interesting and unusual wine but worked well.P1140656The array of amuse bouches started with a warm English Muffin, green tomato, ricotta. The sweetness from the homemade ricotta married well with the slightly tart green tomato chutney. It had a clean aftertaste yet a lingering creamy texture.

P1140658Next up were Charred leeks, sweet onion. The chargrilled baby leek was coated with a sticky sweet onion glaze. I particularly enjoyed the smokiness.

P1140660A bowl containing a beautiful arrangement of Australia’s flower emblem, the Golden Wattle, was brought to out table containing Wattle baked golden beetroot. The golden beets had been baked with wattle seed in a salt crust to retain its moisture and came with…

P1140663… Caramelised cream that was perfect with the tart beetroot. The buttery cream emulsion was so good I kept it to go with some bread. This was definitely the best of the amuse bouche we had. Things were looking very promising indeed…

P1140668The home made sourdough arrived at the right time to mop up the caramelised cream but it also came with…

P1140666… a creamy mascarpone. I must admit I preferred the cream emulsion but this also went well with the warm bread.

P1140669Matching the first course was a biodynamic wine of 2008 Weingut Sepp & Muster ‘Opok’ Sauvignon Blanc, Morillon, Welschriesling Styria, Austria. It had a spicy and herbal nose with lots of minerality.

P1140671The first course of the evening was Green strawberry & celtuse salad, sour cream, bergamot. I had never heard of celtuse but our waiter explained it was basically a cross between a celery and lettuce, and it was extremely popular in China. I wasn’t quite sure on what to expect from this dish but was pleasantly surprised by how well the tangy thick sour cream, savoury celtuse and tart strawberry interplayed. Bergamot, which is not typically my preferred choice of ingredient, brought the dish to life with an aroma that was not overpowering. Brilliant.

P1140675One of the highlights of the evening was Sixpenny’s beautiful signature dish of the Crab, silky macadamia and camomile. The steamed mud crab from Queensland and macadamia milk was hiding under the mountain of macadamia nut curls. The earthy nuttiness from the macadamia complemented the sweet crab meat and the occasional fragments of macadamia you bit into added that textural contrast. This dish would have been perfect other than a slight faux pas, bits of crab shell!! What a shame!

P1140677Matching the next course was a glass of 2009 Yarra Yarra ‘The phoenix’ Semillon/Sauvignon blanc, Yarra Valley, Victoria. This was poignant reminder of the bushfires that destroyed Yarra Yarra’s vineyards and surrounding. The wine was made by a generous donation of the semillon from De Bortoli and sauvignon blanc which was purchased from the vicinity.

P1140680Our third course of the day was Carrot, mascarpone, toasted cheese curds and bitter leaves that had been dressed in toasted hazelnuts. The heirloom carrots that had been cooked in mascarpone butter was sweet, soft and absolutely divine. I did find it slightly one-dimensional in flavour but the micro herbs and bitter leaves added some pepperiness to make it a bit more interesting. I’d probably say one carrot as an amuse bouche would have worked better.

P1140682Our fish of the day was a Lightly steamed bass groper & stinging nettles. The stinging nettle was served two ways – as a sauce and also as crisped leaves. They were subtle but imparted a rich and earthy flavour to the fish caught off the South Island in New Zealand. I enjoyed the addition of the burnt taste of the rye butter which I was initially afraid would ruin the course. It was evident from all the dishes thus far that all their produce were never obscured or distracted by heavy flavours but equally never left bare. There was a lot of thought and respect to the produce and ingredients here. It reminded me of Ben’s cooking in Attica.

P1140687Our final savoury course of the day was the Malted veal, cabbage, fermented anchovies. Underneath this dark coating was a succulent and pink cut of veal, sourced from the Hunter Valley, that had been marinated and glazed in germinated malt, served with roasted cabbage dressed with anchovy essence. This dish was quite interesting in that the sweetness from the meat contrasted against the salty anchovy seasoning on the buttery cabbage. The small portion was spot on as it was quite rich and I found the flavours to be quite complex.

P1140694We were finally on to our first dessert of the meal with the Milk sorbet, rangpur lime, mandarin cooked in its juice. The milk sorbet was smooth and beautiful on its own. Whilst I could see the logic in adding a contrasting citric element, I must confess, I found the combination of the rangpur lime and mandarin overwhelmingly tart.

P1140700A much better course followed with the Vanilla brined pear, toasted milk, chocolate. Sixpenny’s take on the classic combination of pear, chocolate and vanilla was possibly my favourite course of the day. The pear worked really well in balancing the sweetness from the chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream. There was something comforting about this rustic looking dish.

P1140703Our final course of the day was the Roasted pumpkin, mead & white rice ice cream. The star of the dish was the Queensland Blue pumpkin that was cooked in mead and served over a bed of caramelised white chocolate with a scoop of white rice ice cream. Dessert is usually a disappointment for me because the dish typically gets overly complicated or neglected. The last two dessert courses here may have lacked the visual impact but I assure you they were very good and perfect to be served on a winter’s day. I’d love to see what kind of dessert they have on their menu in summer!

P1140708Some sticky Rhubarb cooked in hibiscus sauce to finish the meal before catching up with the chefs.

P1140710Suffice to say, I was impressed by the cooking here. Chef Parry and Puskas showed a very promising future in their cooking and took me back to my experience at Attica five years ago. Sure, there were some silly mistakes like the crab shell being left in the dish or the slightly overwhelming tartness from the rangpur lime, but those are small adjustments and issues that can be ironed out. However, the creative mind needed to produce such original dishes, all whilst respecting the produce, is not something anyone can replicate. The cooking here was elegant and an absolute pleasure to the senses. I left the restaurant with goose bumps thinking about what other great dishes these two chefs will be producing in the future and could not wait to plan my next meal there.

P1140712Just in case we had not had enough to eat, we were given a bag from the Cookie Jar to bring home with us. It didn’t last the journey home.