Address: 791 S.H.16, Waimauku
Phone: (09) 411 7953
Rating out of 10: Food: 9, Service: 7, Value: 8, Ambience: 8

Although she didn't invent the rule, the late Jan Corbett, a former Herald writer whose life was cut so tragically short, was a firm believer in the axiom that states there is an inverse relationship between the beauty of a restaurant's setting and the quality of its food.

But even Jan would have had to concede the law does not apply in the case of Provenance. It occupies what used to be BeesOnline cafe on Highway 16 by the Matua Valley, an area which, despite the expansion west of the Auckland commuter range, still has a distinct rural feel.

On the patio you can gaze out to a pond fringed by flax and cabbage trees, an aspect marred only acoustically by the procession of traffic on the main road.

From our table we looked across at a view that could have come from a landscape by Rita Angus or Robin White.


On the approach to the building there is a series of terraces full of thriving herbs and produce, leading to a bank of lemon trees, the planting visible testimony to the emphasis on fresh seasonal produce.

This is another venture of the Hip Group, one of the teams bringing such vitality to the local eating out scene and the people behind the deservedly much-praised Ortolana in Britomart.

Customers at that venue are used to it being busy and I suspect visitors to the new venture will have to become accustomed to the same experience. We arrived early for our midweek lunch then watched a constant stream of new arrivals drawn from a wide spectrum. There were families with small children, smart ladies who were lunching, fashion-bypass victims in singlets and a sprinkling of suits.

Next to the old Corollas in the car park were cherished vintage Morgans and Jaguars and a brand new, gleaming Aston Martin.

The menu is drawn up with breakfast and lunch in mind as their current opening hours are from 8am to 4pm. I needed a little more than a breakfast so passed on the tempting hotcakes with lemon curd mascarpone, rhubarb and lavender syrup and, even more reluctantly, on the smoked fish omelette with caper vinaigrette and sourdough.

There were other temptations - the zucchini flowers with ricotta and macadamia nuts raised vegetarian impulses as did the beetroot with feta, hazelnuts and lasagnotte.

One had to consider dishes with eggplant, which featured more than once, oddly under both the eggplant and aubergine title.

And it did appear in the absolutely superb lamb dish, which eventually won selection.

This, like other dishes, had a Middle East influence with perfectly cooked pink-centred lamb with labneh, lentils and the aubergine.

A great blend of flavours and textures, visually appealing and delightful in taste.

My main was equally successful. The kingfish was crisply done, skin on, with bright green beans just the right side of being too al dente and with a tabouleh featuring quinoa, again a visual and taste delight.

Their sweet listing was restricted to three items and one of those, the washed rind cheese, had been changed. Readers of this review must bear in mind that the dishes I have praised may not be on the frequently changing menu.

The substitute cheese was a Whitestone brie, which was a bit firm for my taste as I prefer soft cheeses to be of the consistency that you have to stop them running away and escaping. But it was nicely served with honey, walnuts and pear.

Our other course was a substantial baked ricotta with preserved cherries, proving a well judged colour and taste contrast.

Our one reservation was that the service, after a good start, became a little sketchy. It was unfailingly polite and friendly but lacked focus.

It's usual to provide a sugar option with coffee, the empty water glasses escaped attention and you shouldn't have to work hard to get a look at the dessert menu. It was busy but the rest of their act is so impressive they are going to have to expect that as the usual state of affairs.

These small failings were not enough to make much of a dent in an experience we enjoyed and we can all look forward to their planned opening for dinner.

Our meal: $102 for two mains, two desserts, two coffees and two glasses of wine.

Our wine: A decent list heavily dependent on local wines, and so it should be. Our Coopers Creek Huapai rosé was a summer treat.

Verdict: A lovely venue well worth the drive for almost anyone, from anywhere.