TOP 100 QUEST: BIOTA DINING, Bowral NSW
And then there was one… and this is it! My 100th and final Top 100 to complete the 2016 list! Once again, it’s one of those places that has been on the list for a number of years but I just hadn’t made it as it was a little harder to get to being in Bowral, around 1.5 hours south of Sydney – the town where the great Sir Donald Bradman grew up and learned to play cricket.
The term biota describes the animal and plant life of a particular region and it’s the biota of the local Southern Highlands that inspires and enables the food of executive chef James Viles. Many of the ingredients come from the local dairies, produce growers and livestock farms plus Biota grows a lot of produce on site. James grew up in the area but he’s also worked overseas and at 23 was one of the youngest chefs to be awarded a Sydney Morning Herald Chef’s Hat with Biota winning a second hat in 2012.
We were lucky enough to be seated at the closest table to the kitchen. Some may not enjoy the noise, the lights and the continual clapping of the chefs that tell the wait staff that dishes are ready, but for me, it all added to the experience. We got to see the chefs plating up under the bright lights, almost theatre-style, and it reminded me of when I was able to watch Shannon Bennet at the original Vue de Monde as he plated up on the raised kitchen, not unlike a stage.
The menu choices are 5 courses for $110 or 7 courses for $165. Despite the fact that we’d had an excellent six course lunch that day at seafood restaurant Moxhe in Bronte, we went for the 7 courses. Hell, this was the very LAST restaurant of my Quest that’s taken me literally YEARS so I wasn’t going to hold back… au contraire!
I wasn’t given a copy of the menu so I’m going on memory here. The snacks consisted of beef jerky, cigars of sheep milk cheese, and dory roe with charcoal crackers. These days, it just wouldn’t be a degustation without snacks! First course was something I haven’t had before – onion cooked in its own juice with goat cheese. The humble onion. Simple, pretty and natural flavours. The next dish knocked my socks off – it didn’t look like much – a bit like a small serving of scrambled eggs but the egg was covering beautiful sweet spanner crab, persimmon (which seems to be fruit of the moment) and green beans. I ate it so slowly, savouring every mouthful.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get much better… out came the biggest, plumpest oysters I’ve ever been served. I’m an oyster FREAK (I once downed 6 dozen natural in 2.5 hours) and once I moved that kohlrabi out of the way to reveal those beauties, imagine my excitement! They were Pacific oysters from Batemans Bay and cooked with chook stock. So good! Following this was whipped potato, yolk and Brussel sprout leaves. Quite rustic, and yet refined. The final savoury course was duck breast, duck hearts and prune. I simply love hearts…. and duck for that matter, so this dish did it for me. Finally, for sweets – and those of you who know me know that I’m not really a sweet tooth, but this dessert was awesome. Mandarin with goats milk custard and lemon thyme. I could have had another serve.
The only thing I thought let the experience down was the service. The staff were polite enough, but were difficult to engage with and there was just no rapport happening – but it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the evening. We actually stayed at the Biota accommodation that night – fairly basic, but nice. That of course meant that we got to enjoy breakfast the next morning and there was a dish on the menu that had my name written all over it – Green chilli and pork mince with young shallots and fried eggs and my partner was able to enjoy the more ‘usual’ breakfast of granola and figs.
I’m pleased to say, Biota was a fitting end to my Top 100 Quest! And if you do make it to Bowral, The Bradman museum is a must. We spent ages in there, and I don’t even like cricket!