Said to be the new Royal Mail, let’s sees if this country B&B lives up to the hype
It is the stillness that perhaps best characterises Beechworth, a town nestled four hours north-east of Melbourne in the picturesque setting of gold rush Victoria.
After a scenic drive, in which every kilometre stretches my capacity for superlatives, we arrive just as the sun begins to set. Its departure turns the sky a mottled display of purple and midnight blue, while tendrils of smoke begin to curl from the nearby chimney stacks. The air is crisp with the last strains of winter.
It’s here that Ned Kelly made his last stand; the romantics among us might stand overlooking the valley and ponder an Australia in which bushrangers became legends. History has been made here, and like all places of historical significance you can hear those whispers echoing from a distant time.
One of the reasons I’ve come all this way is to sample Michael Ryan’s award-winning cuisine at Provenance, a small B&B whose restaurant is located in a perfectly preserved bank dating back to 1856. Provenance is the recent recipient of a host of honours in The Age Good Food Guide awards, including Chef of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year.
Considering the venue’s relative isolation, these are no small feats – nor are the two hats that sit alongside its name.
But as I soon discover, the accommodation that sits on the edge of the restaurant’s property is worth the visit in and of itself. This isn’t your usual country B&B from weekends past, with twee floral bedspreads thrown over wobbly cast iron beds and dressers cloaked in doilies. Provenance’s four suites are sleek and stylish, with the contemporary dark wood furniture bearing a hint of the oriental style that informs Ryan’s food.
Set apart as they are from each other, the set-up is also designed to avoid those awkward hallway run-ins that seem inevitable in the converted houses that function as mini hotels, not to mention the shuffling two-step that happens as one couple enters while another tries to leave. Instead, we have our own staircase and balcony. The sense of privacy is complete.
Inside, the king-sized bed, spa bath and double-head shower stall add touches of elegance one would expect for the relative price tag. Strange as it might sound, I am particularly taken by the lingering perfume of fresh laundry powder and reverse cycle heating that greets me as I enter the room. It’s the delicious scent of my childhood; any residual worries I’d brought with me from the city instantly dissipate. I realise that I’m famished!
We take the short stroll through the courtyard, where in summer guests can dine al fresco beneath the apple tree, and enter the cosy inn. After selecting a bottle of meaty Head The Blonde shiraz ($63), we proceed to enjoy the full range of Ryan’s award-winning fare. Although I’m initially confused by his fusion of Asian flavours in the quintessentially country setting – his dishes are subtly punctuated by miso, tamari and tofu – I realise it makes perfect sense when you consider the area’s history and the huge Chinese influence during the Gold Rush era. Each of our courses is presented by Ryan himself, with the intimacy of the dining room giving him the space to be generous with his time and knowledge. I’ve always felt that a meal is enriched when one is able to experience the passion of its creator, and Ryan proves to be no exception.
But it is the dessert that really moves me to ecstasy. A simple lemon tea cake adorned by seasonal lemonade fruit and garnished with a dollop of cream – the perfect end to a meal whose intricate and often surprising flavours managed to be elegantly balanced and satisfying.
Outside, we stand beneath a moon as full as our bellies under the late August sky and watch as our breath blows white before us. Soon, it will be spring and all the delights of a countryside in bloom will greet new visitors to beautiful Beechworth. But for now, we revel in the blessed gift of that stillness, our cheeks flush with wine and cold. It seems we are a million miles from anywhere, in a world designed just for the two of us. Clasping hands, we toddle the small distance to bed, two lovers away from everywhere and wishing to be nowhere else.
The verdict: With its picturesque beauty, Beechworth is the perfect place for a country getaway. Provenance accommodation packages offer a perfect incentive to make a trip that might be otherwise regrettably ignored.
The score: 16/20; great
We rated: Chef and owner Michael Ryan’s extensive Japanese whiskey collection, on display for guests and fanciers to marvel at.
We hated: Complicated appliances can hamper an otherwise splendid experience. Having turned our heater off during dinner, we couldn’t figure out how to get the settings right, which made for a very chilly six-degree morning.
Where: 86 Ford St, Beechworth, Victoria
Notes: From $285 per night including breakfast; packages (including dinner) from $425 per couple per night. Restaurant is open Wed–Sun from 6:30pm and for Sunday from 12–3pm. Not suitable for children.
Contact: 03 5728 1786; theprovenance.com.au