Biota Dining | Bowral

Biota – the animal and plant life of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.

Such is the motto, the philosophy behind two-toqued Biota Dining, located in Bowral, of the beautiful Souther Highlands. Chef de cuisine James Viles has taken on one of the most onerous culinary challenges possible – to create groundbreaking modern Australian cuisine, but while remaining true to locally-found ingredients and traditional cooking styles.

When done half-heartedly, the results can be…disappointing. But do it well, and you end up getting into the World’s 50 Best list.

Then again, Biota Dining isn’t just talking the talk – that they are NSW’s regional restaurant of the year gives much credence to their potential. It was therefore no surprise when I had to make a trip to let my own taste buds decide. Read on!

Date Last Visited: 26/4/14
Address: 18 Kangaloon Rd Bowral, NSW
Recommended Dish(es): Veal & tuna, gathered local weeds

The Anzac long weekend provided the perfect opportunity to visit Biota. My parents had just went through an exhaustive period of work, which ended on the Thursday before the long weekend began. The timing was perfect – a getaway for the parents, and some fine food for all.

Biota Dining

Greeted once more

Like many smaller towns in regional NSW, Bowral exudes a bucolic charm. The fact that many of its trees have already turned bright autumn red or yellow, ahead of Sydney only adds to the relaxing atmosphere. And so it would be with Biota Dining as well – a late, chill lunch. Nobody visits for a rushed meal.

Biota Dining

With the exception of the right wing, I’m a fan of how the seating is spaced apart. I love me some space

The restaurant’s calm vibes is reflected in their seating arrangements. Tables are spaced amply apart, giving plenty of breathing room, so you won’t have to hear the conversations of the table next to you.

Biota Dining

What lies in the menu?

You can go a la carte at Biota, or you can go for a 9-course degustation for $150pp or a 5-course for $98.

Readers, you already know what I went for, right?

Biota Dining

Trout jerky w/native peppers

Coming in on chunks of halite salt, the trout jerky w/native peppers is our amuse bouche. Eye-catching presentation aside, it is at once so fantastic, yet so expected of Biota to do this. Jerky? Yeah that’s rustic, but do it with trout and you’ve got me talking about it.

The texture is not some shocking devilish amalgam of well-known structures, but rather tastes exactly like a good jerky does. Teeth action is totally required. Every bite yields sharp, delicious and racy flavours which is undeniably trout, yet so…tough, like jerky is wont to be.

It’s great, a very tasty foray into the dishes that follow.

Biota Dining

Oh?

At this point, we receive a package that raises eyebrows.

Biota Dining

Great sourdough bread presentation 🙂

But of course, it would be their style to present bread in this “straight out of the oven from under the covers” kind of style.

The sourdough makes no apologies for its homely make – it’s liberally covered in bread flour, and is one heck of a rough number to chow through.

Biota Dining

I wonder how many times the butter has fallen off the massive rock

You can get more loaves later if you wish, but one was enough for my parents and I – don’t want to fill up before half the meal is done!

Biota Dining

Oyster, cucumber, feijoa, flax

The oyster, cucumber, feijoa, flax dish marks our first entry into the meal. The dish elicits a “fancy bush tucker” kind of vibe. I never knew feijoa was so delicious; so sweet, so soft. The oysters themselves seemed a bit out of place, with a flavour profile that repeatedly cut through the sensitivity of the rest of the ingredients, given their subtle flavours.

Then again, oysters aren’t usually the first foodstuff to come to mind when thinking about bush tucker, so there’s an attempt at bridging the gap.

Biota Dining

Egg yolk, cooked curds, rye, chickpea

Up next, the egg yolk, cooked curds, rye, chickpea dish begs for an eggporn shot. Well, I actually bothered this time, so try not to hear me berating my parents for not cutting it correctly 😛

The pasta in this dish is quite lacking in flavour, while the fried rye crumbs on the other hand, are really delicious and moreish. The egg yolk is heavenly, of course. The curds are soft and mushy, more there for texture than the flavour.

Strangely enough, despite the fact that this dish lacked a dominating “good” flavour, I want to go back and eat it over and over again. Secret sauce I say, secret sauce. One of the better dishes in the menu.

Biota Dining

John dory roe, jerusalem artichoke, crab

Oddly enough, roe was the last thing I could taste in the John Dory roe, jerusalem artichoke, crab dish. Then again, I was somewhat distracted by the look of the dish. What lies beneath?

Biota Dining

Crab, you show yourself. Into my mouth.

The snow crab is easily the best part. Tender flesh, delightful umami flavours.

One downside are these unknown seeds in the dish – they were really salty and really hard. I still cleaned the bowl, as I do, but I’d have been happy leaving them in there. Threw off the balance of the otherwise very delicate dish.

Biota Dining

Veal & tuna, gathered local weeds

This dish is somewhat akin to a veal carpaccio, but with the primo combination of tuna in the mix. In hindsight, it’s a brilliant idea in combining these two meats for a very appetising morsel. This is really, really good; I would say the best dish of the meal for me.

The chewiness of the veal, partnered with the tenderness and umami flavours of the tuna is as resplendent as the sheen of the dish itself. Crunchiness from local weeds and chopped onion give it that little bit of colour and crackle.

Biota Dining

Potato, onions, buttermilk, pig skin

If the last dish is the best, the potato, onions, buttermilk, pig skin dish comes close. The star element is egg yolk that’s salt-cured for 24 hours, soaking up all of the salinity, becoming deliciously salty, with a hardened texture. This forms the flavour base for the entire dish. I’ll have to note that if you eat the yolk by itself, it’s way too salty. Beware.

The potato skin is cut so finely, it’s almost translucent. The onions are once again crucial to delivering that crunch, and it does a great job of imparting a complementary charred flavour which I totally dig.

If that wasn’t enough, the pig skin rounds out the guilt trip. This dish is a sensory delight!

Biota Dining

Beef, molasses, native berries, beach mustard

Upon first bite I thought “hey what, burnt flavour.” But after a few bites, the beef, molasses, native berries, beach mustard dish really grew on me. The beef is tender, but takes a bit of knifing to get through – rare is the theme here.

The little yellow bites on top are actually potatoes from taste, with a texture so soft it’s almost like mash. Rye berries deliver sweet bursts of flavour, while overall, the mustard coupled with the char of the beef’s sides emanates an almost rural feel.

Biota Dining

What a cut

Guess that’s the point though, isn’t it?

My enjoyment of this dish is chiefly mellow – there was a lot I didn’t like about it, but I did like how it managed to grow on me. That said, wouldn’t be in a hurry to come back to this one.

That said, I have to give points to the lovely presentation!

Biota Dining

Persimmons & yoghurt

Pre-dessert is a yoghurt dish based on persimmons. This could be a normal dessert though, given that it’s listed on the menu. The distinction is moot, really.

This was really good, and I actually preferred it to the actual dessert. I loooooooove persimmons, and it just gets better when paired with a fragrant, and not-too-sweet yoghurt. So refreshing, I really wanted another one. The waitress joked about asking for another one from the chef. I wish it weren’t a joke.

Biota Dining

Fig leaf ice cream, olives, elderflower

fig leafe ice cream w/olives & elderflower jelly. This fanciful dessert, whilst lux in appearance, pulls off the humble nature of Biota’s cooking through contrast and gritty texture. The olive powder provides a salty and chalky element, which when eaten with the fruity sweet, creamy ice cream gives a sensation of eating ice cream that is deliberately made poorer in texture.

Biota Dining

Simple is best

There is an actual fig portion in this dessert – it’s under the ice cream. The blunder in this move is that by the time you reach the fig, it’s tasteless. Have you ever eaten chocolate and then drunk a sweet drink? Doesn’t taste so sweet does it.

Unfortunately, the natural sugars of the fig is way too easily overpowered by the ice cream.

Biota Dining

Mulched pine caramels

Petit fours (which again, are counted as a course number) comes in the form of mulched pine caramels. I actually choked a little on the pine as I inhaled while eating it (bad idea guys!). Other than that, this is a delicious petit four, and one of the best I’ve had.

Or maybe I’m just in love with anything caramel-related. Can’t help what you can’t help.

Biota Dining

The bar area – whole new menu as well

Like most fine dining restaurants, there is a more accessible bar menu (and area) where you can sit down for some more casual eats.

Biota Dining

The bar extends to the outside

Given we’re in Bowral, it would be remiss not to have an outdoor area.

Biota Dining

Aaaand the outside on the other side

Biota Dining

They grow their own produce (only some of it). The spirit of a biota is well and alive.

Possibly the least surprising aspect of the restaurant, and the most expected – they’ve got their own produce garden. I wasn’t sure whether I could saunter in so I erred on the side of caution. Distanced admiration will do for now.

Biota Dining is an experience that is mandatory if you’re visiting Bowral, or even if you’re passing through. That much is for certain.

What about as the sole reason for a trip? Perhaps, perhaps not. The fare is decent, with genuinely pleasant twists, but also a number of flavour combinations I can’t quite attune myself to.

As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀

Awesome:

  • Rustic cooking style appeals to those who seek it
  • Some dishes are a pleasant departure from the norm

Not so Awesome:

  • Some dishes just don’t taste all that good
  • Certain elements of dishes detracted, rather than complemented

7/10 Caesars

24 comments on “Biota Dining | Bowral”

  1. Stuart Maclachlan Reply

    I have just recently been to Biota for Dinner and stayed the night. I came looking for your review as I imagined you had been there. I think the Hens Egg was probably my least favorite. Did you see the picture at the back of the Kitchen?

    • Michael Shen Reply

      Hi Stuart,

      I liked the egg, but then again I’m pretty biased towards eggs in general, so it was almost inevitable I was going to like it.

      I’m not sure to which picture you’re referring?

  2. Mademoiselle Mange à Sydney Reply

    Wow!! I went to Bowral about 1 year and a half ago but didn’t know that there was such a fantastic restaurant there! How cute are those “mulched pine caramel” green cubes? 🙂 Every dish looks so beautifully plated!

    • Michael Shen Reply

      Indeed! I wouldn’t have known about it either – were it not for the Sydney GFG. Regional NSW is definitely well represented in the fine dining stakes.

  3. irene Reply

    Whoa, the presentation of the food is top notch! It has been on my to-go list for some time, definitely keen to go! And yes, the butter on the rock looks somewhat clumsy.. Haha. Amazing pics as usual, Michael!

  4. Chris @ MAB vs Food Reply

    I have great memories of Biota, had a fantastic meal there. I was there for the 5 course menu and the dishes in the 9 course menu seem to be quite different. I was actually a big fan of the pasta and egg dish, but of course everyone has a different palate 🙂

    • Michael Shen Reply

      I was contemplating the 5 course, but in the end, I had to adopt my food-YOLO philosophy. Go hard, or go home!

      For me, the dishes were quite the shock, so not everything was agreeable, but yes, as you said – differing palates.

  5. Ramen Raff Reply

    One of my best dining experiences was here at Biota! Love the food, service and place. I wanna try their Weekend suckling special one day!

    • Michael Shen Reply

      It’s all in the timing! But thanks for the kind words!

      A chill meal was had, definitely no rush when you’re in the beautiful climes of Bowral.

  6. milkteaxx Reply

    I was here for the 5 course stay and dine, i agree with the 2nd dish, i found the dish to be lacking in flavour and the pasta to be rather weird on the palette.

    • Michael Shen Reply

      I was unable to get that package unfortunately due to the Anzac break. Then again, given my meal was around 3 hours, I felt like I was staying there anyway 😛

      And yes, some dishes just didn’t work, but props for that effort.

  7. chocolatesuze Reply

    gorgeous photos, everything looks stunning esp that dessert!

  8. Padaek Reply

    Biota looks like a really fabulous restaurant. Love their philosophy of gathering/using local ingredients and keeping their dishes simple. The presentation is amazing! I think James Viles should have won the Masterchef immunity challenge, or it at least be a draw – just saying.

    • Michael Shen Reply

      Vile’s philosophy of combining the local biota with some impressive technique is something to behold.

      I think Viles losing the MC immunity challenge wasn’t all too surprise – you can’t eat a fine dining dish every day, after all. For the occasional treat? Another matter entirely.

  9. forfoodssake Reply

    I’m really looking forward to making the trek to Bowral to check out Biota. Also, long time reader and lurker first time commenting! 🙂

    • Michael Shen Reply

      Thanks for the first-time comment!

      A weekend trip would work – Biota Dining is also its own hotel resort, so a night is a great recommendation!

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