A few weeks back RJ and I decided we needed a break. A break from household chores and regular haunts and general weekend inertia. For Christmas he had gotten me a weekend away in Bowral and late February was a perfect opportunity to cash it in before the Southern Highlands moved firmly into colder weather. Before we went I of course asked Twitter about recommendations for food – brunch to be exact – Laura recommended Biota Dining.
In looking at the website I couldn’t see a brunch listing anywhere but the ‘gastronomy menu’ combined with their approach to food were intriguing enough to elevate it to the top of the list for a Saturday dinner date.
…biota is a dining experience supporting local farmers and growers, incorporating seasonal botanicals in all aspects of its menus and environment… – Head Chef and Owner, James Viles
Upon arriving in Bowral Friday afternoon we realised Biota was just around the corner from the guest house where we were staying, so we popped in to make a booking for the next night… or maybe not… completely booked out in the main dining room for Saturday… bugger. There were tables available in the lounge but the menu is different and – although lovely in its own right – not what we were after. So we booked-in to return that evening instead.
A few hours later – after some afternoon tea and cake, a nap, a shower and some primping [we take this holiday break stuff seriously], we were back for dinner and realised quite quickly that a quiet Friday was a thousand times better than a busy Saturday night.
We had both decided on mains earlier that afternoon but entrees proved a challenge simply due to having to choose between a number of interesting yet very different options.
It was at this point we got a true indication of how well versed the staff were in the menu options – information about cooking methods, ingredients, flavour combinations and wine pairings were not only covered, but questions were answered and explanations were delivered with patience and without a hint of Sydney attitude [ahem].
And so we begin…
Amuse-bouche: the meal started off with a bang of salmon jerky with clam salt. Two salty, tangy slices perfect to enjoy with the complimentary, made-on-site, sourdough bread and smoked butter.
The bread was crusty and dense – almost cake-like – and slightly sweet. The butter came perched on the side of a stone and RJ could not fathom how it didn’t simply slide off onto the table.
Beverages: sparkling water, a Kosciuszko Pale Ale for RJ and a rosé pinot noir [can’t remember the kind, whoops] for me were perfect choices for the food that was to follow.
Entree: after much deliberation I decided to forgo the rich cooked curds with blackened asparagus, cured yolk and malt gel in favour of the lighter cured mackerel with young cos, sea lettuce and grape juices. If you ever think your job is infuriating just consider briefly the guy that has to come into work each day and peel grapes. Have you ever tried to peel a grape? No? Whatever you are imagining, it is about like that.
RJ went for the smoked scallop with morcilla, stracci, young peas and zucchini.
The mackerel was quite delicate for such a heavy fish. The curing process has been refined in order to allow enough of the flavour of the fish to shine through while removing the oily mouth feel and rendering a firm flesh. James uses sushi grade mackerel due to the fact that cured fish is essentially still raw. The green grape sauce was a fresh accompaniment, while the peeled frozen grapes and slightly spicy radish pods created textural variation in every bite. Edible flowers provided an inspired colour contrast and not only are they from the kitchen garden but lets be honest, they’re just fun. If anything, the sauce could have used a touch of tang – perhaps from some citrus.
The scallop dish was plentiful but the smoking didn’t seem to do anything special to the scallops themselves. The stracci pasta was tender with just enough bite, however RJ was not a fan of the house-made morcilla [aka blood pudding] and felt it had a bit of a burnt flavour – that may have been more of an opinion of blood pudding in general, rather than this one specifically though. The zucchini rounds and fresh peas provided a bit of lightness to the dish but nothing in it really shouted out to either of us.
Pallet cleanser: titled garden botanicals, this innocent name does little justice for the possibly-most-perfect-ever lemon verbena sorbet with pea powder, buckwheat puffs and poppy seeds. I die. It was all I could do not to ask for another.
Main: We had both decided earlier to have the snapper with urchin roe butter, grilled pumpkin and whitebait and a second perusal of the menu confirmed the decision.
The fish was cooked perfectly. Although I neglected to ask the technique, I’d hazard a guess at poaching but it may well have been sous-vide. The whitebait was flash-fried in a light, pure white, batter and the sweet grilled pumpkin provided a pleasant contrast to the crunchy, salty, crackery bits [yeah, no idea what they were] on top. I felt the pool of urchin roe butter was far too rich for the amount on the plate and would have preferred the fish served in a light [pumpkin?] broth with the butter playing a supporting role rather than the lead. RJ had less of an issue with it but he’s always been more of a fan of heavy creamy sauces than I. Overall it was a rich and enjoyable, if slightly heavy, dish.
Sides: salt crust potatoes with hazelnut and rosemary and a salad of garden greens, apple and lemon rounded out the meal.
The salad was perfect with crunch from the thinly sliced apples and fresh greens, colour from the flowers and a perfect citrus dressing. The potatoes would have been nicer if they were slightly crispier and saltier.
Dessert: By this stage we were not only full, but had indulged in cake earlier in the afternoon. However I am not one to end a fancy meal without dessert. The blood plum with blackberry sorbet and vanilla disk was a perfectly light and summery ending to the meal.
Although I’m not quite sure where the blood plums appeared aside from a delicious shmear on the plate, the berry sorbet was as perfect as the previous lemon verbena one – creamy, smooth and without fault… well unless you count the fact that that we could have easily eaten twice as much! The berries added tang and another textural layer as did the interesting use of gelled chia seeds.
- Value: Biota is not easy on the pocket but the ingredients are decadent, the portion sizes offered value for money and the quality and care taken is excellent.
- 5 Senses: The decor is simple and fits well with the eco values of the restaurant. Interesting flavour combinations, ingredients and presentations delivered a lovely experience on all fronts. Extra points for the glassware, fabrics and unique sculptural design touches as well as the open kitchen.
- Service: Attentive, informed, pleasant, helpful.
- Boomerang Effect: We’d definitely go for dinner again if the occasion arose, but would be interested as well in sitting on the veranda during a sunny afternoon and partaking in the lounge menu or tapas.
To wrap, I though I’d show you just a few bits and pieces from Biota’s kitchen garden where they grown most of their produce on site. Watch out for the geese though – they hiss, nasty little buggers!
BIOTA DINING – BOWRAL, SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS
18 KANGALOON ROAD
BOWRAL, NSW 2576 AUSTRALIA
RJ and I dined on our own dime. I would imagine they connected dots due to the incessant click of the camera but to my knowledge we didn’t receive any preferential treatment, they were just as attentive to the other tables – definitely a good sign.