The Botanica’s concept is simple: give Sydney urbanites a taste of the land they’re living on (or near). And while the farm-to-fork concept isn’t new – many restaurants promise a connection to the land, some more tenuous than others – The Botanica has its own acreage, just outside of Sydney.
The restaurant is headed up by executive chef Perry Hill and harvests its ingredients from Jamberoo Valley Farm – a 65-acre property in the escarpment in the Kiama Hinterlands, roughly a two-hour drive from Sydney. Hill, who has been a chef for the past 25 years (he’s worked at restaurants such as Sydney's renowned – and long-closed – MG Garage and London's influential The River Cafe, among others), says the farm’s permaculture principles set it apart from others he’s worked with.
“What really drew me in was the ability to connect really intimately with the farmers, who are so focused on recycling and composting,” Hill says.
“I’m able to get down there and say, ‘I want this and not this’, meaning we’re very transparent about what we’re doing. We can go to the source and say, ‘I want these carrots longer’, while also just letting the seasons play out,” he says.
For Hill, one of the most rewarding aspects of the farm is teaching other chefs in the kitchen the – literal – lay of the land. “We’ve taken all the chefs down there and it really [transfers] the responsibility of growing and respecting the ingredients to them. A bunch of basil is not just a bunch of basil – it’s seasonal; it’s susceptible to hot weather, to rain.”
The Botanica is in the harbourside suburb of Vaucluse set within an urban forest. The dining room is particularly pretty and has a “ladies who lunch” air about it. Large windows draw in the natural light and surrounding vegetation, with diners reclining on musk-stick-coloured pink chairs among large-frond shrubbery and walls concealed by floral art.
On the plate are things such as “golden gnocchi”, made from sweet potatoes tugged fresh from the farm, and roast duck breast with radicchio, fennel and preserved orange salad. “I had one of those ‘aha’ moments when we created the duck. After 25 years, to still be inspired and excited by the produce – that’s amazing,” says Hill.
The Botanica also has its own garden, where the restaurant grows everything from lemongrass to rosemary, basil and mango. Order a mojito and you’ll see the bartender foraging for the mint to create it.
If you order a gin, you’re also most likely to get the restaurant’s own, Coopers Gin. It’s infused with coastal roseberry, native sea grapes and northern territory green ants, adding a citrusy tingle to the award-winning spirit.
The Botanica will soon share its space with the Valley Farm Cafe, which will offer customers breakfast and produce for purchase from Jamberoo Valley Farm. There’s a wellness spa already open, applying the same earth-to-table principles as the restaurant. Book an organic treatment and they’ll use herbs plucked from the garden.
More than anything, Hill is inviting Sydneysiders to experience “farm living”, offering dishes without fuss or complication. “We’re not hanging out for two weeks of recipe-testing while a beautiful, ripe ingredient just sits there,” he says. “That’s not our style.”
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on May 11, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.
2 Laguna Street, Vaucluse
Wed to Fri 12pm–3pm, 5pm–10pm
Sat 8am–11.30am, 12pm–3pm, 5pm–11pm
Sun 8am–11.30am, 12pm–2pm