Monday, 26 May 2014

L'Arpége, Paris

The Art of Cooking with Vegetables & In the Kitchen with Alain Passard - both are great reads!
My dear readers, today I would like to tell you about one of the best meals of my life; this was at L'Arpége in the 7th arrondissement of Paris back in October last year. The chef patron at L'Arpége is Alain Passard. Passard is considered to be one of the great current chefs in Paris - alongside Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire. As you can see probably tell, I am bit of an Alain Passard fanboy! So much so that I booked my meal at L'Arpége 10 MONTHS in advance, before making any other travel arrangement!

Being married to a vegetarian has changed me in many ways, not least making me more appreciative of the humble vegetable. I am practically a vegetarian at home now, having ditched steaks for roast vegetables. But unfortunately, vegetables are often overlooked and underutilised in restaurants.

The dining room
This is where L'Arpége comes in, which is widely considered to be the temple of vegetable gastronomy. L'Arpége is a 3-Michelin star restaurant and the highest ranked Parisian restaurant in the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants List at number 25. Ironically, Passard was once regarded as the best rôtisseur in France until in 2001, he decided to eradicate all red meat from his menu and dedicate himself to cooking with vegetables (following the outbreak of mad cow disease and his own boredom with cooking red meat). He put everything on the line with this move, including his 3 Michelin stars. Definitely a gutsy move, but obviously Michelin didn't mind as L'Arpége has retained all of its 3 stars since.

The menu displayed outside the restaurant
There is no doubt that the vegetables at L'Arpége are the freshest you will find in any restaurant in the world. Fruit and vegetables are picked daily and shipped to the restaurant from one of Passard's three biodynamic vegetable gardens in Sarthe and Normandy. L'Arpége is not strictly a vegetarian restaurant, as seafood and poultry feature on the menu, but it is clear that vegetables given that extra-bit of special attention.  

L'Arpége is probably the most expensive restaurant in Paris, where dinner could set you back 380 euros! This was obviously a bit outside my budget (maybe another day!), so my wife and I decided to dine at L'Arpége during the lunch service. We had the gardeners lunch menu, which was an 8 course menu that showcased the best of Passard's in-season vegetables. The lunch menu was priced at 135 euros, whilst not cheap by any means but a relative bargain if you consider the price of the dinner menu.

Our table
The dining room is simply decorated, with tables placed quite closely together. The room is carpeted with some wood panelling along the walls.  Each table is decorated with cherry tomatoes and different whole vegetables from Passard's gardens.

Not long after we were seated, who else but the man himself, Alain Passard, emerged at our table to welcome us to his restaurant and to have a brief chat with us. This is a man that knows how to work a crowd; he was full of energy, charisma and enthusiasm as he dropped by each table during his 'rounds'. He even practically sat on the lap of a lady that was celebrating her birthday to pose for a photo. What a lucky lady LOL!

One thing that I loved about my meal at L'Arpége was that I knew I would actually be eating Alain Passard's food. Unlike other famous chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, Passard has just one restaurant, so he spends most of his time in the kitchen.

Well hello there, delicious little tomatoes!
Our waiter informed us that we were free to consume the cherry tomatoes scattered over our table, not that we needed this invitation given both my wife and I are addicted to tomatoes. These tomatoes were superb and bursting with flavour, like no other tomato I have ever eaten! I knew from this moment, that the quality of produce at L'Arpége is second-to-none and that this meal was going to be epic!

Vegetable turnover
To start off this culinary journey, we were treated to a simple, little puff pastry filled with cabbage. The pastry was served warm straight from the oven and were just exquisite, so flakey and buttery.  It was a shame that these vegetable puffs were bite-sized. I would happily devour plates of these!

Les tartlettes
Next to arrive, were a trio of Alain Passard's signature vegetable tartlettes, which came as crisp, delicate discs of pastry each holding a different vegetable puree. There was a carrot puree served with a blueberry and a sprig of rosemary; a celeriac and parmesan puree with a sliced tomato and chopped chives; and a beetroot puree with a cube of white beet and purple basil. My favourite was the beetroot tartlette, which had a wonderful earthy and smoky flavour. These were impressive little snacks to start the meal and again showcased the brilliance of Passard's vegetables.       

Gaspacho de tomates au naturel, creme glacee au celeri et moutarde d'Orleans
The first course of the tasting menu was tomato gazpacho with mustard seed ice cream. This gazpacho had me wondering how L'Arpége coaxes so much flavour out of simple tomatoes. The gazpacho was refreshing and so incredible. The mustard seed ice cream went remarkably well with the gazpacho. There was a nice amount of spice in the mustard seed ice cream and it added a great depth of flavour to the dish. This was a seemingly simple dish that got me really excited!  

Le pain et beurre
We were then served a thick, chunky slice of sourdough bread. There was no doubt that the bread served at this 3-Michelin star restaurant would be excellent. The bread was soft, fluffy in the centre with a nice, robust flavour but it was the crust that was the highlight. The butter from St Malo in Brittany is some of the finest butter you will find anywhere in the world. Bread was constantly topped up throughout the meal, so you need to be careful not to fill yourself up with too many carbs!      

Sushi à la betterave & raifort frais, parfum de géranium
Another little snack arrived at our table: a beetroot sushi. The rice was fluffy yet still retained some bite. Draped over the rice was a slice of white and ruby beetroots. The flavours were fresh and pure, seasoned with only a bit of soy sauce, fresh horseradish and perfumed with gernium.

Mesclun de Sylvain au pralin d'amandes fumees ; mizuna, mibuna, choho, moutarde hakarachi
The second course, 'Mesclun de Sylvian', is easily the best leaf salad that I have ever eaten. This was a super-fresh salad of crisp mixed leaves (none of which I have ever heard of) that have been selected by Alain Passard's head gardener, Sylvian Picard. The leaves were combined with horseradish, tomatoes, a wonderful almond praline and a drizzle of herb oil. The salad was perfectly seasoned with fleur de sel and soy sauce. A simple, yet extraordinary course!  

Tomato carpaccio
Here's another dish that wasn't listed on the menu, a colourful tomato carpaccio with paper thin slices of three varieties of tomatoes, purple basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. This tomato carpaccio is probably the dish that best expresses Alain Passard's food philosophy. A strikingly simple dish with few ingredients, yet the flavours were intense, interesting and thought provoking. There is absolutely nowhere to hide with food with so few elements, every component needs to be perfect and they were! I have already said enough about the tomatoes at L'Arpége (which Alain Passard growns 60 to 70 varieties of at his gardens, by the way). The flavour of the purple basil was extraordinary and the extra virgin olive oil was best I have had. A highly memorable course and one of the highlights of my dining experience at L'Arpége.

Fines ravioles potagères, consommé végétal
Third course was ravioli of vegetables submerged in a vegetable consommé. The first thing I noticed was the stunning purity of the flavours in the consommé; I could taste the very essence of vegetables. The pasta was probably the best I have encountered at a restaurant. The texture of the pasta was just perfect: the raviloi were like slippery wonton wrappers that were so silky and had a heavenly mouth-feel. Wrapped inside were some stunning finely diced vegetables.Yet another remarkable dish that I will remember for years to come!

Gratin d'oignon red baron au parmigiano reggiano, oseille large de Belleville
The next course, onion gratin, was another remarkably simple dish that blew me away. A thin layer of red baron onions were caramelised, bringing out the amazing natural sweetness of the onions. The gratinated parmigiano reggiano was a lovely golden brown, crisp and the flavour was out of this world. This was wonderfully balanced by the acidity of the chopped sorrel and the zestiness of orange blossom.

Robes des champs arlequin a l'huile d'argan, merguez legumiere, navet globe, courgette fleur, chou noriko
The onion gratin was then followed up with a harlequin's garden of vegetables. As colourful as a harlequin's outfit, this dish paired flavours from Moroccan cuisine with local vegetables (including golden globe turnips, beetroots, tomatoes, zucchini flowers, kohlrabi, and celery). For an extra textural element, the vegetables were mixed with couscous and a nutty argan oil. The vegetables were also accompanied by an impressive vegetable sausage, which was vegetarian except for the sausage skin. The filling of vegetables and spices was remarkably similar to a normal meat sausage. This was another dish that showcased the quality of L'Arpége's vegetables with flavour pairings that serve to enhance their natural flavour.   

Ecailles ou plumes, reflet de la gourmandise
For the last savoury course, I was given a choice between 'scales' or 'feathers'. I opted for fish due to my preference for seafood but if I had my time again I might have chosen the chicken, which is cooked in hay at L'Arpége, an Alain Passard signature; I do have some regret that I didn't get to try L'Arpége's famous chicken. 

But having said this, the fish was one of the best I've ever had (yet again). Hiding underneath discs of finely shaved cep mushrooms, was a long strip of perfectly cooked sole. The sole was so moist and delicate and prefectly complimented by a warm, buttery yellow wine sauce that was just incredible. Sharing the plate with the fish were smoked potatocabbage, chives and some beautifully sauteed cep mushrooms.         

My wife's last savoury course
My wife's final vegetarian savoury course was essentially my dish with the sole removed and the quantity of vegetables upsized. She seemed to have enjoyed her dish just as much.     

Fromage de chevre frais, acidule au geranium
Next was the cheese course. We were served a slab of Sainte-Maure goats cheese with geranium, shards of eschalots, and a dressing of honey, lemon and olive oil. The goat's cheese was undoubtedly of high quality but I felt the eschalots were too chunky to enjoy with the goats cheese.

Tarte aux pommes Bouquet de roses®
And for dessert, we had L'Arpége's famous apple tart, presented as a bouquet of roses. The bouquet of roses is the creation of a genius, so much so that Alain Passard decided to patent it! The bouquets are rolls of finely sliced apples topped with a berlingot crystal, which are bound together by a shallow dish of puff pastry. Words cannot begin to describe how amazing this tart was. The apples were so delicious: warm, firm in the middle and lightly stewed on the bottom. The puff pastry was flakey, buttery and moreish. The apple tart was served with a puddle of wonderful caramel sauce. Best apple tart ever and what a fitting end to one of the best tasting menus I have ever had!

Petit fours
We were then brought out a tray of petit fours at the conclusion of our tasting menu. There was a salted caramel corn cake, a tuile with rosemary, fruit jelly, blackberry macaron and an apple bouquet. 

House blend tea
We also had some tea to aid digestion. This was a house blend tea of mixed herbs and flowers from Alain Passard's garden. It was smooth, minty, refreshing and aromatic.

Chef Passard signs my book - something that I will treasure for the rest of my life
We decided to wait around for Alain Passard's final 'rounds' at the end of lunch service, as I wanted to personally thank him for the meal and to ask for his autograph. As we waited, a waiter brought out another tray of petit fours, which I thought was nice of them. But as soon as we finished this tray, another full tray appeared on our table! It became evident that even petit fours get topped up at L'Arpége. As delectable as these little treats were, it was too much for my stomach to handle!

By the time Alain Passard emerged from the kitchen, at least half the guests had already left. Even after a busy lunch service, Passard was still full of energy. He was a gracious host as I used every single superlative I could think of to describe the meal. After he asked us where we were from, he responded “Ah Sydney, I have never been”. After I suggested that he needed to visit the beautiful city that I call home, he inquired whether I could cook for him, to which I could only laugh awkwardly. I would love to, but be careful with what you wish for, Mr Passard!

The fold-away knife we used was given to us as a souvenir after the meal
I look back at this meal with fond memories; one of the best meals of my life for sure. I had just witnessed something that I have never seen at any other restaurant. The cooking at L'Arpége is so simple and minimalistic, with many of the dishes containing only a few elements. Yet the food was dynamic and complex, with clever flavour pairings that brought out the natural flavours of vegetables. It was like I had just be taken to vegetable heaven and it was one heck of a gastronomic experience!

Verdict
Highlight: Vegetables at their finest. I never knew vegetables could taste this good! 
Lowlight: L'Arpége is one of the most expensive restaurants in Paris, the price you pay for dining at the restaurant of a true genius. 
Overall: L'Arpége is the pinnacle of fine dining experiences anywhere in the world, a true 3-Michelin star experience. Given that I have used the word 'best' to describe so many things about this meal, only one score would do this meal justice. 10/10 (The best!)

L'Arpege
Address: 84 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
Contact no: +33 1 47 05 09 06
Websitehttp://www.alain-passard.com/

For more posts about my food adventures during my trip through Europe, click on the following link: http://foodmab.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/food-highlights-from-my-euro-trip.html 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Cafe Paci, Darlinghurst - 9 May 2014


A meal at Cafe Paci has been a long time coming for me, since August last year to be precise. This was when Pasi Petanen left Marque, where he was Mark Best's head chef, to open his own restaurant for the first time. Call me a fanatic, but I view head chefs a bit like rock stars: I follow their restaurants, changes in menu and their movements with close interest. So as soon as I heard the news that Pasi Petanen was opening Cafe Paci, Cafe Paci went straight to the top of my wish list. Despite my best efforts, it wasn't until now did I get a chance to eat at Cafe Paci (although I did try a few of their courses at Sixpenny and Co).


Am I at the right place?
Cafe Paci is a pop up restaurant that has a 12 month lease in its current location, with an option to extend for a further 6 months, which has since been exercised. This means that Cafe Paci will only be around til January 2015.

Cafe Paci occupies the site that was previously Cafe Pacifico, a Mexican cantina (Pasi has simply dropped 'fico' and made it his own). Pasi has mostly left the existing establishment as it is; the main change being the dining room has been given a new lick of paint, transforming the previous red and green colour scheme to just grey. The setting at Cafe Paci is a complete contrast to the elegant, fine dining ambience that was found at Marque, from the drab flight of stairs that you negotiate to get to the restaurant, to the sticky tables, and the curtains that separated the dining room from the kitchen and bathrooms.


The dining room


Cafe Paci offers a seasonal tasting menu of various snacks and 5 courses for $85 per person. The menu just lists the ingredients in each course but there are waiters on hand to explain each dish in intricate detail. The courses are creative, playful and contain elements of Pasi's Finnish heritage. The dishes do sound a bit odd at first, but you will soon find out that there is a "method to his madness", so to speak.

Tonight I was dining out with my wife, a vegetarian and my friend, a pescetarian. Cafe Paci offers an alternative vegetarian menu, so there were no problems with catering for the dietary requirements.


Snacks

Quail egg; chips and dips; pear sandwich
The meal at Cafe Paci starts with a series of snacks. In the foreground was a quail egg coated in a umami-licious green powder of wakame and cavolo nero. In the centre were 'chips and dips': crispy fried brussel sprout leaves which were used to scoop up an oyster cream (sour cream for the vegetarian). And hanging out back was a pear sandwich with French cheese and dusted with cinnamon.
 

Rye taco with sticky rice, egg butter, sour onions and chives
The other snacks were great, but the snack that stole the show was this rye taco, a tribute to the previous tenants of this site. There is very little Mexican about this taco; it's clear that the Finns have moved in. Inspired by a Finnish pastry, the filling of sticky rice, egg butter, sour onions and chives was wonderfully gooey, creamy, buttery and damn tasty.
 
Bread

Potato and rye bread
Bread at Cafe Paci is a Finnish bread made with potato, rye and caraway and coated in molasses. There is no yeast in this bread and the potato is allowed to ferment with the rye for 3 days. This bread, quite simply, is incredible. I enjoyed the interplay between the slight bitterness in the crust, the sweetness of the molasses and the nutty and malty flavour of the rye bread. As amazing as this bread was, it's quite filling. Knowing that there was still a full tasting menu to come, we declined the tempting offer to have more bread.
 
Course one

Mud crab, pomelo, dill, vadouvan
My first course consisted on a pile of hand picked mud crab meat mixed with crab custard, pomelo, dill and finished with a dusting of vadouvan. The delicate flavours of the mud crab were allowed to shine in this dish with the subdued acidity of the pomelo and the gentle spices from the vadouvan. This was an excellent first course as it was light, refreshing and left my taste buds salivating for more.
 

Butter beans, corn, dill, vadouvan
In place of crab and crab custard, my wife's vegetarian course was given butter beans and corn. This course utilized similar flavour profiles to my first course, but also had more of a sour flavour note.
 
Course two

Shredded duck, smoked kohlrabi, cider vinegar cream
The shredded duck reminded me of duck rillettes except Cafe Paci serves theirs with fresh, crispy slices kohlrabi. The use of kolhrabi was interesting; its flavour being something between turnip and radish. And the kohlrabi was smoked with hickory wood. There was also a quenelle of cider vinegar cream to the side to cut through the richness of the duck. However the flavours in this dish didn't excite me as much as the other courses, a view that was reconfirmed when I had a taste of the vegetarian version.
 
The vegetarian course, on the other hand, was spectacular. Instead of duck rillettes, the vegetarian got mushrooms and hazelnuts. The flavour of the mushrooms blew me away, and made me momentarily wish I was a vegetarian (I can't believe I just said that).
 
Course three

Cabbage, anchovy, parsley, parmesan
Looking at the list of ingredients, you wouldn't have guessed that this dish was Pasi's take on spaghetti and pesto. Pasta was made from cabbage cooked in butter, and then cut into spaghetti-like strips. A sort of pesto sauce was created from anchovy juices, mullet roe and parsley purée. The only thing conventional about this spaghetti and pasta was that it was topped with some grated parmesan. This dish might sound crazy, but the flavours of this dish are crazy good. I particularly enjoyed the fishiness and saltiness of the anchovy. And nothing goes better with fish than lemon, which came in the form of a purée.
 
The vegetarian version came with buddha's hand instead of anchovy. Buddha's hand is an unusual citrus fruit that is mostly rind, which was used to give the dish some more zestiness.
 
Course four

Photato
Ah Photato, we meet again. I have fond memories of Photato at my meal at Sixpenny and Co last year. Photato is Pasi's fun, contemporary take on the Vietnamese dish, beef pho. Again I was impressed by pretty much everything about this dish: the concept, the creativity, the presentation and of course the amazing flavours! This tasted just as good as the first time.
 
Blanketing the plate was a thin slice of wagyu beef lightly seared on one side (for just  5 seconds according to our waiter). The flavour of this beef was amazing and the meat just melted in the mouth! 
 
Hiding underneath the wagyu were potato noodles that were cooked in garlic butter. I loved, loved, (did I say, loved) these noodles! The noodles were thin and reminiscent of vermicelli in appearance. But the noodles had a nice crispy texture and were insanely addictive.
 
This dish also came with crispy fried garlic chips; strands of enoki mushrooms; watercress leaves; grated horseradish; and a wedge of grilled lemon for acidity.
 

Pear, onion, turnip, horseradish
My wife's last savoury course was a pear cooked in bay leaves, topped with slices of turnip and grated horseradish, and served on a bed of onion puree. This was also a dish that we had enjoyed before at Sixpenny and Co. The pear had great caramelised flavours and a little crispness to it. The heat of the horseradish was subtle and worked surprisingly well with the pear and the onion purée.
 
Cheese course

Monte Veronese di Malga, onion, pear and buckwheat ($15 extra)
After the savoury courses, we decided to share the optional cheese course. At Cafe Paci, this was not going to be a cheese platter with dried fruits; Pasi just has to put his own spin on things. This cheese course came with light whisps of Monte Veronese di Malga cheese,  served with onion cooked in pear juice, freeze dried pears and crispy buckwheat crackers. I am not much of a cheese person normally so I certainly welcomed a reinvented cheese course although the cheese purist at our table was not as keen. The sharpness of the Monte Veronese was a great match with the sweetness of the pear and the onion.
 
Pre-dessert

Yoghurt, carrot, licorice
Looking more like a poached egg than a pre dessert, our next course consisted of a yoghurt mousse, encasing a ball of carrot sorbet and a bottom layer of licorice cake. This was an incredibly clever dish that had the entire table in raptures. Such a beautiful transition from savouries to dessert: it was light, refreshing and the flavours were just gorgeous! The yoghurt mousse was so light and airy that it evaporated in the mouth. The carrot sorbet was refreshing, earthy and slightly sweet. Although licorice is not normally my cup of tea, the aniseed flavour was quite pleasant; not overpowering and working harmoniously with the other components.
 
Course five

Rye ice cream, apple, white beer, cocoa, malt
Dessert course was a quenelle of rye ice cream, served with apples and topped with an assortment of cocoa nibs, malt nougatine and white beer wafers. I enjoyed all the different textures with the ice cream. And I love rye with chocolate in desserts since it reminds me of the malty flavours of Milo.
 
Petit fours

Corn and butter
After dessert, we were served a ball of fairy floss topped with bits of popcorn. We were instructed to pull apart the fairy floss with our fingers. We got popcorn all over the table, but we were having too much fun to notice or care. I do enjoy buttery popcorn and spun sugar, so this little snack went down a treat!
 

Pork and fennel; Eucalyptus koala
Cafe Paci strangely enough serves pork crackling as a petit four (or not, given oddity is Cafe Paci's forte). The pork crackling was coated in dark chocolate and sprinkled with candied fennel seeds. This bizarre combination actually tasted quite nice.
 
The vegetarian petit four was Cafe Paci's version of Caramello Koala: how cute! The koala was made of dark chocolate and had a delicious, flowing eucalyptus caramel centre.
 

Another reminder of the site's past Mexican life
It's a shame that Cafe Paci is a pop up restaurant. It's refreshing to see a restaurant be creative and push the boundaries without creating offputting flavours, which I have sometimes seen in "modern / contemporary" restaurants. And at $85, a meal here is great value for the high quality of food that you get (there is also a $45 lunch set menu available on Fridays). I am definitely keen to have another meal before Cafe Paci closes.
 
Verdict
Highlight: Photato is just as good as I remember it, but I think I have a new favourite dish at Cafe Paci: yoghurt, carrot and licorice.
Lowlight: Cafe Paci closes in January 2015, so the clock is ticking.
Overall: Cafe Paci provides Pasi Petanen with a platform to showcase flair and creativity in his cooking. A meal at Cafe Paci is fun and your taste buds will be in for an exciting ride, so make sure you don't miss out on a chance to eat here before it closes. 8/10 (Excellent)

Cafe Paci
Address: Level 1, 95 Riley St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010
Contact no: (02) 9368 7000
Website: http://www.cafepaci.com.au/

Cafe Paci on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Biota Dining, Bowral - 13 April 2014


Biota Dining has probably been the restaurant that I have most wanted to dine at for a long time. Last year I had a taste of what Biota has to offer at Land vs Sea, a meal where Alessandro Pavoni of Ormeggio collaborated with Biota owner and executive chef, James Viles to produce a wonderful 4 course tasting menu. I have also seen Biota at food festivals like Taste of Sydney and Sydney Cellar Door. But I have never had the chance to actually eat at the restaurant, seeing as it's located in Bowral. So what better way is there to celebrate my wife's birthday and to cap off our weekend getaway than to drop by Biota for lunch on the way back to Sydney from Canberra? This meal was booked months in advance so this was one of the most highly anticipated meals I've had, so expectations were rather high.

Biota may only have been open since 2011, but it has received its fair share of awards and accolades. Biota has received 2 chef hats from the SMH Good Food Guide for the last 2 years. It also won Best Regional Restaurant Award in the 2014 Guide and the Sustainability Award in the 2013 guide.

Biota executive chef / owner, James Viles, hard at work
The words that probably best describe James Viles' philosophy at Biota are: local produce driven; seasonality, and sustainability. Viles grew up on a farm in the Southern Highlands so these things have always been apart of him. However interestingly before opening Biota, he was heading up large kitchens at hotels in Asia and the Middle East. He said that he had zero connection with where the food he was serving came from as ordering stock involved clicking buttons on a computer screen as opposed to talking to local producers.

It is his time in the Middle East which fueled his desire to return to Australia and open a restaurant like Biota. Biota is set on a large block of land complete with a kitchen garden and onsite greenhouse, where they grow their own flowers, herbs and veggies, picked just before service. Much like at Tyler's Pantry where we dined at 2 nights ago (who sources most of their produce locally in the South Coast), Biota too sources about 60% of its ingredients locally from the Southern Highlands area and the remainder is sourced within Australian borders. Biota also forage the local mountains, forests and streams for mushrooms and other native plants.

A look around the dining room: tree branch decoration; open kitchen; large centre table with tree centre piece
The dining room has a distinctly Scandinavian feel, with its minimalist decor and touches of green and wood. We were lucky enough to be given the best seat in the house, right in front of the open kitchen, where we could watch the chefs cooking the meals, and James Viles and his team meticulously plate up each dish with intricate precision. Even the private dining room at the back gets its own TV screen so they don’t miss out on any of the action on the pass. The kitchen operated like clockwork, very orderly, and quiet with just a simple clap from James to let the wait staff know when a course was ready to be taken out to the diner.
 

You can choose a 3 course a la carte menu or a set course menu of either 5 courses ($98) or 9 courses ($150). As Biota is not able to cater for vegetarians in their 9 course menu, we decided to have the 5 course menu.

Snacks
Ocean trout jerky
To start off proceedings, our waiter brings out a little snack, a slice of ocean trout jerky on a stick set to a slab of pink salt. The trout jerky was sprinkled with lime salt, giving the jerky a nice hint of citrus to go with the smoky, salty flavours. This was probably the best jerky I have ever eaten, and I would happily snack on a bagful of these.

Bread and grains
My wife was given a little snack of mixed bread and grains with apple jelly and berries. The apple jelly was particularly pleasant - sweet and slightly tart.

Bread
Wholemeal sourdough and smoked butter
Snacks were then quickly followed up with A piping hot mini loaf of house made whole wheat sourdough bread, along with house churned smoked butter. As expected from a restaurant like Biota, both the bread and butter were very good. I did enjoy the unusual presentation of the butter on a stone, but it was probably not the most practical given that we knocked the butter onto the table at least once. But we did quickly retrieve it, so it's safe to eat, right? I think the three second rule applies here in any case...

First course
Smoked roe, scampi, charcoal, purslane
My first course was probably my favourite of the day. Beneath shards of vegetable charcoal and sprigs of purslane, lay a sashimi scampi and a creamy smoked roe salad. The star of this dish was certainly the scampi, beautifully fresh, sweet and having a lovely texture. I thought the charcoal flakes were interesting; it added some crunch to the dish and was a nice textural contrast to the rest of the dish. I also thought there was good restraint shown in the use of smokey flavours from the charcoal, charred leek and smoked roe - it was pleasant without being too overpowering for the fresh, delicate flavours of the scampi. 

My wife's vegetarian course looked almost identical in presentation. In place of scampi and smoked roe, my wife's dish had cucumber and feijoa. She also loved the first course, so it seems the vegetarian version was just as successful. Feijoa is a fruit that we both have not tried before. It is usually found in South America or New Zealand but Biota sources theirs locally. The flavour of the feijoa was just incredible and one that we won't be forgetting for a while. It was a bit like a guava, wonderfully sweet and aromatic.        
             
Second course
Egg yolk, cooked curds, rye
Both of our second courses consisted of a silky sheet of pasta blanketing over cooked curds, with a lightly cured egg yolk and rye crumbs. There is something exhilarating for me about piercing a warm egg yolk, letting it ooze over silky smooth pasta and then digging in. The cooked curds were soft, creamy and a lot like ricotta. The rye crumbs were crispy and provided texture to the dish. There was also a sprinkling of ash to add a bit of smokiness. I was also given a slice of bottarga (pressed and cured trout roe). The flavours and textures in this dish are just heavenly. Another star dish!   

Third course
Lamb breast, dried lactose, fresh and cooked oats
My third course was lamb breast, with fresh and cooked oats, and torn sheets of dried lactose. The lamb breast was beautifully cooked and flavoursome and the lamb jus was incredibly delicious. Please give me a pitcher full of this next time, so I can smother the lamb in it hehe! Both the dried lactose and the cooked oats were surprising elements that I thought worked quite well in this dish; it made the dish more interesting by giving it a variety of textures. The sheets of dried lactose were thin and crisp with a slight milky and sweet flavour. The cooked oats were cooked with sheep milk curds, giving it a creamy and slightly sticky texture similar to porridge. I love porridge especially when it's cold, so I enjoyed the cooked oats.

Potato, onion, nasturtium, buttermilk
My wife's third course was an onion broth with grilled onions, thin slices of potato, buttermilk and nasturtium. The onion broth was light, clean and had a wonderful depth of flavour. This was paired well with the smokiness of the grilled onions and the potato; and the soft curds of buttermilk. The only thing missing from this dish I feel was something crispy for texture.

Fourth course
Duck, pine, cauliflower, pear, white raisins
My last savoury course was Burrawang duck, paired with cauliflower foam, white raisins and pear. The duck was well cooked: tender and slightly pink;  the duck was served with a rich, flavoursome jus. The sweetness of white raisins and pear are the perfect accompaniment to balance the richness of the duck. Cauliflower was served two ways: as pickled paper thin slices to add acidity to the dish and as a foam, which was wonderfully creamy yet light. And there were strands of pine needles, which looked quite stunning on the plate and fitted in nicely with the restaurant's philosophy, were a bit prickly.  Although this was a very good course, this was probably the course that excited me the least. The other dishes were just that spectacular. 

Charred beetroots, vegetable peelings, yoghurt, marjoram
The star of my wife's last savoury course was beetroots, which happened to be one of our favourite vegetables to cook and eat. We just can't get enough of those delicious ruby globes with its wonderful sweet and earthy flavours. And how were the charred beetroots? AMAZING! Quite possibly the best beetroots we have ever eaten. I don't know how Biota can get so much flavour from a humble vegetable. There were also peelings of fresh beetroots and puffed grains which were good textural contrasts to the tender and juicy beetroots. And the tartness of the bright pink yoghurt was a nice pairing with the sweet and earthy beetroots. What a brilliant vegetarian course to end the savoury offerings for the day. Watching my wife devour this course filled me with envy.  

Fifth course
Mums roses, stonefruit sorbet, rose meringue, peach gel 
And for our last course, we had Biota's signature dessert, mum's roses. This course is served differently depending on what stone fruits are in season. For us, we received a dessert centred around peaches. Peaches were prepared in 3 ways: as a peach sorbet, a poached peach and a peach gel. Each preparation may have provided something different but they all had something in common: they each tasted sublime! To the side of the peaches there was also a quenelle of vanilla cream, which always goes well with fruit but this vanilla cream was light and fluffy like a cloud. 

Rose meringue covered the dessert like powdered white snow. The rose meringue was made with liquid nitrogen so the plate came out with mists and vapours. The rose meringue was crisp and icy cold, so it provided a great texture and a temperature contrast to an already refreshing dish. Perhaps the presentation could have been even more dramatic had the rose meringue been prepared and served at the diner's table rather than in the kitchen, but what a fitting end to a spectacular meal!

Petit fours and tea
And to our finish our wonderful meal, we were served a petit four of dark chocolate with assorted nuts and a nice refreshing pot of darjeeling tea from Le Maison du The.  


Of course no visit to Biota is complete without a leisurely stroll around the gardens of Biota. Usually there are ducks and geese wandering around the grounds, but they were not to be seen today. I was looking forward to seeing Biota's 2 geese, one named foie and the other gras. I always chuckle when I hear people mention their names.

Slightly dismayed by the lack of foie / gras sighting, my wife and I headed back to Sydney highly satisfied. Biota not only met our lofty expectations, it may have even exceeded them. The food was of a high standard and we thoroughly enjoyed each course. We were also very well looked after by the wait staff, who were friendly, attentive and knowledgeable. Thanks Biota, you guys made my wife's birthday a very special day indeed and we will always have fond memories of the amazing meal we had here!   

Verdict
Highlight: Too many to chose from. But if I had to narrow it down, the scampi dish, the egg yolk and pasta dish and the beetroot dish were the most memorable. 
Lowlight: There was no sighting of Biota's local residents, foie and gras. 
Overall: Biota is an embodiment of James Viles philosophy with food. The menu is focused on local produce, seasonality and sustainability. The food is simply brilliant with inspired pairings of different flavours and textures. Biota deserves every single one of its two hats. 8.5/10 (Excellent) 

Biota Dining
Address: 18 Kangaloon Rd, Bowral NSW 2576
Contact no: (02) 4862 2005
Website: http://www.biotadining.com/

Biota Dining on Urbanspoon

Other wife birthday posts:
A Berry Nice Day Out 
Tyler's Pantry, Mogo