For two years running, Provenance Food Hall in Bolton has earned a listing in the Good Food Guide - that’s one for every year they’ve been open and quite a pair of feathers in the cap of chef Lewis Gallagher.
Asked how he feels about Provenance’s rapid and repeated inclusion in the Guide, Lewis gave me a big, proud smile and spoke about his time coming up in the kitchens of traditional fine-dining spots and how exploring his own ambitions to such positive response has felt terrific.
Describing an ingredients-focused approach, Chef Lewis speaks enthusiastically about seasonal menu refreshes and while he talks his boyish excitement in describing aged cuts of beef, fresh shellfish and the finer points of choosing a chorizo is utterly charming and an easy explanation for his aptitude in attracting acclaim.
Provenance is a two-storey affair in the area of Westhoughton, the ground floor taken over by a spacious market where cases are filled with baked goods, cured meats and butcher’s cuts. Upstairs is the restaurant, where the decor is somewhere between beach house and bistro, bright-white and sunny.
Coming into a restaurant with a reputation, it can be easy to expect a menu jam-packed with unpronounceable phrases, pretentious adjectives or outright-unrecognizable dishes. But the menu here is fully accessible and the lineup is heavy on British classics (fish and chips, bangers & mash), punctuated with fanciful pops of international influence (butternut squash bhaji, sushi).
My companion began to make cooing noises while reading about the salads and smoked salmon as my eyes flitted between the burger and the pork cigars, and I could tell that even though we’d come to the table in different moods we weren’t going to be let down by the flexibility of the fare.
Since I’d already decided it was Cheat Day, my first order was for the Chocolate Milkshake. A frosted mason jar arrived, capped with a thick dollop of whipped cream and filled with a cold and frothy shake that was downright American in thickness, and richly, genuinely chocolatey. It’s easy to make a decent milkshake but tricky to make a great one, and from the first sip I had a sense that the meal to come would be remarkable.
The starter course certainly didn’t disappoint, delivering delight after delight. The springy and beautifully-textured Sourdough came sliced thick and toasted, and was absolutely heavenly smeared with sunny yellow butter that couldn’t have tasted more fresh.
The aforementioned Pork Cigars were a new one on me, but I’m not one to let a pork-related mystery linger so of course I ordered them without hesitation. Something like a pulled pork egg roll or a taquito, the cigars are a must for their robust, flakey crunch and the thick, molasses-sweet bbq dipping sauce on the side.
Presenting with aromatic cloves, coriander and cinnamon, the Squash Bhaji smells and tastes a little something like Christmas and the accompanying Hummus is nutty and smooth, faintly yellow and warm-tasting with curry spice.
Also superb were the Scallops with Chorizo. The dense diced sausage is spicy, smokey and with the oily moreish mouthfeel of a pepperoni stick, while the generously-portioned and skillfully-seasoned scallops are perfectly seared but preserve a creamy and soft inside.
Last but not least we enjoyed a classical Smoked Salmon, beautiful with orange flowers, vibrant with notes of citrus. Richly flavoured and oily, with titillating bursts of salt from a caviar garnish, the sheer slivers of fish also presented the perfect opportunity to polish off the sourdough.
After allowing my companion and I a strategic pause to massage our distended bellies back into shape, the kitchen sent out our entrees. The signature Provenance Burger certainly looks the part of a gourmet burger, with a dark, glossy roll artfully speckled with bright sesame seeds and a thick clot of lancashire cheese oozing down and across a thick hank of bacon. The patty itself has a squeaky, sausage-y texture and a fresh, natural flavour with good moisture but no extra fat. Working as a whole, the burger delivers a hearty, textural chew and delicious meatiness in every mouthful.
Compared to a humble burger, a rack of lamb probably conjures a greater expectation of elegance and sophistication, which the rack at Provenance also delivers from first sight. Served splayed atop a potato dauphinois, the two succulent chops are expertly seared and tender, bursting with flavourful juices. The buttery, peppery potato adds a nice weight to the dish and the gorgeously deeply-coloured pan sauce unifies each bite with a flawless finish.
Now, on the heels of such a rich and expansive meal it would have been nearly impossible to imagine dessert, so instead of imagining it we just went ahead and ordered it. I doubled-down on my chocolate intake, opting for the Milk Chocolate Tart, while my partner’s taste for the comparatively subdued lead her to the Bourbon Vanilla Rice Pudding.
The tart is dense and glossy and with strong body of hazelnut flavour, and very much evokes a Ferrero Rocher. It is served across a golden slather of praline and beside a scoop of creamy, dreamy salted caramel ice-cream that tastes soft and warm without any jangling notes of burnt sugar.
The rice pudding is a quieter dessert, but no less skillfully prepared. Irresistible scents of soft vanilla and edgy bourbon compel each spoonful upward and the texture is firm without any unwelcome chewiness. A glowing dollop of strawberry preserves provides all the visual interest needed by this impeccably-executed classic.
Balancing itself between classic and contemporary, between the proven and the possible, Provenance Food Hall makes an exciting and accessible destination for diners interested in fine food and simple surroundings. A better venue I could not imagine for an outing with family, an affordable-yet-impressive date night or even just a quick milkshake.
Book your first visit soon, so when 2018’s Good Food Guide invariably extends its props again you can smile smugly and agree!
Provenance Food Hall & Restaurant, 46-48 Market Street, Westhoughton, Bolton BL5 3AZ