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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Biota Dining, Bowral

Rye bread in a kangaroo skin at Biota Dining, Bowral

A kangaroo skin is the last thing you'd expect to find keeping your bread roll warm, but Biota Dining isn't like most other restaurants. The majority of the produce on the menu is grown in their own kitchen garden or sourced from local suppliers around Bowral. Last year they redesigned their wine list to a completely Australian offering. In the 2015 SMH Good Food Guide Awards,  Biota maintained its two-hat status and took out Regional Restaurant of the Year for the second year running.

Dining room at Biota Dining, Bowral
Dining room at Biota

It's only a seventy minute drive to Bowral but this city of 12,000 feels a world away from Sydney. We trawl the main street - the delightfully named Bong Bong Street - before lunch, pottering around antique stores, the ubiquitous town lolly shop and sneaking in an award-winning Funky Vanilla Slice from Gumnut Patisserie. Their pies are particularly good too - the steak and kidney pie is my favourite.

The sense of a slower pace continues at Biota, a small standalone estate with its own circular car park and lofty hedge by the entrance. To the right are twelve accommodation rooms; to the left is the main dining room with a bar area that is taken up today by a wedding celebration.

There's a distinct Nordic touch to the furnishings here with its wide and low-set wooden chairs, bare branches and naked bulbs that look like they're hanging from the end of a vine. The dining room is only a third full today so the noise level is quiet. It's a mixed crowd - mostly couples and small groups of friends. The absence of music is said to be a deliberate touch, to allow diners to focus solely on their meal.

Biota Dining menu Bowral
Biota Dining menu

There are only two choices for lunch or dinner. The summer menu is available as either a nine-course or six-course affair. We're surprised there is no overlap between the two.

Summer menu
$165 for 9 courses
$255 with wine
$240 with juice

raw peas and fresh cheese
salted cucumber - oysters and beach plants
kangaroo - artichokes and garlic scapes
smoked hen - cream corn and sprouted grains
soft leeks - dark rye and animal glaze
hogget - dried lactose and fresh oats
honey - brioche - frozen milk and macadamias
blackberry jam and roadside apples
salted pine caramels

Summer menu
$105 for 6 courses
$167 with wine
$150 with juice
charcoal - clams - smoked roe and spent lettuce
hen yolk - toasted rye - cooked curds and chickpea
green almonds - purslane and fried fish throats
red fruits - beef cooked over coals and amaranth leaves
fig leaf and wild plants
'mum's roses'

Sage Southside cocktail with gin and cocoa leaf liquer at Biota Dining, Bowral
Sage Southside $17
Gin, cocoa leaf liquer and pineapple sage

After much discussion, we end up choosing the longer offering. The entire table must choose the same option.

Sweet potato snacks with oyster at Biota Dining, Bowral
Snacks: Sweet potato with oyster and rye bread

Complimentary snacks immediately set the tone of our meal. It's hard not to admire the dramatic entrance of the heavy stone plate set down at our table, alongside a kangaroo pouch of bread.

Sweet potato snacks with oyster at Biota Dining, Bowral
Sweet potato with oyster and caramelised cucumber relish

Sweet potato crisps are sandwiched with a creamed oyster filling, the sweet and delicate snap of the sweet potatoes contrasting with the salty tang of oyster.

Rye bread with yoghurt served in a kangaroo skin at Biota Dining, Bowral
Rye bread with yoghurt served in a kangaroo skin

The rye bread is still warm inside the kangaroo skin pouch, baked with smears of yoghurt on top and sprinkled generously with salt. There's a strange reconnection with food and where it comes from as we stroke the soft fur of the kangaroo. I'm not sure whether they deliver the poach to vegetarians, but as a carnivore, it's a reminder of the reality of the origin of our food.

Pouring oyster milk at Biota Dining, Bowral
Raw peas and fresh cheese with oyster milk poured at the table

Our first course, raw peas and fresh cheese, involves more tableside theatrics as a beaker of oyster milk is poured gently into each person's bowl.

Raw peas and fresh cheese with oyster milk at Biota Dining, Bowral
Raw peas and fresh cheese with oyster milk

Freshly podded peas are a whole different experience to the usual frozen variety. Eaten raw, they have a slightly starchier consistency, with less sweetness but more "pea" flavour. It's a light start to the meal, the fresh cheese adding a light creaminess. The oyster milk gives a briny sweetness.

Charred and caramelised grapefruit juice pairing at Biota Dining, Bowral
Juice matching for the raw peas: 
Charred and caramelised grapefruit with palm sugar

Pig Flyin' has gone for the juice matching but ends up sharing most of it with the rest of us anyway. We're all quite intrigued by what will be included with the juice matching after experiencing Mr and Mrs Pig Flyin's juice matching at our Stomachs Eleven Christmas dinner.

The charred and caramelised grapefruit juice has a marked intensity about it. We don't really get a sense of charred fruit, but the palm sugar balances out the bitterness nicely.

Salted cucumber and oysters at Biota Dining, Bowral
Salted cucumber, oysters and beach plants

Our second course of salted cucumber, oysters and beach plants involves more tableside attention as spoonfuls of oyster foam are gently placed on each pate.

South Coast oyster at Biota Dining, Bowral
South Coast oyster

Hidden behind the curtain of cucumber is a plump South Coast oyster. It's impressively fat and juicy, singing with fresh brine.

Cucumber with rose petals juice matching at Biota Dining, Bowral
Juice matching for the salted cucumber and oysters:
Cucumber with rose petals

The cucumber is mirrored in the matched juice, a bright green cucumber juice with tea and a faint infusion of rose petals.

Dining room at Biota Dining, Bowral

Kangaroo tartare at Biota Dining, Bowral
Kangaroo, artichokes and garlic scapes

We move onto a tartare of kangaroo. The hand chopped meat is firm and luscious, and not overly gamey in flavour. Buried in the middle is a huddle of what tastes like creme fraiche. The silky meat is accented by pops of deep fried buckwheat and micro herbs across the top.

Sundried red grape juice matching at Biota Dining, Bowral
Juice matching for the kangaroo:
Sundried red grape juice

Sundried red grape juice adds a bright acidity to this dish. We're told that bunches of red grapes are sundried, pressed whole and then the skins are added back into the juice for steeping.

Smoked hen and creamed corn at Biota Dining, Bowral
Smoked hen, creamed corn and sprouted grains

The standout dish of our meal belongs to the smoked hen, creamed corn and sprouted grains. There's an sharp intake of breath as we discover the first mouthful, the poultry so soft and succulent it almost defies belief. It's a beautifully composed dish of flavours and textures, the bed of creamed corn working so well with the chicken punctuated by the crunch of sprouted chickpeas and beans. The jus is remarkably flavoursome too.

Bruised pommes juice pairing at Biota Dining, Bowral
Juice matching for the smoked hen:
Bruised pommes

We laugh when our waiter describes the matching bruised pomme juice as "apples bashed with mallets". The juice sits for three days and is then lightly smoked. It's surprisingly complex, with a slight tingle from early fermentation.

Fermenting peaches at Biota Dining, Bowral
Fermented peaches in the bar next door

We admire an array of fermenting bottles in the bar next door, spying peaches, fennel flowers, elderflower and more.

Soft leeks with dark rye at Biota Dining, Bowral
Soft leeks, dark rye and animal glaze

There are a couple of gaps in the pacing of our dishes, a lapse we attribute to catering for the wedding party next door, but service resumes promptly with the latter half of our menu. The soft leeks, dark rye and animal glaze causes most of us to double-take at the mention of animal glaze. It's another confronting thought that we presume is deliberate, a jumble of bones making a intense stock that adds depth to the log of soft-cooked leek coated in dark rye crumbs.

Beetroot, grape and native pepper juice pairing at Biota Dining, Bowral
Juice matching for the soft leeks:
Beetroot, grape and native pepper juice

The matched juice of beetroot, grape and native pepper is my favourite one of the flight. There's no lingering earthiness of beetroot, pulled back by just enough grape juice to diffuse without overwhelming the beetroot flavour.

Hogget, dried lactose and fresh oats at Biota Dining, Bowral
Hogget, dried lactose and fresh oats

Our final savoury dish is the hogget, dried lactose and fresh oats. Hogget is a sheep between one and two years old, a brief stage between lamb and mutton. The narrow slab of hogget is tender with a thick layer of intense fat. It's a rich dish without any acidic relief. A bed of fresh oats has an elegant porridge-like consistency. The curls of dried lactose are made by lowering the heat lamps in the kitchen over trays of milk until dehydrated.

Plum skins, grapfruit and orange sustainability juice pairing at Biota Dining, Bowral
Juice matching for the hogget:
Sustainability - plum skins, grapefruit and orange

The matching juice is simply described as Sustainability, a catch-all of leftovers - plum skins, grapefruit and oranges are mentioned - that are combined in a well-balanced cocktail of fruits.

Honey, brioche and frozen milk at Biota Dining, Bowral
Honey, brioche, frozen milk and macadamia

Desserts are a three-stage affair. The honey, brioche, frozen milk and macadamia has an angelic beauty to it. There's a noticeable hit from the wild honey, tempered by shavings of frozen milk, wobbles of jelly and crunchy twigs of toasted brioche. It's a welcome palate cleanser.

Pressed apples with lavender juice pairing at Biota Dining, Bowral
Juice matching for the honey and brioche:
Pressed apples with lavender and agave

The pressed apple juice is a fine match for dessert, lifted with notes of lavender and balanced with agave for a gentle sweetness.

Blackberry jam and roadside apples at Biota Dining, Bowral
Blackberry jam and roadside apples

Blackberry jam and roadside apples evokes a romantic vision. Head chef James Viles
is a keen fan of foraging, incorporating apples grown by the road into a dish that features fresh blackberries and a dense blackberry jam that is almost chewy in consistency.

Pressed grapes with juniper berry and cinnamon juice matching at Biota Dining, Bowral
Juice matching for the blackberry jam:
Pressed grapes with juniper berry and cinnamon

We'd been impressed by the consideration and thought behind the juice pairings and the final offering is equally good. The pressed grapes with juniper berry and cinnamon is said to be Biota's take on a non-alcoholic vermouth. It's a complex flavour combination that sits well with the blackberry dessert.

Salted pine caramels petit fours at Biota Dining, Bowral
Petit fours of salted pine caramels

Little envelopes of petit fours salted pine caramels can be enjoyed on the spot with tea or coffee, or taken home as a gift.

Salted pine caramels petit fours at Biota Dining, Bowral
Salted pine caramels (two per person)

It's hard not to confuse the pine needle coating with grass clipping as you eat them, but the use of local flora is a commendable one. We don't get much of a sense of pine aroma or flavour but the caramel filling is thick and oozing.

Chefs on the pass at Biota Dining, Bowral

The open kitchen means there's a clear view of all the action on the pass too. There's a serene sense of focus as each dish is plated along the line. It's mesmerising to watch; an oasis of calm before we head back to the hustle bustle of the big smoke.

Chef on the pass at Biota Dining, Bowral

Chefs on the pass at Biota Dining, Bowral

Chefs on the pass at Biota Dining, Bowral

Biota Dining, Bowral

Biota Dining on Urbanspoon

Biota Dining
18 Kangaloon Road, Bowral
Tel: +61 (02) 4862 2005

Opening hours:
Lunch Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Brunch Saturday and Sunday
Dinners 7 nights a week

Gumnut Patisserie
Shop 7, The Grand Arcade, Bong Bong Street, Bowl
Tel: +61 (02) 4862 2819
Open 7 days 7.30am-5pm
Gumnut Patisserie on Urbanspoon

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24 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/21/2015 01:06:00 am


  • At 1/21/2015 2:31 am, Anonymous Padaek said…

    Such a fabulous looking restaurant and offering of fine foods. The mix of ingredients, flavours and presentation is amazing and commendable. I particularly like the look of the deserts. The kangaroo poach sure is a statement! Everything looks very elegant. I personally would have gone with the wine, but that's just the aa in me talking. I love steak and kidney pies! :)

  • At 1/21/2015 7:54 am, Blogger MAB vs Food said…

    I love Biota! For me its the benchmark for regional restaurants in NSW. I am intrigued by hogget (I don't think I have ever seen it on a menu) and the juice pairing. Now I want to go back to Biota after reading your post

  • At 1/21/2015 8:10 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    What an extravagant meal! And love the shots of all the tweezer action in the kitchen.

  • At 1/21/2015 8:36 am, Anonymous Amanda @lambsearsandhoney said…

    Wow, what a thoughtful menu. Ditto for the impressive matched drinks. It all seems as though a great deal of consideration has gone into Biota - on every level. Not something often seen in regional restaurants. Interesting touch with the kan garoo pouch, although not sure what I think about it ...

  • At 1/21/2015 9:23 am, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    I do love Bowral and I love how this restaurant has created such a diverse and interesting menu using ingredients that are naturally sourced. I would have chosen the longer menu as well xx

  • At 1/21/2015 10:56 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Another wonderful post Helen! I tried their food last year at the Taste festival and the pine needle salted caramels were my favourite of the day. Love beautiful food and I wish I had those plating skills, (it's been half a year) since I last practiced at school. Alas, it makes me miss the commercial kitchen even more. Wish I'd gotten here before I fell pregnant. (I miss oysters!)

  • At 1/21/2015 12:11 pm, Anonymous Priscilla @ Food Porn Nation said…

    WOW what an extensive and delicious sounding menu. I've always wanted to go to Biota.

    Thanks for sharing the experience and so beautifully written as always!

  • At 1/21/2015 12:55 pm, Anonymous Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said…

    I read about Biota in Delicious magazine and fell in love or so I thought. After reading your review I think I was only in lust before. Definitely love now.

  • At 1/21/2015 10:51 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    What an amazing dining experience! You've taken such beautiful pictures too! Love the little salted pine caramels, and the matching juices look so cool!

  • At 1/21/2015 11:07 pm, Anonymous Cindy (a foodie's joy) said…

    I did enjoy my one time at Biota Dining and you're right! Being at Bowral feels like a million miles from Sydney. The surrounding gardens were so relaxing.

  • At 1/22/2015 6:29 am, Blogger Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said…

    Biota has been on my list for a while since I saw it in a magazine - it looks like it has such a relaxed environment :D
    Great write up!

    Choc Chip Uru

  • At 1/22/2015 7:40 am, Blogger Roo Food said…

    I 'discovered' Biota at the Southern Highlands F&W Festival and have been wanting to dine here for some time. The summer menu looks adorable...

  • At 1/22/2015 11:22 am, Anonymous Sarah vs Carbs said…

    OOOH I've actually just booked in for a stay & dine package! Can't wait - though it's still months away! I'm pretty intrigued by the matched juices - might give it a go :)

  • At 1/22/2015 4:15 pm, Anonymous Fran @ G'day Souffle' said…

    Bong Bong Street? How cute- I'm definitely going to 'grab my fork" for this place!

  • At 1/22/2015 8:03 pm, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    What an amazing looking place, everything is stunning I can see why it is so well acclaimed. And such stunning photos too Helen!

  • At 1/23/2015 12:36 am, Anonymous Felicia @ Next Stop: Food said…

    Every dish here looks like a piece of art and the juice sounds amazing!

  • At 1/23/2015 9:43 am, Anonymous Nagi@RecipeTin Eats said…

    ** Screech!! ** OMG this is one of my FAVE restaurants!! I LOVE it for ambience, that it's a drive but not TOO far from Sydney and the food and the garden - love love LOVE everything about it! Honestly it is one of my best dining memories from 2014.

  • At 1/23/2015 10:11 pm, Anonymous Michael @ I'm Still Hungry said…

    Having been to Biota not too long ago, it's stunning to see how much the menu has changed. Looks like they're still innovating at teeth's edge, while keeping in harmony with the biota of the Southern Highlands. Excellent!

  • At 1/23/2015 11:13 pm, Anonymous racy_staci said…

    Such beautiful dishes and the juice pairings look and sound good too.

  • At 1/25/2015 10:30 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh mercy! When I was still in Canada, my mum mentioned dining here and said we'd have to go back when I returned. I need to start reminding her of that promise on the regular!

  • At 1/25/2015 11:15 am, Anonymous Whispering Gums said…

    Have been to Biota main dining room once, nearly two years ago, and loved it. We particularly enjoyed watching the pass as our table was near it, and there was just the two of us. Since then we've dined a couple of times in the bar area when we've been passing through. Luckily we haven't struck a wedding so have been able to walk in. We've thoroughly enjoyed that too - though not so much being chased by the geese in the kitchen garden. (They weren't there the last time we went). All in all, a wonderful and very interesting place.

  • At 1/26/2015 9:52 pm, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    Still wanting to get here, damn my long list!

  • At 2/07/2015 1:19 pm, Anonymous Napoli Restaurant Alert said…

    Looks absolutely wonderful! Lucky you. Planning to get there eventually!

  • At 2/07/2015 4:28 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    I'm really keen to try Biota - that sense of local food, slow food, is really appealing.

    Luckily, the husband is turning 30 soon and we're going to do a weekend away down the coast, so maybe we'll make a reservation at Biota as a special treat!


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