2013 is the year that The Pom and I are turning into exercise freaks! No matter what you say, we will strongly disagree with you that we are actually suffering from mid-life crisis, no we aren’t, I swear! Now go wash your mouth! But whatever the reason might be, it is for the better as we are now both feeling lot healthier, lighter and lot more active. I’ve since picked up a cycling bug and now absolutely addicted to riding my bike, almost 3 times a week when the weather allows. But the real contender is The Pom himself, who has lost more than 20kgs over the period of 6 months. He even completed his first half-marathon in Canberra last April. I was so proud of him and decided to treat him to lunch for his amazing achievement.
I actually didn’t tell him what I have planned or where we are going for his reward lunch. We left Canberra early in the morning to head back to Sydney, but little did he know that I actually timed it perfectly to arrive at Bowral around midday to have our lunch at the well acclaimed Biota Dining.
We are here on a Monday afternoon and with a booking at 12pm, no surprise that we are the first couple to arrive. The manager simply let us choose our own table wherever we like. The dining room is sophisticatedly moody, ash grey walls with dark timber chairs and tables, we chose our table with booth seating. There is also an al-fresco lounge area adjacent to the dining room where tapas styled menu is served. The kitchen opens back into the dining room, gives head chef James Vile a bird’s-eye view of all the action on the floor from the pass, I sense all customers on this quiet day are under his eager eyes.
Here at Biota Dining emphasises heavily on local produce, everything on the menu are sourced within the Southern Highlands region, with many are foraged from their own kitchen garden and glasshouse onsite. Their food philosophy has not only earned them a Two-Hat award from the SMH Good Food Guide Award 2013, but also claimed The Good Living sustainability award.
The menu is simple, we are invited to choose among three, five or seven courses with the optional wine matching. We opt for the five courses, and I am already loving my LOBO Perry cloudy pear cider from Adelaide Hills – well okay, that’s not locally brewed.
Apart from the silver cutlery on the table, a black pebble is sitting gingerly on a wood block that serves no purposes leaving us inquisitive. It is almost like a cleansing ritual about to happen in any second before the meal commences. Eventually the pebble is removed from our table by the manager as he took our order, but only to be replaced with a bigger slab of black slate, painted vividly with autumn leaf and a few thin slices of salmon jerky. These in-house smoked jerky is gnawingly chewy, the saltiness is enhanced with zingy lime salt.
The black pebble on wood block is back, but this time is a balancing act with a quenelle of freshly churned unsalted butter sits on top. A mini loaf of wholemeal rye bread wrapped inside a calico bag is still warm to the touch. It is a dense bread but the flavour is sublime. I only have a quarter of it just to save stomach space for the long lunch.
With a double hand clap from the kitchen to the floor staff, our first course is ready to be served and we are presented with cured kingfish ham, but the manager tells us there are more to come.
A thick gravy-like clear broth is poured over the dish at the table. The manager describes the dish to us exactly like what it was written on menu which isn’t really much help as many components on the dish had been deconstructed or reinvented into a new form. I would have to guess the broth is made of fried fish bones in ionza – ionised water that is high in alkaline and antioxidant. The thick slices of cured king fish is salty and a little smokey, a long broccolini stem is sous-vide with a slight crunch and the florets top is now a natural green couscous sprinkled all over. There are also many components on the plate possibly foraged from the garden and the nearby forest including garlic flower, nasturtium leaf, dandelion leaf and also dried autumn maple leaf. The flavours are subtle and clean, with the notion of let the natural ingredients speak for themselves.
Egg does wonders to me and this has to be my favourite dish of the day, a gel-like hen yolk believed to be in a 65C water bath is gooey and thick like custard, where the egg white has been turn into tiny springy white roes; served on a large handkerchief of sheep milk curd, no doubt sourced from a local farm, white asparagus adds the crunch whereas mounds of smoked rye crumbs adds nuttiness.
The pork cheek is fatty and meltingly tender in a sweet glaze, paired with creamy jerusalem artichoke puree and the highly nutritious amaranth has the taste and texture similar to quinoa, a clove of baked local garlic that is incredibly sweet from the caramelisation. Few slices of radish and onion added to the dish to counterbalance the richness of the meat.
Can you eat pine needles? Apparently you can. The fourth course is seared duck breast, sourced from Burrawong, 19km out of Bowral. The deep pink duck breast is cooked to perfection, juicy tender meat that happily soaking up a rich jus; little mini white trees are thinly sliced pickled cauliflower add the sour note to the dish; sweet white raisins and pear foam are a perfect pairing with this quacky beauty. And then, strands of pine needles that look like a game of pick-up-sticks on the plate are fried to a brittlely crispness, unfortunately I do not think it lends much flavour to the dish itself.
There is a long wait after our forth course. Our final course is a dessert that works around the stone fruit that is still in season, which is apricot. Two halves of poached apricot are served with peach sorbet, petal of roses are picked from mum’s garden, chamomile jelly and bee pollen find their ways into this stone-fruit orchard, all covered in a bed of white tea snow crumbles. It is a refreshing dessert, even though I do crave something warm and richer for the chilly autumn months.
I also noticed from another blog that this dessert was served differently, by preparing the white tea crumbles using liquid nitrogen at the table. See, I am a sucker for theatrical table service, now I feel like my dining experience is somewhat dissatisfyingly incomplete.
We were the first to arrive at the restaurant but also the last to leave. The guests from the other two tables are long gone, and the kitchen is already wiped clean and some of the chefs also already left the building, I guess it is also time for us to make a move as we still have a long drive ahead back to Central Coast. It was over 2.5 hours for our lunch with few long pauses between courses.
Our experience at Biota Dining may have not been perfect, but the thoughts behind each dish is admirable and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Not to mention putting a tiny town called Bowral somewhere in the regional of New South Wales on the food map is highly commendable.
18 Kangaloon Road, Bowral NSW 2576, Australia
P: (02)4862 2005
Thurs – Monday