Visiting a restaurant with high expectations is a turbulent and more often than not inconsolably disappointing game. Entering The Boat House by the Lake on Monday night was a unique and primary experience. Not only did I allow myself ludicrous apparitions of gastronomic divinity, they were completely surpassed with beautiful ease by the seven course degustation menu, which left me in the uncharted territory of food-related speechlessness… seven times over.
Just entering through a pair of elegant glass doors to the capaciously suave foyer of the restaurant is an experience in itself. A surfaced rock wall beyond the echo of polished wooden flooring pickets the dining space, creating an unpretentious earthiness which really sets the refined, comfortable and above all, enjoyable atmosphere experienced the entire night.
Dinner out for me could never feel right without the subdued flickering glow of a candle, so the contemporaneous hurricane lamp installations on each table was welcomed warmly, but the Boat House went one giant leap further, displaying a polished black granite hearth, ignited dramatically by the gently crackling flames of an open fire.
The sharp, seasonal and inspired menus are a sensation to behold – but I must implore you to indulge in the degustation menu with matching wines. As the saying goes, if you’re going to get wet you may as well go swimming – so if you are going to make the occasion of experiencing such fine dining, let the experts take care of everything. Not only will you be assured a haven of flavour and elegance – It will save you the agony of choice between exquisite dishes off the a la carte menu and cherry-picking wines from the wonderfully diverse list.
First course consisted of scallops, smoky potato consume, beetroot, horseradish and avruga caviar, matched with a great Trinity Hill Pinot Gris from Hawks Bay New Zealand. The hints of Nashi pear and spice along with the straw coloured wine’s opulent mouth-feel make it a superb match for sweet creamy seafood as well as really highlighting the earthier notes of beetroot and coriander in the dish. The horseradish crisp was a beautiful petal of refined lace, paralleled beneath brawnier clusters of salty dark caviar beads, while the subtlety of slithered scallops created a wonderful textural meridian between the contrasting elements. The golden potato consume was decanted tableside by the fantastic wait staff, and added a robust crackling aroma that had my nose frequenting the plate as often as my fork.
Second course was probably the best food and wine match I’ve ever tried, with an undisputed harmony between solid and liquid achieved to showcase the absolute best of both worlds. The menu announces Pork belly, cauliflower, onion gel, apple and radish. What it doesn’t mention is the way the meat can be shredded with a spoon, nor the delicate film of crackling which splinters like tissue paper being quashed in haste on Christmas morning. The tiny textbook cubes of pickled apple stimulate the whole mouth right to the deepest depths of the jaw, alluding to a very moreish sensation. The 2006 Domaine de l’Arjolle Équinoxe, Côtes de Thongue France is a seamless amalgamation of viognier, muscatel and sauvignon. Creamy and full bodied but not appearing heavy at all, the initial taste is fresh, juicy and fruity with subtle but prominent aromas of aniseed – a match made in culinary heaven for pork.
Still with my captivated nose in the (now empty) wine glass from the last course, a more substantial seafood plate of John dory, confit shallots, poached octopus, pomme dauphine and oyster foam arrived with a crisp 2009 USA Riesling. I grew up on (and dearly miss) the far south coast and that glorious dish smelt just like home. A supple, creamy steak of John Dory was cooked and presented beautifully with its skin still on (thank goodness), and came accompanied by golden crisp-encasing fluffy pomme dauphine and perhaps the biggest surprise of the night – an oyster foam laced with citrus. Take my word, this beats the living daylights out of an uninspiring wedge of lemon with your fish.
No degustation should be without an element of meltingly tender red meat, so the Venison loin with Jerusalem artichoke, mushroom fricassee, mushroom puree and red wine jus arrived to applauding jovial spirits. The cutlery slipped through perfectly supple pillows of tender Venison. The satiny opaque sheen of viscous mushroom puree rested like a lush island in a calm sea of glossy red wine jus as their flavours faultlessly complemented one another. Murrumbateman provided a 2006 Helm premium Cabinet Sauvignon as our matching wine and its earthy aged flavours further accentuated the natural game flavour of the meat and robust texture of varying fungi components.
Fromage followed (optional), offering house made lavosh wafers, soft Victorian brie, fresh slithers of local truffle, petite champagne jellies -my (as of now) new favourite alcoholic beverage. The food was wonderful – but I was so taken with the twenty-two year old Dutschke Tawny from the Barossa in South Australia; the blend is made up of a huge list of varieties including Verdelho, Grenache, Shiraz, Touriga, White Muscat and Palomino. Some of the components date back further than twenty-two years (over thirty), and are responsible for adding the luscious distinctive butterscotch and plum pudding characters. A warming alcohol with flavour that just lingers – I have serious doubts I’ll ever find a better example. Oh, it’s great with Victorian brie and truffle too.
A cleanser of pineapple sorbet and dried raspberry was served before some seriously good deserts. The first was a cooling dream of lavender, blackberry, apple and violet which smelt like a prize winning garden and, texturally, was my favourite of the night. Smooth licks of velvety ice-cream met with the instantaneous cacophony of brittle berry dust to create the simple pleasure of crunching through a soft emulsion.
The second and final dessert consisted of stronger, roasted flavours and was a perfect way to finish the degustation. Two tone Chocolate mousse, pistachio sponge, deep fried custard, honeyed pistachio dust and espresso ice-cream was matched with a 2011 Grosset Noble Riesling from Clare Valley in SA. Again, the food and wine pairing embodied divinity with stronger honeysuckle flavours in the wine echoing the honey and nut elements rendered within the pistachio dust, moss tinged sponge and hazelnut crumbed mousse.
Hands down the most beautiful dining position in Canberra, with to date, the best degustation experience I’ve been lucky enough to encounter. Everything you’ve just read still doesn’t come close to conveying just how spectacular every facet of the Boat House by the Lake is, so I can only suggest you pick up the phone, dial 02 6273 5500 and make a reservation. An unforgettable experience, promised to enjoy and impossible to regret is ensured with more certainty than the guarantee of death and taxes. You can quote me on that one, because I know you’ll enjoy yourself.