Monday, December 9, 2013

Biota Dining and Rooms: A special place and time

The word 'biota' means a total collection of organisms of a geographic region or time period. It's with this beauty and depth of thought that owner and chef James Viles offers Biota Dining and Rooms in Bowral in the Southern Highlands.

Biota's garden cabbage patch, Biota Dining, Kangaloon Road, Bowral
This year crowned Regional Restaurant of the Year with two hats in the NSW Good Food Guide, Biota combines self-proclaimed "country boy" Viles' passion for local artisan produce and regional botanicals, with techniques to make the most of the plant and animal forms we consume.

Biota's resident geese and ducks
It's this respect for Bowral and Southern Highlands biota that has the restaurant tending its own kitchen garden behind the venue, complete with resident geese and ducks and a large greenhouse.

Snow peas
I love the idea that the five-course degustation dinner I had earlier this month in Biota's tranquil dining room was a snapshot of the local biota for November 2013; elevating an elegant dinner to some level of historical importance perhaps.

Trout jerky
The meal commenced with one of the most delectable amuse bouches I've had all year – an opaque, bright orange slice of cured and air-dried ocean trout in a salty, fishy rendition of jerky, served like a flag sticking out of a block of salt.

With just the right amounts of smoke, salt, fishiness and chew, the jerky – eaten with the fingers – was something I would want to buy in bulk bags and consume en masse – just divine.

It was a little while before drinks arrived, the first of my matching wines before my martini though; the latter well made with Hendricks gin and garnished with cucumber and olives.

House baked bread and butter
I'd seen chef Viles demonstrate Biota's house-churned smoked butter earlier in the year, served ingeniously on a river stone, and it was a delight to taste its creaminess slathered generously onto the soft, warm, house-baked whole wheat sourdough bread.

Cucumber, native lime, oysters, bronze fennel
Our first course was as green as our Southern Highlands surrounds with cucumber – raw with core and skins served separately, and in sorbet form – propping up a single, huge, minerally, raw oyster.

Foraged bronze fennel fronds joined the plate with an airy foam of, I think, oyster cream for an overall clean, green flavour in what was a subtly-flavoured but impactful course to start, matched with the fruity, local Tertini riesling.

Chickpea shoots, served at the table
The next course was much fun from the time it hit the table with a terracotta pot of chickpea sprouts and little scissors for harvesting your own garnish.

Egg yolk, cooked curds, rye, chickpea
A dream of a dish, it starred slow cooked and still oozy egg yolk, cushioned on sheets of silky, smooth pasta and cooked curds beneath; pre-cheese, if you will that was creamy but not at all rich.

Crunchy, butter-cooked rye crumbs added texture while the egg-on-egg encounter of bottarga cured mullet roe shavings contributed the perfect balance of saltiness and a hint of the sea.

Lightly garnished by yours truly with the intriguingly-flavoured chickpea sprouts, the entire dish came together impressively – definitely a dish that was greater in its whole than the sum of its parts.

This was served with the 5 Maddens Lane sauvignon blanc which had been pleasantly oaked for five months to dull the tropical flavours of the grape.

Lamb breast, dried lactose, young oats, sorrel
Meatier dished followed with the sticky, caramelised, fatty lamb breast topped with crisp thins of dried lactose – milky, slightly sweet and pretty much what one would expect of this entirely unexpected ingredient.

Young sprigs of sorrel and puffed oats decorated the arrangement which was set on something milky and curd-like that was rather unmemorable, served with the also local Pulpit Rock chardonnay.

Duck, pine, cauliflower, pear, white raisins
A rare-cooked duck dish was the final savoury offering; a slice of duck breast paired with a jus of sweet white raisins and cauliflower foam. The sweet, earthy flavours of the dish were matched to a young Rotherwood shiraz from the Southern Highlands.

Topped with impossibly thinly-shaved cauliflower and what I think was crisp pear skin, the dish was garnished with pine needles which added theatre although were a little difficult to eat. This dish seemed somewhat autumnal to me but had echoes of my experience at Marque many years ago.

Liquid nitrogen mixed with meringue
Having seen a few desserts head out earlier in the night, it was with pure excitement that we awaited our dessert being prepared at the table with the help of liquid nitrogen.

Liquid nitrogen was added and mixed with an egg white mixture with rose petals that formed a frozen meringue served atop the rest of the dessert; its cold steam drawing looks from around the room every time it was served.

Mum's roses: stonefruit sorbet, rose meringue, peach gel
The 'Mum's roses' dessert comprised peaches and perhaps apricots in various forms: a firm gel, sorbet, a wedge of peach in its raw form and a creamy quenelle – all topped with rose petals from flowers grown by Viles' mother in the garden outside.

Mum's roses: stonefruit sorbet, rose meringue peach gel
Topped with the chilled rose meringue at the table, the dessert was made a dramatic and spectacular sight with flavours of summer and romance in one bowl. Indeed, the rose meringue was an amazing addition to the dessert and end to the enlightening meal.

Biota Rooms
We were able to catch chef Viles for a quick chat after dinner – he is clearly someone who enjoys what he's doing. It's been a great year for chef Viles and it's just onwards and upwards for Biota now.

We also had a nosy peek at the huge kitchen and equally spacious bar area where diners can drink and eat from a separate bar menu. The Biota Dining space actually huge and with the new, added luxury of being able to stroll over to the adjoining Biota Rooms accommodation to sleep the off the meal and matching wines.

And as for Bowral in November 2013, it sure was a special place and time.

Biota Dining on Urbanspoon


Ramen Raff said...

I love everything about Biota! Love their butter and how they utilise fresh local produce. Great write up Tina!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

We adored our meal at Biota! It's definitely worth a special trip there :D

gaby @ lateraleating said...

Man, that trout jerky got my attention!

Amy zhong said...

ooh how pretty are all the dishes!??!?! its been on my list for ages!

Mary @ beyondjelly said...

I've never heard of a fish jerky... I need to try some now. And that meringue! Awesome.

Vivian - vxdollface said...

I love Biota! This post has just reminded me that I need to do mine from earlier this year in Feb ^^"
It's such a relaxing place to dine at and the chef is so friendly!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Have wanted to come here for ages. I love the idea of clipping your own chickpea shoots!

Tina said...

Hi Raff - It's a great concept and sentiment. Will definitely be returning next time I'm down that way :)

Hi Lorraine - I think the fact that it's destination dining helps the overall experience a lot... I was so chilled and relaxed :)

Hi gaby - OMG, one of the best things I've had all year..!

Hi Amy - Yep, the presentation is as interesting and considered as the flavours.

Hi Mary - The meringue was so much fun. Everyone in the room would look when one was served :)

Hi Vivian - Haha, the age-old backlog :/

Hi Helen - It's definitely worth the visit (and stay, even) :)

squishies said...

Been wanting to go to this place for the longest time!! All the dishes looks fantastic.


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