La Provence is a gastronomic sequel that is better than the original.
French technique forms the basis of many Western cuisines in the world of gastronomy, and thankfully so. Chefs train for years to perfect cooking traditions that date back to the middle ages, and continue to evolve through culinary movements and modernisation. Even modern Australian restaurants adopt and adapt the recipes, but there is rarely a better substitute for the original, as any dedicated Francophile will attest.
La Provence in Adelaide’s CBD is the second venture for Sandrine Maltret and Tariq Marco, having successfully launched Le Mistral in Willunga just shy of two years ago in the space previously occupied by the revered restaurant Fino and this is a sequel that outshines the original. But the logistics of managing two venues with the owner’s hands on approach has required them to rethink their priorities and the city has won out, with the Willunga site recently put back on the market. And while regional dining will lose a little piece of delicious dining, the more accessible La Provence is sure to be a long-term hit. A modern approach to French and an exciting, affordable menu de jour is already attracting diners from the other sides of town.
Cake feels a little out of place at the beginning of a meal, but we make a delightful exception for compressed carrot cake that forms the base of a carefully arranged heirloom vegetable circle surrounding a peak of cauliflower mousse, moulded to resemble parfait. The central element is a textural and flavour success, topped with a gelée made with more carrot that provides a glistening sheen and sweet edge that completes this savoury dessert for entrée story.
A trio of duck includes few extra surprise des canards, with rillettes, sausage, foie gras and house cured ‘ham’ displaying the best of our feathered friend. It’s beak-to-tail success, where even the duck skin is highlighted as a crackling of sorts that makes the perfect crispy base used to scoop up the silky rillettes, a little wholegrain mustard and a baby cornichon to top things off. Dried croutons absorb the best of the foie gras and pistachio adds some crunch to a lightly salted and herbaceous slice of duck sausage that completes this tasting selection.
Leaning heavily on French tradition, Burgundy snails swim in a flavoursome, meaty sauce of braised oxtail that also soaks into a tender pile of cabbage and bacon. The buttered morsels melt in the mouth and slide down as easily as an accompanying glass of Cotes du Rhone.
Our selection of mains commences with pasture-raised chicken that is treated as delicately in the oven as it was in the fields, wrapped in streaky bacon and served aside caramelised onion segments and an onsen-style poached egg topped shaved chicken skin, which breaks to combine with a fragrant tarragon sauce.
Duck á l’orange is another quintessential dish that is treated with traditional respect but modernised through innovative plating and punchy flavours. The dish offers a segmented grilled duck breast that is perfectly pink and nicely rendered, with carrot and ginger puree, golden beetroot cooked in citrus and a sweet orange reduction that pools with a meaty duck jus.
Sides are simple, and delicious. Garden-picked peas with speck add a little green to the feast, and truffled mash provides earthy flavour with a nostalgic edge. Continuing the potato journey and displaying the full potential of this humble vegetable, La Provence then takes a little influence from their Italian neighbours, with a plate of pillowy Gnocchi. These giant French-Italians soak up the incidental sauce and juices from sautéed leek, black olives and caramelised pumpkin pearls. Snow pea tendrils add some green crunch and a generous scattering of shaved mimolette cheese provides seasoned balance and a little stretchy challenge to each mouthful.
Now be warned: the selection of La Provence desserts is likely to make you weak at the knees. Our three selections are traditionally French and perfectly executed. A log of parfait uses dark chocolate and chestnuts to create a bitter-sweet success, with an earthy influence in both flavour and presentation. Crème Brulée is presented simply and prepared flawlessly; caramelised top, smooth custardy centre etc.
The pièce de résistance is a raspberry soufflé that billows over the top of a small copper saucepan, and wins the crowd with its light airy texture and creamy flavour. A quenelle of champagne ice-cream cools the steaming dish, along with raspberry sauce that is poured into the fluffy eggy centre to create a sweet and tart soup to end this showcase experience.
Like its predecessor Le Mistral, La Provence pays homage to the South of France, while showcasing the best of South Australian produce. An international collaboration that has resulted in yet another culinary evolution.
125 Pirie Street
Lunch: Monday to Friday, 12pm to 3pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday, 6pm to late
Photography: Sia Duff