Culinary heights on Lake Burley Griffin
The Boat House by the Lake
by Natalie Tsirimokos 19 April 2010
Complimentary glass of wine or bubbly for OutInCanberra readers.
It’s a mild Monday evening and my dining partner and I make our way to The Boat House by the Lake in Barton. Just a short drive from my Narrabundah home, I’m little ashamed to admit I have not dined there in more then four years.
On this night, groceries have not been purchased for the week ahead and I'm craved an intimate catch-up with good food and no distractions.
Upon entry we're greeted by smiling wait staff that open the door and usher us into the far right dining room.
From The Boat House foyer, it’s impossible to see into the three dining rooms, two of which are hosting a function tonight. Despite this, I’m pleased to find our room exceptionally private, with no sound coming through.
The first thing I notice is the overall privacy of this room. Dean Martin is softly humming from speakers and the vibe is relaxed, chatter, soft and linen, crisp. Timber blinds are closed at the front of the room, strategically concealing the view of the car park.
I’m told that the main dining room changes frequently, depending on private functions and reservations. Tonight we find ourselves in the Walters room, looking out to The Kings Bridge.
The room has been specifically set-up to cater for tonight’s diners, with seven small tables spaciously arranged. I’m told that the Westend room features an open fireplace and make a mental note to visit again in June when I know I’ll enjoy it.
We are seated by the floor to ceiling window, and I’m delighted to be looking out at one of the most serene parts of Lake Burley Griffin, with the city running by in the far distance. Fairy lights drape from the venue’s surrounding trees and I can see possums scurrying up trunks, just meters away.
Another major feature of The Boat House is the picturesque wrap around decking. Despite this, I don’t see any tables set up outside and wonder, with such indulgent scenery, is this an option?
I’m soon greeted by James Souter, Owner and Front of House. Despite his youth, Souter witnessed the launch of The Boat House when his family opened the venue more than 17 years ago.
Having worked there for 12 years before moving to Sydney, Souter is back in an owner role. He speaks highly of Head Chef Daren Tetley, but he doesn’t need to, industry word of mouth has secured him a respected reputation.
I can’t help but enquire about alfresco dining on the deck. Souter explains that this is not something that’s generally offered due the fact that The Boat House is situated on the lake, and bugs can make for an unpleasant dining experience.
Further, Souter says that another contributing factor is the nature of the venue's lay-out, private functions and maintaining the overall privacy of these rooms. Having said this, Souter and his team are eager to please and take alfresco dining requests for special occasions.
I’m told that the new winter menu will be released in June, with a clear heartier focus, however no hints of what we’ll see.
To start, we are presented with Marco Pierre White, Spicy saffron mussel soup. Crusty bread rolls for the table were served, along with organic balsamic and Kailis extra virgin olive oil. The soup is velvety, creamy and packed a punch, making it an instant cold weather warmer. I hope this soup doesn't drop off the forthcoming winter menu.
My partner and I are eager to explore the realm of the ‘culinary edge’ and after casting my eye over the Carpaccio, I know I would have to ‘try’ to understand. The Carpaccio comprises Snowy Mountains venison and foie gras with chocolate sauce, sesame puree and frozen rasberries.
Upon its arrival I'm surprised at how thickly sliced the venison is, not standard practice for Carpaccio - however this is no standard dish. Adorned with a frozen berry and sitting amongst rich dollops of chocolate sauce, one would be forgiven for mistaking this dish as a dessert.
To taste, the venison is bouncy, deep in colour and chewy to the bite, all signs pointing to fresh and impeccably prepared. The venison is lightly salted and the chocolate bitterness and sweet, cold berry contrast make for an interesting dish.
My partner orders the Tasmanian salmon gravlax with Woodside goat’s curd on warm toasted brioche with grilled truffle honey pear, baby mache salad, rock sugar and oregano vinaigrette. The salmon is presented in a charming little rosebud, alongside rich goat’s curd and the grilled pear. I'm charmed by the delightful presentation and convince my partner to let me try. I enjoy the cohesion of this dish and the creamy goat's curd is exceptionally fresh and fluffy.
My partner and I also share the Pan seared Gulf of Carpentaria prawns, with salt cod brandade, confit royal blue potatoes, and wilted baby spinach. The dish is pleasant and the prawns cooked just right.
There is a beautiful and selected list of mains on offer and I settle on the Sparkling cider poached pork fillet on sage roasted kipfler potatoes, maple glazed apples and crispy pig ears. This dish features an indulgently crunchy spear of crackling and the crispy pig ears posses a thin, delicious layer of fat. The poached pork fell apart in my mouth and the light cider infusion gave it a subtle depth. The overall result is a sensation and I'll definitely be returning for this dish specifically.
My partner chose the Coffee crusted kangaroo fillet on aubergine puree with pistachio cracked wheat slice and sumac dressing. He tells me that the sumac infusion gives the dish a pleasant richness and that the meat is tender, yet chewy - just how it should be. I’m too stuffed to try, but the sight of the rustically prepared Pistachio cracked wheat slice catches my eye.
We also try the Crispy Parma wrapped spatchcock, trio of onion tartlet and heirloom tomato ragout with orange essence, which although a little heavy on the onion, is a beautifully prepared dish. The spatchcock in particular is buttery and tender, and presentation exquisite.
Being a Monday, we’re not drinking tonight but I do glance over the wine list to find an impressive ten pages; 12 varieties of French champagne alongside six Australian sparklings, more than 10 local wines and a decedent list of cocktails. The Fig martini with caramelised figs looks like an interesting highlight and I'm also impressed to find Gewurztraminer on the list.
To finish, I enjoy the Trio of chocolate delice with espresso burnt cream and mint essence. This is a stand-out dessert experience, with the rich espresso burnt cream providing a velvety contrast to the weight-less mint essence. The chocolate, a classic, richly indulgent affair.
My partner tries the Banana toffee tarte tatin with Bailey's ice-cream and later raves about this dish on the car-ride home.
Before long we realise we've been dining for almost three hours, and I look around to find the same diners as when we’d first walked in, relaxed and also taking their time. After all, a Monday night is as good as any to indulge.
Having not experienced The Boat House for years, I'm pleased to find the same timeless elegance and attention to detail that makes it such an iconic restaurant in Canberra.
Souter and his team are attentive, yet respect patron’s privacy resulting in the intimate kind of experience that’s hard to come by in the Canberra City area.
The Boat House is coming into its second decade of existence and Souter's fresh eye signifies a new era for the restaurant, where culinary boundaries are pushed and the highest level of service and care continue to be upheld.
As a special treat for our readers you can enjoy a complimentary glass of wine or bubbly for you and all your guests at The Boat House, when you make your reservation online on OutInCanberra. This offer has expired.
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