Monday, October 12, 2009

Something to Goat About @ Provenance, Smith Street

I don’t really like to make rules for myself. This is generally because I know I will just break them, but it’s also partly because I like to be flexible and go with the flow. Rules such as ‘I will get up at 7am everyday so I have time to make and eat breakfast’ or ‘I’m never again going to go out with someone who plays a musical instrument’ sound all good in theory, but there’s always a what if. I could never be a vegetarian because I hate the idea of saying no to anything. If someone says, ‘Do you want to come over to my house to try my family’s traditional roast buffalo dish?’ the last thing I would want to say is ‘I don’t eat meat, sorry’. The first thing I want to say is, ‘Thank you so much for inviting me! What time and where?’ I admire vegetarians, but I just cannot cut out that many food experiences. I. Want. To. Try. Everything! But I digress. The point is I’m no good at setting myself and following rules.

The ‘Seasonal Pleasures’ degustation series at Provenance, however, is all about rules. Setting themselves the challenge of creating a full extended meal revolving on one ingredient, the degustation at Provenance on Saturday and Sunday night was focused on goat. Six courses of goat related goodness. It seems that they did not allow themselves one transgression of the rule – every course did indeed contain goat (never fear, the dessert was based on goat milk, not goat meat).

After attending the last ‘Seasonal Pleasures’ degustation a couple of months ago – (How Mushroom is Too Mushroom?) I could not miss this one. The food was lovely last time and my only qualms were with the service which was a bit flippant. As soon as I sat down for Goat night however, it became clear to me that this night would be an improvement on the last (which was pretty darn good).

The first course was a tasting plate of goat meat charcuterie – oh, how I love charcuterie! The plate consisted of handmade goat sausage (one regular meat, one offal), goat parfait (a little like terrine or pate), marinated goat riblet, ‘biltong’ (kind of like a goat jerky) and a goat cheese combined with sun dried tomato, accompanied by olives and toasted almonds and bread toasts. It was served with a Mountain Goat beer – which I’m sure was chosen more for its name than its suitability as an accompaniment, but beer in general suited this dish fine. I enjoyed everything on the plate thoroughly but the regular sausage was my favourite. Boldly flavoured and incredibly tasty.

Before I could finish my beer the next course was being served up – onion tart tatin topped with confit goat with a bĂ©arnaise sauce. This was served with a very light Rose wine. The onion was deliciously caramelised, the goat rich and the bĂ©arnaise a good addition, if not making the whole dish a little too buttery.

The next dish was announced as a ‘palate cleanser’ though – presumably to make up for the rich butteryness of the previous one. Three goat raviolis in a white wine broth garnished with goat floss and red cabbage and served with a NZ Pinot Gris. One major improvement on the last degustation is the variety of wines this time around. For the mushroom degustation all the wines were from the same winery, which was a bit limiting and made you wonder whether the night had been sponsored by that winery. At an event of ambition such as this, you would assume that the wines had been chosen due to their close affinity to the dishes being served, not because they had been donated. Much of the chatter by the waiters to diners at the goat degustation seemed to be about how such and such a winery had heard about the goat night and ‘wanted to get involved’. I wondered whether this meant the wine had been donated. I have no real problem with this but it does make a difference to me whether the wine has been chosen for taste reasons or for convenience, and I think this should be declared somewhere.

The final savoury dish was a goat loin roulade with liver, wrapped in prosciutto and served on asparagus. I loved the crispness of the prosciutto and the tenderness of the goat meat. This was well matched with a Victorian Shiraz.

The dessert was a goat milk pannacotta with a berry compote. Here is where the rules seemed to fail a little. Although using goat milk for the dessert satisfies the idea of having a meal entirely devoted to goat, it probably would have been a better dish if dairy milk was used. The pannacotta was nicely flavoured but a bit too solid and not particularly delicate. The compote, however, was very tasty.

Finally (and with little room for me to fit it in) was a platter of Milawa goat cheeses – camembert, blue and cheddar, served with toasts and quince paste. Whilst very lovely cheeses, I again wondered if they’d all come from the same cheese maker for in-kind sponsorship reasons, rather than the merits of each of those cheeses. Perhaps I am too cynical. Doubts about the origins of the cheese did not do anything to deter me from appreciating it, however, and I managed to get it all in despite already being quite full. The camembert in particular was wonderful - creamy and oozy.

At $75 per head, the ‘Seasonal Pleasures’ at Collingwood’s Provenance represent very good value. The only improvement I can suggest is for a more pragmatic approach in the menu that preferences taste over self-imposed ingredient rules and matches wines more carefully to the dishes. The commitment to quality at Provenance is very clear and they are obviously quite excited by these degustation nights. I left very satisfied and slightly bulging.