I wasn’t actually sure whether or not I would write a blog on my experience at Biota for several reasons. The restaurant was closed to the public but open to the group of us that was having a day experiencing the berries of the Southern Highlands so I wasn’t able to experience the restaurant during a normal service. We also didn’t eat from the menu but instead were privileged to enjoy a menu featuring berries.
However, the restaurant has such a wonderful philosophy, I just had to share my Biota experience with you. The word ‘biota’ means the animals and plants of a particular region. The philosophy behind the restaurant is that the food served should come from what’s grown on the property or very close to it. It’s a ‘what’s on the doorstep’ philosophy.
The Southern Highlands has an enviable climate with a very distinct four seasons that’s perfect for growing produce. The climate, the rich and fertile soils, and the area’s proximity to major cities like Sydney and Canberra, has encouraged livestock producers, dairy farmers, and fruit and vegetable growers to the Highlands. There is now a wealth of wonderful fresh and diverse produce that has given rise to quality eateries and restaurants in the region that create seasonal menus around what is being produced.
Biota’s philosophy of sourcing only local produce also extends to the bar. Only Australian wines and spirits feature on the menu. While sitting on a couch lined with sheepskin, you can sip on Australian gin infused with locally grown feijoas with an artisan cheese platter to share.
I understand Biota is situated on what was once the premises of a motel. While there is seemingly no evidence of the former motel, the original accommodation still exists but has been renovated and beautifully upgraded providing 12 guest rooms.
Biota is also the scene of many events. There’s a private dining room that seats 14 and weddings and other special occasions have been celebrated under marquees erected in the landscaped grounds.
Chef and owner of the two-hatted Biota is James Viles. He has quickly become one of Australia’s most respected young chefs who is acknowledged for his commitment to sustainability and for his imaginative food. He has produced a cookbook titled Biota – Grow, Gather, Cook.
The restaurant’s workshops are very popular. Most attendees arrive the night before and enjoy the dining experience, then head off to bed in one of the on-site rooms. After brunch the next morning, the workshops begin. Places in the workshops are limited to 10 to create a better learning experience. Workshops offered are natural bread making, natural grains, cooking with vegetables, the garden experience and the Bollywood oven.
When we arrived we were shown to the courtyard where a long table had been set with large umbrellas providing shade from the strength of the sun. It was certainly a beautiful setting that is private, tranquil and scenic. I think there’s something very soothing about being able to see water and from our table we could see the restaurant’s very large pond that’s surrounded by very green landscaped grounds.
The first dish to arrive at the table was the house made rye bread with home made butter. As wonderful as this warm bread was, I was even more taken with the cute kangaroo pouch it was presented in.
Our berry-inspired menu gave a choice of two different options for each course. For an entree I had sheep’s milk curd with lightly pickled raspberries and beetroots bloomed in their own juices. I loved the presentation of the dish and the crockery used by the restaurant is on par with the uniqueness of the dishes. The dish combined many wonderful elements with the sheep’s milk curd being smooth and creamy, the beetroots providing some acidity, and the raspberries providing some fresh sweetness.
The other entree option was raw kingfish with blackberries, blood plums and purslane. This was a very pretty dish and a very popular option at our table.
For a main course I chose the lamb with carrots cooked in whey with blackberries. The lamb was beautifully cooked to a medium-rare however I did find it quite under-seasoned. The purple carrots were very delicately sliced and brought a beautiful colour to the dish.
The other option was kangaroo with cooked and raw native raspberries. I was surprised by how many people chose this dish as kangaroo isn’t a meat many have grown up eating regularly; however, it was very popular at our lunch and all those who ordered it thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved all the colours on the dish from edible flowers and plants gathered on the premises.
For dessert I ordered the blackberry softie. It came to the table in a chilled stone bowl with a lid on it. Removing the lid revealed house-made blackberry soft-serve swirling around the bowl with fresh blackberries. It was a very hot day and so this softie was a welcome way to end the meal. I was impressed with the chilled stone bowl that assisted in preventing the softie from melting too quickly.
The other dessert was a biota raspberry fool. A cheeky dessert that everyone loves. It was very smooth and creamy with plenty of berries.
The menu we enjoyed showed how berries can be used in a menu from entree through to dessert. It was fascinating to see how they can be paired with everything from meat to fish to cheese to vegetables. While we weren’t able to experience Biota during a normal service or enjoy its menu, we certainly were able to see what a unique, inviting and special place this is and one I will definitely be visiting again.
Verdict: I’ll be back for dinner and the overnight stay.
Biota: 18 Kangaloon Road, Bowral NSW 2576