Given 'biota' refers to the animal and plant life of a particular region, it's no surprise that this Bowral fine diner is centred around the budding local produce of NSW's Southern Highlands. This is chef-owner James Viles' tribute to Australia, and it hits you the moment you walk in the door. The expansive high-ceilinged dining space, which is swathed in bucketloads of natural light, is punctuated with a booze table crowded with the finest domestic drops competing for space underneath the branch of a native tree.
A waiter — wearing Dunlop Volleys, no less — seats us, and immediately sets the smart-but-casual tone. This delicious dichotomy between the refined and relaxed continues throughout the five-course degustation. At various points we're invited to eat with our hands — we slurp down fresh oysters, eat kangaroo curry straight off the bone and rip apart still-warm flatbread before dunking it into a moreish dip. And while it all feels very polished, it hasn't lost that carnal, animalistic and inherently Australian edge.
Moreover, Biota Dining is beyond a bit of wattleseed here or eucalyptus there — from the bush tea to the smoked tomatoes, the indigenous ingredients are reinterpreted in a new and interesting way. It's not tired, stereotypical or tokenistic; it's the kind of cooking that can only come from being familiar with your land — your biota, if you will.
The sommelier pours with confidence and doesn't bother explaining the pairings, but simply lets the wine speak for itself. From the throng of bottles squished together like sardines on the never-ending booze table, I spot two labels from neighbouring wineries — Tertini and Bendooley Estate — and, again, I'm reminded of the restaurant's connection with the region. While all wines were extremely quaffable, the Tertini pinot blanc was by far the standout.
Biota has sophistication in spades — those two hats are unequivocally deserved — but it's not stuffy. On the contrary, it's unique, unabashed and instantly Australian.
First image: Destination NSW