The Boathouse by the Lake

7 Feb

A few months ago, I wrote that the Brooks of Melbourne pop-up dinner was the best I’d ever been to. It was an amazing experience, with one big problem: the Brooks dinner was a pop-up. A once-off. (They are from Melbourne, after all.) Since then, I’ve been after a meal at a Canberra restaurant that could match it. That meal’s not found at Aubergine. Nor is it found at Sage, or the Artisan (though they come close). But, my search hasn’t been in vain. I’m happy to say I’ve found it – and it’s at The Boathouse.

I’ve got a good feeling when we walk up the stairs and one of the glass doors is opened for us. We’re led through to the Westend function room which has floor to ceiling glass windows. For such a big room, the tables are very spread out: this lends itself to intimacy at the table, but beyond that the room almost feels a little awkward. That said, between the beauty set out on the table before us over the next few hours, and the brilliant light reflecting off Lake Burley Griffin, there’s very little reason to look around the room.

It’s one of the few nights that the Boathouse isn’t heavily booked, so we’re offered our choice of seats in the restaurant. We choose a corner against the window where we see everything from Parliament House to the Kingston Foreshore, the kayakers, rowers, and dragonboaters, and the sunset.

View from our table over the Boathouse deck, Lake Burley Griffin, and beyond

View from our table over the Boathouse deck, Lake Burley Griffin, and beyond

We’re offered a drink to start with, and while we try to come up with something, our waiter takes advantage of our pause to bring us the drinks list. Big tick! It’s such a small thing, but so many restaurants insist on the painful charade of:

‘Can I get you a drink?’

‘Do you have [insert common beer]?’

‘No, sorry, we only have [common gross beer] and [this boutique beer].’

‘Uh, hmm. Okay, what are your wines?’

‘We have an extensive wine list…’

‘What about a riesling?’

‘Sorry, we don’t have rieslings.’

‘Well, what do you have?’


We quickly order a glass of champagne for me (Boyfriend is paying), and a light beer for Boyfriend (I guess the same logic re Boyfriend paying applies!) before the food menu is placed before us. I don’t need to open it – we’re definitely getting the degustation. It’s my belated birthday dinner after all – exactly one month since my ‘romantic birthday’ on the Gili Islands was cut short by a range of illnesses between us. We’re making this one count.

Boathouse degustation menu

Boathouse degustation menu

We later learn that this is a transition menu as the kitchen moves between last and this season’s dishes.

Enjoying champagne and the view

Enjoying champagne and the view

We order just after 7pm, and it’s admittedly a long wait between ordering and the first course. The twilight is distracting, and the sun actually beams hot through the glass – but not for long enough to be uncomfortable, even for this fair-skinned lass.

While we wait, we’re served gazpacho in shot glasses, with sourdough bread and (don’t quote me) black fennel butter.

Bread and gazpacho starter

Bread and gazpacho starter

Even though I’m not confident with my description, the butter’s among the best I’ve tasted. Boyfriend normally abhors butter and ‘fatty’ foods, but I find for the first time that I have to fight for him to just get an equal serving – a very good sign!

The wine paired to our first dish is the Mt Majura 2013 riesling, described to us as crisp, clean and acidic, and ‘from over the hill’. It’s followed by the first feast for our eyes and palates: yellowfin tuna, watermelon, sumac yoghurt, cucumber and gin. There are a lot of elements and textures but they each serve as a complement to the other; it’s light, tasty and stimulates the senses.

Yellowfin tuna with cucumber

Yellowfin tuna with watermelon

A different angle

A different angle

Check out the colours of the sun shining through - gorgeous

Check out the colours of the sun shining through – gorgeous

There’s no issue with the wait from here on. As the colours transform in front of us, the 2012 Ubergris from Whitlands winery, near Beechworth, is poured. The next dish is described as a combination of ‘funky elements’: corn, liquid nitrogen and blue cheese. I’m no fan of corn, but the only word to describe this dish is extraordinary.

Stilton blue cheese and corn with a good helping of liquid nitrogen

Stilton blue cheese and corn with a good helping of liquid nitrogen

With fermented (sous vide) pear and lychee, there’s basically an ice cream (thanks to the LN2) of blue cheese and corn topped with a crisp of, I think, sesame. While we’ve still got knives and forks, our waiter carefully places a spoon with our dish, and gently suggests that a fork just ain’t gonna cut it.

(It definitely needs a spoon.)

This dish doesn’t look like it works, and I can’t find a way of describing it to you to prove it to you… but it really does work.

From here the light farewells us – and I can’t help but take to Twitter (I promise this is relevant!).

My wines start to pile up a little at this point, but it’s no bother – they’re excellent.

One of those spectacular Canberra days - bright sunlight and rain in the distance

One of those spectacular Canberra days – bright sunlight and rain in the distance


If I’ve any complaint at all, it’s that the next dish borders on too big. There are so many filling parts to this pretty dish of South Coast snapper which is sat on top of zucchini blossom and shellfish (prawn) mouuse, together with saffrone fume, squid ink noodles and a yabbie on top. Phew! It’s equally matched with a Rutherglen Roussane Viognier Marsanne.

This is a BIG dish!

This is a BIG dish!

This would be a filling (and balanced, I must say!) main course on its own. Degustations commonly contain smaller servings, but this isn’t the Boathouse’s philosophy. I’m loosening my belt as we work through it.

Finally comes a dish on which Boyfriend and I disagree: the fermented carrots. Again, no complaints with the wine (a 2010 Principia Altoir which has been opened an hour ago to let the flavours work best), but Boyfriend just doesn’t get this dish. I’m no vegetable lover, but I’d eat this dish of carrots with garden dill and gingerbread and licorice crumb, served over a yoghurt infused with (I think) tarragon and celery every day.

Fermented carrots

Fermented carrots

For Boyfriend, there’s just too much crunch – crunchy carrots, crunchy ‘soil’; the textures become a bit tedious.

We’re past half way now, and it’s edging 9pm. The next dish is a sous vide lamb loin and breast with sheep’s milk yoghurt, roasted fennel and burnt shallots, together with a 2003 Seppelt Chambalar Shiraz.

Sous vide lamb - yum!

Sous vide lamb – yum!

I’m getting repetitive, but it’s another great dish. You’d think so far through the degustation that if the flavours and textures weren’t yet exhausted, our mouths and appetite would be, but this is another dish where our knives slice through the meat like they would through butter, and our plates are quickly scraped clean.

We move into new territory now: dessert. What comes before us is a symphony of strawberries: strawberries sous vide (a common theme!), strawberry sorbet, fresh strawberries, strawberry pearls, strawberry puree, strawberry cloud (marshmall0w), champagne jelly and pistachio crumb.

If you had any doubt about the use of strawberries…

Can you spot all the different types of strawberries?

Can you spot all the different types of strawberries?

You know what I’m going to say: it’s interesting, and it’s tasty – it’s great. While the ingredient’s clear, each bite is a different experience. The pistachio crumble or soil keeps the dish grounded (ho ho!), offering a different and more savoury texture and taste to what could otherwise be an overpowering dish. After a tour through Victorian wineries, this dish brings us back to what we claim to be a Canberra winery, with the Lerida Estate Botrytis Pinot Gris.

We arrive at the final dish: the pumpkin cheesecake ice cream, which I later learn Gourmet Traveller has named one of the best dishes of 2013 (if you think my descriptions are OTT, try reading this).  The ice cream is set on a scrape of black sesame custard, with beurre noisette crumbs, goats cheese marshmallow and salted caramel popcorn. (And it’s just made a reappearance on the menu.)

Pumpkin cheesecake ice cream

Pumpkin cheesecake ice cream

This is a pretty dish, an ambitious dish, and a tasty dish. It comes out steaming, thanks to the liquid nitrogen on the popcorn to make it not just super sweet, but super cold; ice-cold popcorn is unquestionably a dessert. While the strawberries came with a sticky, sweet botrytis, this is matched with an ice wine Viognier from Orange – still a dessert wine, but less sticky and sweet. Together, this match is a good balance for the palate, and a great way to end the night.

But wait.

Just as we’re ready to leave, I’m presented with a gift, of sorts, from the kitchen.


How did they know? Twitter?

On the food, wine and service alone, the restaurant is exciting and fun, with a thoughtful approach to the menu, and care afforded to the experience. The location and views serve to elevate the night.

The Boathouse is the best restaurant in Canberra. It will take a lot to change my mind.

Date: Thursday, 30 January 2014

Where: The Boathouse by the Lake, Grevillea Park, Menindee Drive, Barton (facing the Kingston Foreshore, not on the Kingston Foreshore side)

Cost: $110 each for food + $50 each more for matching wines + extra for starting beer and champagne

Food creativity: 8.5 out of 10 (Brooks was 9.5)

Waitstaff pretentiousness: Low – our waiter is personable and engaging, leaving it to us at the right moment, and answering our questions when needed. What’s more, it appears he has a good rapport with the kitchen – critical!

Worthwhile factor: You need to ask?

Want more? Try The Boathouse website here; keep in mind it’s open for Valentine’s Day bookings with the proposed menu here.

PS – you may have noticed these photos are all with my sad Samsung Galaxy – I arrived with a camera with a flat battery! I think that the photos still look rather good serves to even further highlight just how good the food is!

Boathouse By the Lake on Urbanspoon


17 Responses to “The Boathouse by the Lake”

  1. whisperinggums February 7, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    The Boathouse is a hidden treasure. We’ve been there many times over many years – for romantic dinners, for family celebrations – and have rarely been disappointed. I understand they eschew (love that word) being reviewed for the good food guide and so they tend not to appear in many lists, but word of mouth gets around doesn’t it!

    My mum, dad and I turned up on one occasion, probably 3 or 4 years ago for lunch for my birthday (hubby was at work). It had been booked – but we hadn’t realised that they were ONLY doing a degustation style menu for lunch. That’s often a problem for my mum and me who have several food intolerances. Oh no, we thought, will we need to go somewhere else. But no, we told the kitchen our issues on the spot and they turned out a stupendous meal. (Having just eaten in the last two weeks at Artisan, Aubergine and OnRed, all repeat visits and of course we have been to Sage a few times, I can’t help thinking how lucky we are in Canberra to have such a range of excellent restaurants that are reasonably priced for what you get and are so accessible. Woo hop).

    Oh and Happy Birthday, belatedly. We are in birthday season now – hubby and son in Feb and me in March – which accounts for some of our recent dining!

  2. Liz February 7, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Looks great (esp that pumpkin cheesecake dessert and the lamb). Beautiful views too

  3. Helen February 7, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Fascinating. Truly I had no idea it was this good. I’ve been before, a long time ago, for a lunch I think and it seemed ok. Mostly I’ve dismissed it because I’ve been there for work based courses and workshops and can’t come at the idea of a romantic or special dinner somewhere attached to work. I might have to rethink that! Awesome write up Tara. Thanks!

  4. Jas@AbsolutelyJas February 7, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Yaaay! Someone shares my love for the boathouse! It’s my go-to for special dinners (I think we’ll book it for the upcoming 2nd wedding anniversary!) and it’s always brilliant. Love the use of the liquid nitrogen too, so much fun 🙂

  5. Amy R February 11, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    My mouth is watering just reading this! When’s the next flight to Canberra?!!

  6. Eric March 2, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Artisan is better value for money a la carte. Boathouse is great, but not as good value.

    • inthetaratory March 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      I’ve reviewed Artisan. It’s my second choice – i agree it’s fabulous but Boathouse is better.

  7. whisperinggums March 15, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    Back again … We went last night for my somewhat belated birthday, though it was this week! It was beautiful as usual. Worst part .. The jet making a few passes over practising for Skyfire early in the evening, deafening. Funniest part … Being given a treat too at the end, only it said ‘Happy anniversary’! Wires crossed somewhere. Cutest part … A proposal, accepted, at the table next door. As for the food, wonderful, except for one dish being a little too salty for my palate. The service was exactly as you describe, the ambience stunning, and the background music just right.

    Oh, and my GF and DF mum loved the special dessert of sheep’s yoghurt sorbet with fresh raspberries.

    We’ve been here many times over the years, though the last would have been a couple of years ago, and it has rarely disappointed – a special place.


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