Tag Archives: Victoria

Igni, Geelong

P1180971Chef: Aaron Turner   Website: www.restaurantigni.com    Cuisine:  Modern Australian (charcoal)

When Loam abruptly closed its doors for good over two years ago I was rather annoyed with myself. I should have made the effort earlier to head down to Drysdale and I was kicking myself. To add salt to the wound many of my food contacts would often repeat how great the restaurant was. So when I heard Aaron Turner had decided to make a come back I wasted no time in getting a reservation to his new venture in Geelong. His new restaurant Igni promised to deliver far more refined food than Loam with a focus on using a charcoal grill like Lennox Hastie’s Firedoor. After a rather disappointing meal at Firedoor I was praying for something better.

P1180973The generous amount of space in a modest sized dining room made the dining experience a rather intimate one. The raw timber and simple designs of the furniture were reminiscent of Noma and El Celler de Can Roca where Turner had previously trained and polished his skills. There’s also no escaping from the intoxicating charcoal grill smoke that adds that rustic canvas to a modern decor. It took me back to my meal at Asador Etxebarri almost five years ago. P1190027Igni only had two degustation menus on on offer: a five course menu (AUD 100) or eight course menu (AUD 150). Turner only used fresh ingredients available on a given day so there was usually not enough of one ingredient to go around for all diners. To top it off, the chef also catered to each diners likes / allergies so each table was not likely to be getting the same dishes. We were perhaps not overly helpful when asked about likes and dislikes as all I could come up with was “No bad food, please”. As with most degustation menu options there were also matching wines available for both menus… Who am I to say no?

P1180978The bread on offer was supplied by a seventh generation baker based out in Warrnambool. It had a light and fluffy texture and disappeared all too quickly with…

P1180979… the smoked home cultured butter that really got our palate going. We subsequently had another two serves.P1180982Amuse Bouche 1: Air dried beef – The beef had been marinated in a concoction of mushroom soy sauce, grapeseed oil, vinegar, dried herbs and fish paste before being dehydrated. Delicious!P1180983Amuse Bouche 2: Salt and vinegar saltbush leaves – The saltbush leaves had been fried to a crisp and dressed with a vinegar powder. It was a healthier alternative to salt and vinegar chips and rather delectable.P1180984Amuse Bouche 3: Duck Crostini – A lovely fatty slice of duck ham wrapped around the thinner-than-usual crostini which was as texturally pleasing as it was flavoursome. P1180985Amuse Bouche 4: Chicken skin and cod roe – My personal favourite of the amuse bouche series were the crunchy roasted chicken skin that had a generous portion of cod roe with a hint of citrus spread across it and dressed in dill. This was exactly my kind of food. Comforting, different but most importantly delicious.P1180987Amuse Bouche 5: Guanciale – House made slices of guanciale.P1180988Amuse Bouche 6: Zucchini flower and pickled mussel – The zucchini flower had been stuffed with pickled mussels before being grilled over charcoal. This was the end of our amuse bouche segment. Not a bad start at all. Overall, some interesting textures, flavours and ideas. P1180992Course 1: Oyster, guava berry, sea water – Our first course consisted of a lightly roasted oyster that had been placed in a ceramic oyster shell with a salty sea water emulsion and guava berry juice. All the flavours worked well including the slightly tangy guavaberry which I had never tried before (apparently it goes well with rum!). The overall taste echoed the taste of the ocean. Light, fresh and mineral.

Matched with a glass of the 2014 Bodegas Bernabe la Amistad, Alicante, Spain

P1180994Course 2: Leek, cultured cream, dill – A fat piece of char grilled leek served with cultured cream, dill oil, saltbush and oyster leaf. I was not the biggest fan of this dish. I could see that Turner was trying to celebrate the humble leek in the same way the Catalan do with their Calçot, but I found it rather bland and at best slightly bitter. It looked better than it tasted.

Matched with 2012 Ben Haines, Encore, Marsanne, Yarra Valley, Australia

P1190004Course 3: Southern Calamari, broth, brook trout roe – This was a better dish. Raw thin calamari ribbons, dressed with a generous portion of trout roe and finished with a marron and chicken broth poured at the table. The broth had a good depth of flavour, perfect to be mopped up by the incredibly thin slithers of calamari. Its aroma was equally inviting.

Matched with 2014 Pierre Rousse, Le Pelut Dithyrambe, Languedoc, France

P1190007Course 4: Marron, pil pil, cucumber – Admittedly this dish divided us a bit. The lightly grilled marron was an odd combination with the fermented pickled cucumbers, yet the Basque pil pil sauce worked brilliantly well. Overall, however, there was one flavour that lingered in our mouth and that was the pickled cucumber. I thought it was a bit of a shame for the beautifully cooked marron.

Matched with 2014 Matassa, Coume de l’Olla, Blanc, Cotes Catalanes, France

P1190009Course 5: Lamb rump, parsnip, radicchio – A giant radicchio leaf dressed in a honey vinaigrette was placed over…

P1190010… a smooth parsnip purée and a piece of perfectly cooked lamb which was unbelievably tender and juicy. The honey vinaigrette worked well to balance the bitterness of the radicchio. Every element here was important in creating a very well balanced dish. I’m not easily impressed by red meat dishes but this was quite good.

Matched with 2013 Brendan Tracey, Gorge Seche, Loire, FranceP1190013Course 6 (Extra course at supplementary cost): Smoked duck, baby fennel, finger lime – Perhaps it was the caliber of the last course but we felt we could do one more meat course before moving on to the dessert courses. This was the best decision we made. The free roaming ducks sourced locally from the Great Ocean Road were aged for 21 days before being smoked. The crispy skin, the smokey meat, the bursting bubbles of finger lime. What a treat to the taste bud!

Matched with 2014 Mahana, Gravity, Pinot Noir, Nelson, New Zealand

P1190017Course 7: Old ewe, new ewe – Essentially a mixture of Roquefort cheese, mint and sheep milk granita. An interesting take on Roquefort but I would have much preferred a plate of good old Roquefort to be honest.

Matched with NV Tom Shobbrook, Salvia, Barossa, Australia

P1190021Course 8: Mandarin, cream, honeycomb – To my relief it wasn’t another cheese course but this time it was a bowl of mandarin sorbet, cultured cream, lemon drops and honeycomb using real honey for a change. Refreshing and great flavours from a tried and tested combination. A perfect course to make way for the finale.

Matched with Ginger beer and Heiwa Shuzo yuzu-su

P1190026Course 9: Seaweed, quinoa – A rather polarising finale of a sweet and sticky goats milk ice cream flavoured with seaweed, sandwiched carefully between thin and crispy quinoa wafers dusted with a green tea powder. I personally thought the dessert was a triumph. The umami and saltiness of the seaweed, the sweet and sticky ice cream and the slightly bitter green tea. It all just complemented each other.

Matched with 2015 Mukai Shuzo, Junmai Genshu, Japan & Ota Shuzo, Dokan, Ume-shu

P1190029Petit Fours 1: Madeleine’s coated in icing sugar to finish the dish off.P1190030Petit Fours 2: Roasted pineapples and physalis to draw the meal to a close.

Perhaps it was the friendly front of house who put up with my wanker food talk with a grain of salt and good humour, or it may have been the intoxicating smell of burning charcoal, but there was something in the air that made you feel at ease in Igni. The food was very serious but equally comforting and delicious. What was a pleasant surprise was that the food here was far more enjoyable and less pretentious than Firedoor in Sydney. Whilst we decided to drive from Melbourne, the station is only a few minutes walk if one wanted to partake in the very reasonable and excellent wine matching option too. It was a few years of waiting but I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to try Turner’s food. His future looks promising. Let’s hope he keeps this one open for a while. I certainly will be planning to return there a couple more times.


O.MY Restaurant, Beaconsfield

P1160396 Chef: Tyson & Blayne Bertoncello       Website: www.omyrestaurant.com.au

Cuisine: Modern Australian

I wouldn’t trade anything for the 20 acres of land my wife and I currently live on east of Melbourne, but living an hour outside the city does come with some drawbacks; namely the proximity to a fine dining establishment and therefore the limitation to the amount of wine one could consume as taxi is certainly out of question. I was therefore genuinely surprised to hear from a local foodie only last week that there was a new fine dining establishment only 15 mins away from us. It offered degustation menus only and made reference to their own vegetable garden. It sounded exactly like the type of place my wife and I love. The rest is pretty much history. A reservation swiftly ensued the same day and we had a booking for later that week.

P1160336The restaurant is housed in an old building that had previously served as a butchery. The two brothers, Tyson and Blayne Bertoncello, transformed the interior into the type of funky modern restaurant you’d stumble upon in central Melbourne but not usually in Beaconsfield. The two brothers are today joined by their up and coming sommelier and younger brother Chayse, and supported by a handful of passionate and friendly front of house staff who are equally professional and attentive.

P1160334The restaurant only opened 18 months ago but appeared to already have a a loyal group of followers who have sworn by the degustation menu. Caving into their diners demand, they’ve done away with the à la carte option, which in hindsight makes much more sense given their menu is entirely dependent on the harvest of the day. It certainly takes a lot of skill, experience and creativity to adapt to the availability of the produce and ingredients every day. As expected, we opted for the extensive 8 course menu, coming in at a very modest $100. I even managed to get a half pour of wines matching my menu. Perfect.

P1160338Our meal commenced with an array of savoury amuse bouches that was served with a glass (or rather half in my case) of one of our favourite Dominique Portet Brut Rosé NV, Yarra Valley. First up was a Salmon pastrami, angelica seeds, rocket flowers which had a good level of heat and salt to whet the appetite.

P1160341Up next were some fresh and crisp Asparagus, yoghurt and nasturtiums. It was a good way to showcase the quality of their own produce. Good crunch to the asparagus.

P1160344A couple of slices of Smoked venison, beetroot / pickled that had been prepared sous-vide. I was particularly surprised to find that the beetroot powder had such a nutty flavour and there was initially some discussion between my wife and I as she was initially convinced it was a spice mix of sumac and nutmeg. It went particularly well with the smokey venison.

P1160346The last of the amuse bouches was all about the Homegrown broad – beans, leaves, chervil flowers, vinaigrette, broad bean purée. You really needed to be confident in your own produce to serve such a dish but it worked well. Everything on the plate was edible. Despite its simplicity, I thought it was quite clever using texture and flavour contrasts from the sweet and crunchy beans to the sharper vinaigrette and smooth purée; all whilst showcasing the freshness of the produce.

P1160351Our first official course of the evening of the Steamed squid, fried squid tentacles, squid stock, burnet leaves, edible flowers, lemon herb oil went on to demonstrate that the food here wasn’t only about the quality of the produce but equally about the skill that went into the cooking. The crispy fried squid tentacles were particularly enjoyable with the stock. The only thing I wasn’t quite convinced with were the edible flowers which looked pretty but, on balance, I felt added little in terms of flavour.

P1160352I had mixed feelings with the Home made bread and butter. The bread hardly contained any salt and I found it rather dense, almost like damper. However, there was a interesting smokiness to its crust. The butter was also very creamy and delicious, and its application with a pinch of salt on the bread worked well.

P1160358The bread did however come handy to mop up the delicious thick jus left from the Prawn seared, oil shell salt, onion shells in prawn oil, lemon gel, carrot sauce, carrot raisins, chive flowers, sheep sorrel, Miner’s lettuce. The lemon gel provided a subtle but sufficient amount of fresh tangy notes to the prawn, thick jus and caramelized onion shells. The miner’s lettuce, essentially a succulent, burst with a salty juice as you bit into it to dress the sweet prawns and the crunchy carrot added that textural dimension. The dish was matched with a glass of 2013 Valere, Riesling, Mansfield.P1160362One of my personal favourite that evening was the Chicken thigh, white chicken sauce, pea purée, pea pod juice, baisted seeds / peas, seed granola, pea tendrils and flowers. The chicken cooked sous-vide in a rocket purée had an almost raw like texture but was perfectly cooked. It was an odd sensation in the mouth but the flavours were superb. The mouth feel was balanced by the crunchy garden granola made from a variety of seeds and seed pods. One of the best and surprising wine pairing of the evening was the 2011 Witness point, Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley.

P1160365There was a change of pace and a brief pause before the Duck breast, begonia leaf, blueberries dried and fresh, duck jus, fresh kale served four ways in vinaigrette, flowers, sauce and fried was brought out. I absolutely loved the thick sticky jus and the dehydrated crispy fried kale chips though I did prefer my mallard to be served slightly more rare. I blamed it on my wife’s influence, given she was in her 39th week of pregnancy, as I suspect they had adjusted the cooking time for her requirements.

P1160370The  slow cooked Beef cheeks, braised red cabbage, radish, pickles, mustard seeds, beetroot was in my opinion two dishes that had been forced together. The pickles, been made and preserved from an earlier harvest from their garden, were spectacular with a superb level of crunch and sourness which I could have eaten on its own. The addition of…

P1160373… the slow cooked beef cheeks sourced from their local butcher for me was unnecessary, albeit delicious on its own as well. I just found the sweet sticky glaze and the sour pickles a little mismatched in flavours.

P1160376In comparison, the last savoury dish of the evening was another cracker of a dish with the Pork neck, cheek, apple tapenade, granola, apple compressed and powder, nasturtium leaves and flowers, pork crackle and jus. As with all their meat, the pork had been cooked sous-vide to retain the flavours and moisture. The charred cheeks with its smokey notes just melted in your mouth with hardly any effort, but the neck was by far the best cut with its perfect fat-to-meat ratio. The crackling, which I normally get excited about the most, could have done with a tad bit more salt but the texture was decent.

P1160377Before jumping into the desserts, we were offered again an array of palate cleansers starting with the Strawberry three ways – sorbet, compressed and frozen drops, and blueberry three ways – sorbet, fresh and dried. It had a lovely natural sweetness and slight tartness that interplayed really well.

P1160378A very sweet and creamy Buttermilk sorbet and rhubarb shard….

P1160382… and finally a refreshing Cucumber sorbet and oxalis. The oxalis was slightly tangy yet strangely sweet with the sorbet. It was definitely the most interesting of the three.

P1160385We unanimously agreed that the Infused creams of prune, raspberry, wild flowers, red vein sorrel with concentrated prune jus and meringue sticks was the best dish of the evening although we had different opinions about the components. My wife’s favourite was the caramel like flavoured prune and infused meringue but I thought the tobacco and chocolate like flavoured sorrel meringue was ingenious and hands down the winner. We agreed to disagree on the minutiae but overall we both agreed the dish was superb.

P1160388The finale was a rather bold and daring dish of the Cauliflower ice-cream, powder and candied cauliflower, fennel candied, dried, syrup with lemon and fennel, and fennel with white chocolate shard, puffed amaranth. The key to this dish was the balance in the flavour of the fennel and cauliflower. Ultimately I thought the dish could have benefitted from less fennel as its sweetness overwhelmed the plate. However, I did enjoy the flavour combination of the two unconventional elements in a dessert. What I particularly loved about this dish was the candied cauliflower that had the flavour and texture of a brittle vanilla tuile. A slight adjustment could make this dish perfect.

P1160392Our experience at O.MY certainly lived up to the expectation. Whilst the food in general was great, it was the creativity and potential the three brothers had that really excited us that evening. For a relatively young restaurant, the cooking here was rather adventurous and ambitious. Creating a tasting menu every day based on the produce you harvested is not for the faint hearted chef and takes locality and seasonality to another level. Coupled with the young vibrant front of house and sommelier, O.MY may possibly be the most exciting up and coming restaurant I have been to this year. It is certainly worth a trip out of Melbourne for a meal. I look forward to witnessing how their cooking will evolve in the forthcoming years.

Quince Dining, Yarra Valley


Chef: Clinton Camilleri   Website: www.yarravalleyharvest.com.au  Cuisine: Modern Australian

If there’s one thing that is available in abundance in the Yarra Valley region, other than wine of course, is fresh and seasonal local produce. Home to one of the most ethical large scale commercial salmon farm and the famous Yarra Valley Dairy, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to ingredients and produce. It therefore wasn’t surprising to find the culinary outpost of the region, The Healesville Hotel, has received many accolades over the years. I felt I had long neglected the restaurant having headed straight for the wineries without a second thought and therefore decided to use my birthday as an opportunity to pay a visit.

P1150284A casual restaurant during the week, the dining room of the Healesville Hotel transforms into the elegant space that is Quince Dining for the weekend to entertain the palate of those discerning diners who come to seek culinary adventures. Out comes the crisp linen, silver cutleries and quality wine glasses, yet the charming country character clearly remains present amongst the beautiful arrangement of seasonal flowers decorated across the room and the open fire place.

P1150288Obviously an occasion like this called for a glass of bubbly and what better than to try something local with the 2010 Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Coldstream Hills, Yarra Valley? It had a complex nose with notes of citrus and tart finish. My kind of bubbly!

P1150293To be able to enjoy the variety of fresh season produce from the region we opted for the five course tasting menu coming at $90 per head. In writing the menu looked superb and certainly made me lick my lips.

P1150299We had some homemade focaccia with rosemary, drizzled with virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt flakes. As far as bread goes this was not bad, although a bit more olive oil would have been welcomed.

P1150303Our palate cleanser was a Tomato consommé with tomato cubes and basil leaves. Defying its appearance, this dish had a very deep flavour of tomato showcasing the quality of their garden’s produce. A promising start!

P1150305Our first course was perhaps the most disappointing dish of the evening. Despite its picture perfect appearance, the Beetroot cured salmon, yoghurt, verjus dressing, compressed watermelon & pickled rind had the finesse of a fine dining dish but unfortunately the fish lacked flavour. What a shame! The fatty salmon was crying out for some attention but instead was overwhelmed with the tart yoghurt.

P1150308A much better course was the Poached veal loin with tuna mayonnaise, bresaola, pickled onions, vincotto. Camilleri’s take on the classic Vitello Tonatto was far more enjoyable than the classic versions I have tried to date. The perfectly cooked veal oozed with flavours. The crumbed and deep fried tuna mayonnaise had a lovely contrast of crispy texture and juicy filling.

P1150314Third course was Slow cooked hen’s egg, peperonata, olive, tarragon & shallot dressing. Again, I appreciated the quality of the ingredients from the freshly laid egg to the homemade peperonata but there was a significant lack of flavour, making the dish overall feel mundane. Furthermore, it was cruel to serve a perfectly poached egg with nothing to mop it up with!

P1150317A glass of St Ronan’s method traditionelle apple cider, Yarra Valley. We recently followed the ale and cider trail in the Yarra Valley but didn’t come across this particular one so I was curious to try it, especially after being told that the method used to making this cider followed exactly the same way champagne is made. Clean and fresh flavours of apple and pear with a beautifully creamy lingering note.

P1150321The cider went particularly well with my Slow cooked pork belly, crumbed cheek, lentil, peach and fennel. A far stronger course here utilising all the great produce and ingredients again, in particular the quality of the meat. Great balance between the fat, lean meat and crackling for the pork belly, although my favourite was the crumbed cheek with its contrasting soft meat and crispy coat. The slightly sweet peach was surprisingly working in harmony with the pork and my cider. Fabulous!

P1150325A refreshing palate cleanser of Raspberry sorbet and dark chocolate before our finale. Good level of sharpness from the raspberry.

P1150329Timboon fromage blanc, cherry compote, lemon verbena granita, brandy snap. A very versatile curd cheese with a fresh and clean taste, perfect as a canvass for the sweet cherry compote, finishing with an aromatic note and a contrasting cold element from the verbena granita. The brandy snap added that textural element to sink your teeth into.

P1150333Some chocolate petit fours to go with our coffee to end the meal.

P1150335It’s encouraging to see a restaurant of this calibre in the Yarra Valley. Quince Dining was a perfect venue to showcase the quality produce and ingredients from the region. I must admit, however, that I wished the front of house was much more engaging with their diners, sharing with us the background and stories on the unsung heroes; the farmers and suppliers. Don’t get me wrong. The staff were functional and professional but equally shy and not forthcoming, never going beyond reciting what was written on the menu. Also, while there were certainly some hero moments with regards to the dishes, overall more work needed to be done to maximise the flavour of the produce used. Sometimes it was as simple as a few more pinches of salt, but others (like the cured salmon) needed more serious work. This was a valiant effort and the restaurant should be applauded for supporting such an endeavour. I look forward to seeing how this establishment evolves over the coming seasons.

Ten Minutes by Tractor, Mornington Peninsula

P1150681Chef: Stuart Bell   Website: www.tenminutesbytractor.com.au   Cuisine: Modern Australian

Whilst known for its wine, Ten Minutes by Tractor, in the Victorian region of the Mornington Peninsula, is perhaps better associated with its two hatted fine dining restaurant that has attracted many foodies over the years. My wife and I had previously made a few reservations but unfortunately had to cancel due to various reasons so we never thought we would ever make it here. But here we were, finally, and boy was it worth the agonisingly long wait. We also had a special reason to dine here that day as we were celebrating my wife’s recent success in defending her PhD.

P1150687The dining room was adjacent to the cellar door, seating 30 – 40 people very comfortably with ample space. We were sat at the corner of the room with unobstructed views over the vineyard where we could see the resident sheep tucking into the grass around the vines; an absolute treat for our four year old niece. We occasionally could see Head chef Stuart Bell assessing the dishes as they came to the pass for service. The menu here consisted of an à la carte option of two or three courses, or a more elaborate tasting menu with a choice of five or eight courses.

P1150729Many restaurants in Australia could learn a thing or two about high performing front of house service from manager Clayton Hiskins. Nothing was too much trouble for any of our friendly but extremely professional waiters who went as far as accommodating our niece with a specially house made apple juice, not normally available on the menu, as well as rectifying a misunderstanding of another beverage without making you feel apologetic or guilty. I felt like I was back in a Michelin starred establishment in Europe again. It was the perfect framework to an equally memorable meal.

P1150685Being a sucker for sparkling wine, it didn’t take much for the sommelier to sell me a glass of the 2010 Blanc de Blancs, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Mornington Peninsula, Australia. This was their first ever sparkling wine and a bloody great one at that, and which their tasting note was spot on with a ‘a gentle effervescence in the mouth, acid that freshens without aggression and a gorgeous caress at the back of the mouth to bring you back for more.’ It was so good I decided to buy a few bottles after our meal as it was retailing at their cellar door for only $50 a bottle. Bargain!

P1150703The choice of bread was multigrain and olive bread. The olive bread was absolutely delicious and went extremely well with…

P1150704… the house made burnt butter that was more like cream than anything. Some olive oil and pink salt flakes were also provided on the side but we were completely distracted by the butter that we forgot about the olive oil.

P1150706Our first amuse bouche of two was the Yellow fin tuna, tomato, lemon grass and radish, served on a beautiful thin spoon. It was a perfect introduction to Bell’s cooking, showcasing the fresh produce and ingredients that were abundant in all his dishes throughout the meal. It was a simple but beautiful marriage of flavours that did exactly what an amuse bouche needed to do. Entertain my palate and whet my appetite.

P1150707The subsequent Duck rillette with goats cheese on cracker was our least preferred of the two as I found the goats cheese competing against the mallard.

P1150721My starter of the Venison Terrine and Carpaccio, pickled mushrooms, grapes and pistachio was exactly what I wanted; something delicious I could graze on but without it being fussy. The generous servings of the terrine had a surprisingly smooth texture, absent of gamey flavours. There were some clever use of textures including the succulent and juicy grapes, crunchy sliced green beans and moist pickled mushrooms over a bed of delicate venison carpaccio with crumbed pistachios and buttery emulsions.

P1150718As the weather outside was miserable, my wife opted for a comforting wintery dish of the Gnocchi, textures of mushroom, cauliflower and kale for her starter. I had a mouthful of her dish and agreed that it was the best dish from our lunch. The mushroom purée in particular had an amazing concentration of flavours that was complemented by the other preparation of mushroom including the deep fried enoki and fried wild mushrooms. The gnocchi was sublime. It was delicate, soft and silky with a perfect amount of give which was complemented perfectly by the crunch from the cauliflower. I had food envy.

P1150725 Our waiter was extremely confident in recommending the Cape Grim eye fillet, slow cooked rib, cauliflower, baby onions so I gave it a go despite being previously unimpressed with a preparation of the same cut of beef elsewhere. I was glad I took the advice for the flavours oozing out of this fillet was superb, working extremely well with the caramelised onion and purée. The slow cooked rib just fell apart effortlessly and provided another dimension of flavour to appreciate this breed. This certainly was a delicious cut. Stuart Bell is clearly a magician, or alternatively I blame the other chef for not doing it justice.

P1150722My wife’s main of the Pork confit belly & roasted loin, black pudding cromesque, prunes, macadamias was a close contender to the beef with it’s contrastingly moist pork belly and crunchy shard of crackling. The surprise element in the dish was the black pudding jus contained in the cromesque that was rich in spice, in particular cloves. Even my niece who normally avoided red meat was fishing for some of the pork and beef.

P1150732My choice of dessert was the Michael Cluizel chocolate & hazelnut pavé, honey ice cream, poached pears. A very rich chocolate layer resting on a crunchy bed of crushed hazelnuts accompanied by a spiced doughnut, caramelised poached pears and a floral honey ice cream finished with a brittle chocolate tuile. I initially thought this was going to be way too sweet but the portion size was just right. The pear was remarkably juicy and retained its fruitiness despite it having a brittle caramelised coating.

P1150735My wife opted for the Quince, yogurt cake, pecan crémeux, pepperberry ice cream. The yogurt cake had a sharpness which beautifully married with the silken sweetness of the quince. The pepperberry ice cream was an unusual flavour but blended well within the dish. The pecan crémeux provided an elegant texture to complete the dish. Truly an old world flavour with a modern take. We were thoroughly impressed with everything and left with a genuinely big smile.

P1150715I could have stayed here all afternoon. We arrived at Ten Minutes by Tractor not knowing what to expect and we were completely blown away by the trifecta of the beautiful location, faultless service and delicious food. Our experience here highlighted again the inconsistency in the hatted ratings, especially when you compared against weaker restaurants in the same category like Stefano’s. I wished that I had come here much sooner but I was glad we eventually made it. On this occasion we opted for the three course à la carte option but I’d definitely like to try Bell’s tasting menu on my return. Lucky for me it’s less than an hour away from where I live.

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…