- the place of origin or earliest known history of something.
- the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature
It’s one of those words we don’t really use anymore. Perhaps because it’s a word that refers to something that we have lost over the ages. It’s a string that trails back to the birthplace of an object, an idea, a tradition, and in the world of early adoptors, innovation and acceleration, it’s a value we have learned to forget. Chef Michael Ryan hasn’t, and he’s settled in one of the best places to rekindle and establish his own provenance, in the historic Victorian town of Beechworth. A town known for both ancestral tradition in it’s quaint gold-rush-era urban spread and fertile rolling pasture, but also it’s range of city refugees – Melbourne escapees who want to tree change without losing the tight culture that sometimes slackens in remote areas of great size.
Provenance is surely an original. Although it resides in an antique bank building, what this restaurant brings to regional Victoria is far from standard Australian country fare. Ryan’s food is heavily influenced by his earlier residence in Japan, and his constant return travels. Rather than finding the lamb shanks and baby roast chickens as on many menus in the area, you’re more likely to find things like house-made silken tofu, bonito with turnips or dry-aged wagyu with daikon. His is definitely the only wine-matched degustation in these parts that includes three sakes. There’s also a complete vegetarian menu – fairly much unheard of in this “feed a man meat” part of the world.
It’s not all Japanese though. The provenance extends to the produce, which is origin-sourced wherever possible, that is, local. Of course it’s not always possible – it’s hard to get all those Japanese flavours from the surrounding high country and Murray plains. But you will find local organic pork, farm-fresh eggs, garden greens, local game, and the occasional foraged item. This means that sticklers for hearty country fare won’t go hungry… but may come away with a new-found love of kimchi or yuzu.
Provenance is out of place, but has found it’s solid home (Provenance is in it’s 7th year) because of it’s incredible and clever niche. It’s a restaurant that tries as hard as city establishments, which need to rely on more than location for return clientele. Ryan is putting dishes on the table that you would be lucky to find in Melbourne, or even culinary capitals like Paris, London and Tokyo. But it’s more than just a city restaurant in the country. It’s a venture that reminds us, that if it’s done well, an artist may carve their own path, no matter how far from ordinary, a seed can be planted that will develop good roots, and hopefully a family tree.
I went for the degustation menu on the night I dined (with two old Melbourne friends, one of whom now lives in neighbouing Stanley, and the other the only one who has stayed in Melbourne), which, I believe is the best course of action unless your tastes are very conservative. Let Ryan take you out of your box, and introduce you to some flavours of contrary origins. I personally had tried to avoid the silken tofu dish (not a fan of this clag-like substance), but our knowing chef brought it out anyway. Lucky he did – it’s really a very clever dish, almost like a savoury custard, and was one of my favourites of the evening. I also avoided the wine matching due to what I considered excessive Japanese wines, but after tasting the food, and even though the wine list provided ample choice, I wished I had allowed myself to be fully guided.
- Restaurant Style: Fine dining, contemporary, fusion, regional.
- Licensed: Yes, with excellent wine list.
- Price: Degustation around $100 not including drinks. Two courses approx $70
- Perfect for: Great for vegetarians (but meat also available), exploratory eaters, food divas.
- Also not bad for: Families – children are welcome, but better in the day for lunch if you can. (The degustation will take at least 4 hours)
- Pros: Homey atmosphere, warm fire in the winter, winelist, friendly service, and super food.
- Cons: Outside loos.
- Location: 86 Ford St Beechworth (map)
- Nearest Major Airport: Melbourne (3 hours)
- Regional Area: High Country/Goldfields, Victoria, Australia
- Bookings: Essential. Via website, Phone: +61 3 5728 1786.
In its first year of operation, Provenance was awarded a chef’s hat in the Good Food Guide and also awarded Best New Country Restaurant. It has since gone on to receive two hats every year since, and in 2013, also won “Best Regional Restaurant” and Chef Michael Ryan was named “Chef of the Year.” You’ll also find it in Australian Gourmet Traveller’s “Top 100 Restaurants in Australia”.
If you are an avid culinary traveller, you might want to join Michael on a serious food trip around Tokyo and Kyoto next year.
Michael Ryan provides his own guide to the Victorian High Country surrounding Beechworth in Australian Gourmet Traveller here.
*A guide to ratings: These take into account the price, quality, service and the facilities, and in effect are a value rating.
- 0-2/10 = you’re likely to get food poisoning
- 3-5/10 = overpriced in respect to quality. Don’t eat there unless you are dying of hunger.
- 6-/10 = you won’t die, but it’s unlikely you’ll rave about this place.
- 7-8/10 = reasonable value. Check other options in the area just in case, but not a bad choice over-all.
- 9/10= worth seeking out if you are nearby. One of if not the best option in the area.
- 10/10= super place. Stop what you’re doing, book a plane ticket and go there now.