Tag Archives: Provenance

Wining and Dining in the High Country, Victoria

P1140845Location: High Country Victoria      Attractions: Wineries, Fine Dining, Dairy & Mustard

If you’re ever in need of taking a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, head to the High Country in Victoria. Bound by the Victorian Alps and the Murray river, it really doesn’t matter where you are in the region you will have a beautiful and inspiring backdrop. You could easily spend a weekend in the region exploring pretty little towns like Beechworth where it almost feels as if time had stopped since the glorious era of the Gold Rush. But don’t let the slow pace of life deceive you into thinking that not much goes around here. From historical towns and fine dining to top winemakers and dairies, the region has it all. What’s more, it has very discretely claimed the title of one of Australia’s best food and wine region without many people noticing, until recently that is. If fine dining and wine doesn’t tickle your fancy, you could always immerse yourself in the hundreds of kilometers of cycling routes or head down to Mt Bulla for skiing during season.

P1140869A meal at the highly acclaimed Michael Ryan’s Provenance Restaurant is a non-negotiable for any foodie visiting the region. Occupying the old Bank of Australasia built in 1856, the wealth of the era in which it was constructed is reflected in the high ceilings, brass fittings and arched windows. Even the original bank vault has been kept as a home to Chef Ryan’s wine cellar which is managed by his wife Jeanette Henderson. And the food? You can read all about Chef Ryan’s Japanese-inspired cuisine in the Restaurant Review section.

P1140861A weekend trip of course requires accommodation and luckily you don’t need to go far to look for a luxurious and comfortable place to stay. Provenance has four beautifully designed suites behind the restaurant for those who want to just stumble back to their bed after a delicious dinner. The bonus of course is that you get to indulge in more of Chef Ryan’s delicious food the following morning during breakfast. Surprisingly, the price is reasonable and in my view worth every cent. But be warned that you will need to book in advance, particularly for weekends.

P1140835A visit to the High Country of course cannot be complete without a visit to Milawa! For a small town with a population of only around 600, this town houses quite a few well known establishments including the Brown Brothers vineyard which has been around since 1889 and also Milawa Mustards. I was amazed to find so many flavours of mustards including, but not limited to, French, Mild Honey and Tarragon to more unusual ones like Bourbon, Dill & Lemon and Flaming Hot Chilli that comes with its own warning.

P1140795The most famous institution that put the town on the culinary map of the region was of course the Milawa Cheese Company. Cheese tastings are offered all day until 4.30pm with sales extending until 5pm.

P1140820If you also plan in advance and are fortunate enough to get a space, a cheese making course offered by Anna-Kate Pizzini is a must and will surely be one of your highlights. Our course took place on the premise of the Milawa Cheese Company but Anna-Kate now offers these courses at Pizzini Winery (More details available at www.pizzini.com.au). Coming in at only $140 per person for the course including all equipment and supplies and which lasted for a good part of the day, this is an absolute steal and one of the best value cooking classes I have ever been fortunate enough to do! What’s more, you can replicate everything you’ve learnt at home without buying a dairy farm or expensive / complex tools.

P1140802We attended a class focussed on blue cheese and goats cherve, although classes on hard and soft cheese are also available. We started with the light fresh goats cherve and ended up with enough to last us for a week. It was delicious! Anna-Kate then did a cooking demonstration using the goats cheese to make chevre chaud. This is essentially tasty goats cheese, prosciutto and herb patties which are crumbed and fried, and accompanied by a rocket salad with vinagrette. In conjunction with a very generous cheese tasting platter, this was a very welcome morning tea. Divine.

P1140815We then proceeded on to make our blue cheese. This took a little more patience and required some homework. While the curds were settling we tucked into lunch involving some delicious pizzas from the cheese factory (we upgraded to include some local wine as well). In the afternoon we finished our blues and placed them in molds to rest before using the whey to make some ricotta, which again we got to take home to enjoy later. All in all a fabulous way to spend a day and I really felt at the end of the course that this was something I could easily do in my own kitchen. As I mentioned making blue cheese did require some homework. Once we were back at the hotel, over the next six hours,there was a strict time frame in which the blue cheese needed to be salted and turned in its mold before undergoing a three month approximate period of maturation. It is a testament to my wifes obsession with cheese that later in the evening she popped back to our room in between courses at Provenance on at least two occasions to tend to her charges. It was worth it. At the end of it all we came away with quite a few rounds of blue cheese which we then ate with our family at Christmas. They were fantastic!

P1140951A five minute drive from Beechworth will also take you to a couple of amazing wineries such as Castagna and Giaconda. After our first encounter with Giaconda’s chardonnay at Attica as part of the matching option, we knew we had to come here some day to get a feel of the place. With no cellar door available, die hard fans can try calling Rick Kinzbrunner for a visit though he is often occupied between managing the winery and spending several months at a time in the Languedoc region of France.

P1140968Kinzbrunner’s wine cellar is a site to behold. With the aid of a few exposive technicians (doesn’t everyone have such people on call?), Kinzbrunner blasted his way through solid granite from the side of a hill to create the perfect wine cellar to overcome the Australian summer heat, without incurring a hefty energy bill. All it took was some patience to find the right group of experts to take on the job, a hundred days of work and two and a half tonnes of explosives.

P1140966Whilst the prized Estate Chardonnay was sold out, we got the opportunity to try Kinzbrunner’s Estate Shiraz straight from the barrel using a beautifully custom made wine thief from France, and his other range of chardonnay; the Nantua Les Deux – essentially a blend of premium Giaconda Estate grown chardonnay and fruit sourced from neighbouring vineyards. The wine was made using similar methods to the Estate Vineyard Chardonnay but with less time in barrel (roughly one year). The result was much more fruity. What a way to end our trip!

P1140973With an abudance of restaurants, wineries, outdoor activities and natural beauty, the High Country makes great grounds for exploring. What I particularly enjoyed from my various encounters with the local people during the trip was that everyone we met was genuine and passionate about their work. The balanced quality of life here appeared to have spurred on the passion and imagination of the local artisans. And when it comes to creativity, I’m sure you will agree that this mailbox amongst many unique ones we saw that weekend makes my point.








The Provenance, Beechworth

P1140869Chef: Michael Ryan      Website: www.theprovenance.com.au       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…