Go-to dish: Pork cheek celeriac persimmon chestnuts with Autumn ashes.
Balance: Pork cheek celeriac persimmon chestnuts with Autumn ashes. Photo: Steven Siewert

Mark Eggleton

A winter forest wander over frost-hardened ground in the southern highlands of NSW represents the apogee of the philosophy driving James Viles' destination diner Biota Dining in Bowral.

With his colleagues in tow, Viles will circle through the undergrowth scanning for wild ingredients. Mushrooms, wild weeds and an edible forest fern growing virtually undetected under pine needles are just some of the treasures he has uncovered in recent weeks.

Strolling silently and taking the time to stop, observe and listen requires time and an open mind. It's what Biota is all about - the balance of animal and plant life in a region is the restaurant's guiding principle.

The restaurant is set in four acres of formal gardens.
The restaurant is only a short walk to Biota's accommodation. Photo: Steven Siewert

"Our name always reminds us of who we are. We're trying to simplify things and we place limitations and guidelines on what we create as we're trying to represent a connection between mother nature, ourselves as cooks and the diner," Viles says.

The restaurant - set in four acres of formal gardens and three kitchen gardens, including a 35-metre polytunnel - serves as a paean to the southern highlands' selection of bountiful produce.

"Our inspiration comes from our habitat, which means everything is sourced locally. Our kitchen gardens grow all our leaf vegetables and garnishes while we source local produce such as pork from Redleaf Farm."

Chef James Viles.
Chef James Viles. Photo: Steven Siewert

Moreover, Viles' relationship with his suppliers goes beyond a phone call and a box at the kitchen door. His vision is to create an institution that outlives his own association with Biota, so he has worked hard on creating real connections with local suppliers.

"I think cooks often miss that personal interaction with people as they just cook, so it's so important we form close relationships and build friendships with our suppliers," he says.

As for the ideal Biota Dining experience, Viles suggests arriving early and enjoying a range of warm and cold botanical cocktails in the bar.

"When you're ready, you can head to the dining room and sample our five-course degustation menu. Later in the evening I would head back down to the bar for a nightcap and a cheese plate or some pear gel," he says.

And from the bar, it's a short walk to Biota's accommodation, which is sprinkled through the gardens. After a restful sleep between cosy, crisp linen sheets, a breakfast basket is delivered to your room the next morning.

Filled with goodies such as a plate of house-cured jamon, smoked trout and a savoury-tinged Bircher muesli, it's the ultimate welcome to a new day in the highlands.

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