I love a Destination Restaurant. There's nothing better than working my way through the San Pellegrino Top 50 list (OK, I've only got to 4 of them, but I'm ambitious), collecting Michelin Star experiences and crossing double Chef's Hat establishments off my bucket list. A couple of years ago I had a really first-rate degustation at the Journeyman restaurant in Bowral, and was shattered to hear it had fallen off the map, so since Biota Dining opened in what used to be the The Manning restaurant - another place I've had many happy meals - I've been keen to go and put my money where my mouth was - and, of course, vice versa.
Neither the money nor the mouth came away particularly happy, I'm sad to report. I'm a sucker for a degustation, and decided it was the way to go despite much more attractive-sounding dishes on the a la carte menu. But there seems to be a trend at the moment for first-rate restaurants to describe dishes in unappealing terms (o, hai, Sixpenny and Four In Hand), and I figured that the tasting menu is traditionally best foot forward, so I went for it anyway.
Mistake, mistake, mistake.
The highlight of the meal wasn't on the menu at all - it was an amuse-bouche tempura green bean with lemon and paprika and it was crisp and delicious. The presentation was also cute - it was impaled on a wire embedded in a rock of pink salt. And primed by a lovely kir royale I was feeling very optimistic indeed.
The bread took a surprisingly long time to arrive, and was fine, but paired with something called "smoked butter". I adore smoked food, but this just tasted like charcoal. And so I say: Meh.
The first course was unpreposessingly entitled "Cooked Curds". I expected something on the mozzarella side, but the curds were closer to a ricotta; a perfectly decent mild cheese. It was served with some accoutrements mixed in, most notably "cured carrots", which turned out to be crystallised in salt until they were basically inedible unless paired with a giant mouthful of the curds, and I spent the dish trying to get the proportions right. It would have been nice if our waiter had offered some tips on how to approach these dishes, but (a) I don't think food should require an instruction manual, and (b) the best outcome was not going to deliver anything better than a way of neutralising the taste of salt.
On the plus side, the wines throughout were excellent, and our waiter knew a lot about them. I wish he'd made a similar effort with the food.
The next course was Duck Egg. I don't much like eggs, but, again, thought a very sophisticated treatment would mean it would probably taste good anyway. Um, no. Egg white foam and barely cooked yolk might have been a bit clever but actually brought out nothing additional, I found the texture slimy (but that's probably just my dislike of eggs) - it was just boring, and eggy. I am regretting the taste of it as I write this.
My companion had a similar experience with the next course, mackerel. Not being a big fan of proteins piscatorial, my companion had sought and obtained assurances that this would not be particularly strong fish before ordering - it seemed an unlikely promise for the waiter to be able to make, given the strong taste and oily character of mackerel, and again that proved to be the case. We were served a small slab of fish that did not seem any different from a plain old fried slab of mackerel, served with some fairly ordinary accoutrements. My companion was unable to continue beyond the first bite. The waiter, collecting the almost untouched plate, did not make any comment - perhaps it happens a lot. Poor form, anyway, considering the express questions asked before ordering.
The cheese course was next and I cheered up a lot, because I adore cheese, and as it's not house made, it should be fairly hard to stuff up. The menu listed it as roquefort with bee pollen. What we got was a small bowlful of mashed up roquefort sitting in a puddle of honey, served with a spoon. It was perfectly good rocquefort, and the honey was fine also, but this treatment was just too clever by half. I don't want to eat roquefort by the spoonful, I want to smear it on some fruit bread, or a cracker with a smidge of quince paste. This said to me "You'll eat this cheese how we say you will". Sod that.
The dessert, listed on the menu as "Grass Milk" was OK. It was a bunch of different white sweet things on a plate - yoghurt sorbet, white chocolate ice cream etc. Nothing outstanding or different, and I would not bother to order it again, but I didn't dislike it.
I finished with a macchiato, which was more of a ristretto, but that suited me fine. It came with a few hazelnuts rolled in cocoa; we didn't bother to have more than one.
So all in all, a big disappointment. I should say again that the wine was very good, and it's fun to be able to watch the kitchen in action (there's even a big flatscreen in the private dining room filming the kitchen so those diners don't miss out). And the locals tell us that the bar menu and the tapas are in fact very good. I can't see myself making another trip there, but if I did I would be ordering from the bar.