If the lemon trees and Tesla charging stations in the car park don't signal that Biota isn't your typical regional restaurant, then the offer of a bite-sized waffle filled with sour cream and finished with grated deer heart certainly will. Likewise a curiously appealing juice of salted crimson grapes, or a daring blend of pears and Pecora Dairy sheep's whey in a ferment-forward, alcohol-free drinks pairing. Plates have similarly adventurous accents: blots of prune and black garlic paste, say, that punctuate grilled lamb neck, or the dried fushimi pepper dusted over creamed eggs and ocean-sweet morsels of Weipa mud crab. An underwhelming dessert of mandarin sorbet and chocolate mousse, however, seems to belong to another – far less ambitious – restaurant. So too the short list of wines by the glass that does well to spotlight neighbouring producers, but sacrifices depth and intrigue in the process. None of this appears to matter in the Nordic-chic-meets-Country Style surrounds, where there isn't a worry in sight. Sure, the parts could be a little more equal but the sum total here is a high one.
18 Kangaloon Rd, Bowral, NSW, biotadining.com
Find a site in a small Northern Rivers town. Tile it yourself. Get your dad to make some furniture and your partner to sort the back of house. Fill it with details from locals. In Pipit, husband-wife Ben Devlin and Yen Trinh have created the model regional restaurant. One that engages with the area to present an immediate and cerebral portrait of the surrounding area, rendered in food, drink and fine times. There are simple nods to local suppliers and the seasons, like a canapé of cucumbers, winged beans, radishes and young angled gourd from nearby Boon Luck Farm piled into a bowl with a dab of almond cream, or new-season Brazilian cherry topping an éclair-like "finger bun" filled with mullet cream. Fish are sustainable, local indigenous group Currie country supply pipis, hoofed animals don't come near the menu, and coals power the grill, which Devlin mans with enough attention to serve spatchcock crisp and juicy, and eggplant tartare rightly smoky. It's a coastal, tropical line, with wines matching the mood, and seasonal fruits dressing up a half-moon of frangipane cake that's a must for dessert. Simple, layered and community-focused. First Pottsville, then the world.
8 Coronation Ave, Pottsville, NSW, pipitrestaurant.com
Raes has finally arrived as a dining force, a fresh refurb and new chef doing wonders for the restaurant in this storied Byron Bay hotel. The space – all blush, pink and white walls, blond wood and picture windows – capitalises on the beachfront location while avoiding most of the coastal clichés. Service is set to relax mode but never lets up, with the floor crew confidently talking through the Italian-leaning menu and wine list. And although Jason Saxby's flavours are comfortingly familiar, they never fail to surprise: al dente broccolini is dressed with buttery whipped macadamias, briny Appellation-grade oysters from the Northern Rivers or Wooli Wooli River get a citrusy kiss from finger lime and burrata is cut by sweet pickled heirloom zucchini. Not so surprisingly, pasta is elevated to fine-dining standard by Saxby (former head chef of Pilu at Freshwater). Take the umami-rich tagliolini with local bottarga and grilled Ballina king prawn. Or the technique-driven carbonara raviolo hiding a molten egg yolk. The counterpoint to all this lushness? A textural, herbaceous castagnaccio cake with roasted pears and rosemary ice-cream. It's restrained, but also a resounding reminder that Raes is now a contemporary regional diner to be reckoned with.
6-8 Marine Parade, Byron Bay, NSW, raes.com.au