Boathouse by the Lake Redux

19 May

Since our extraordinary dinner at Boathouse by the Lake back in January, I’ve struggled to find something to match it. Until now.

What could possibly be better than that experience at Boathouse by the Lake? Another experience at Boathouse by the Lake!

When you think of fine dining, you don’t necessarily think of feeling ‘at home’. But a few hours in, with a lot of laughter and fun, and interesting dishes – not to mention a warm, crackling fire – it feels simply like very good friends of ours are treating us to an extraordinary dinner.

Away from us, there’s a couple who appear to be having an intimate dinner – and I’ve no doubt Boathouse has afforded this opportunity at the same time.

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning.

First tick: the five of us are placed around a circular table right near the fire. When you’re in a big group (not a huge group, but a big group), you want to be on a round table, so you can see and hear everyone no matter where you are.

Squid ink, fennel, wholemeal and seeded bread

Squid ink, fennel, wholemeal and seeded bread

Squid ink bread

Squid ink bread

The bread is warm and delicious, and I love the different flavours; I have to stop myself going back for a third (yes, third) roll because I know we’ve got a lot ahead of us in the six course degustation.

Cuttlefish with rockmelon, buche d'affinois and almond

Cuttlefish with rockmelon, buche d’affinois (very, very creamy cheese) and almond

Surprisingly, I’m not the biggest fan of our first dish – but that’s largely because I’m not really familiar with cuttlefish as the star of a dish, and rockmelon – even beautifully shaved and presented rockmelon – isn’t my favourite food. I find the cuttlefish a little tough (though suspect it’s supposed to be), and the texture combination of it, the cheese, the rockmelon and the almonds a little confusing and mismatched – and it’s surprisingly salty.

Never fear! This is the only dish that gets a score of average from me. The rest (and there are a lot) range from great to awe-inspiring.

Octopus which has been sous-vide(d?) at 62 degrees and then grilled over charcoal is next, served on wild black rice with a slick sauce nero.

Octopus with wild rice, chilli schezwan jam, pig skin and avruga

Octopus with wild rice, chilli schezwan jam, pig skin and avruga

The chilli jam brings the flavours together, and I’m a big fan of the pig skin garnish. I love the textures in the dish – the slightly chewy rice matches the texture and serves as a good backdrop for the flavour of the octopus.

Even though it’s only my second dinner at the Boathouse, I really should expect to be surprised but I’m still chuffed and humbled with the next dish. Earlier, the kitchen had been very accommodating and swapped out the cuttlefish in the degustation for one of our guests who doesn’t eat a lot of seafood for another dish of her choice. I’d recommended the smoked corn – having gushed about it at the previous dinner. While our guest hadn’t chosen it, our waiter took note – and it’s brought out as the next dish for all of us to enjoy.

Smoked corn, nitro blue cheese, sous vide pickled pear, sesame and lychee

Smoked corn, nitro blue cheese, sous vide pickled pear, sesame and lychee

The shock of the cool smoked corn ice cream and the crumbs of nitro Stilton blue cheese are just as good as I remember. This is a flavour sensation and the thin slices of lychee mean the palate is cleansed when it could be overwhelmed.

It’s already turning into a very special dinner, and I’m looking forward to trying the rest of the menu with a few more challenging flavour combinations.

Confit chicken leg and sous vide chicken breast

Confit chicken leg and sous vide chicken breast

Chicken leg, chicken breast, slices of raw cauliflower and a cauliflower puree? You don’t need me to tell you that this works well. The black ash on the plate is pine needle charcoal which has been carefully blended into a white powder.

And then… yes, it’s another surprise dish. This is an onion and rosemary tart – something I’d likely not order if given the option (given my aversion to surprise onion) – but deconstructed style.

Deconstructed rosemary and onion tart

Deconstructed rosemary and onion tart

The pastry is rosemary shortcrust, met with thin slices of olive paper, a creamy onion custard and onion jus. There are big glaring pieces of onion, but I actually like (some of) the juicy pieces.

If you wonder if we’re getting full at this point, the answer is absolutely yes. Thankfully, the new flavours and textures of each dish means my stomach somehow keeps finding room.

Beef flank with raddichio, mayonnaise, horse radish and cucumber

Beef flank with raddichio, mayonnaise, horse radish and cucumber

This is a small, gorgeous dish; perfect in its simplicity. There’s little that works better than tender beef matched with mayonnaise and horse radish. It’s salty, creamy and spicy.

And now: desserts. This is the first night for the nitro walnut mousse and the waiter serves it with a good helping of superlatives.

Nitro walnut mousse, with honey parsnip, pomegranate and banana

Nitro walnut mousse, with honey parsnip, pomegranate and banana

This is a liquid nitrogen walnut mousse with caramelised honey parsnips and celeriac ice cream. There are a lot of flavours here and, despite the coldness of the dish, I think it works beautifully as a winter dish with cozy flavours. If I’m comparing it to the pumpkin dessert which made it into Gourmet Traveller last year, this is still a stunning dish, but the pumpkin holds a special place in my heart.

Finally (we think) the last (we think) dessert arrives – courtesy of the chefs who bring out the : pineapple carpaccio with mascarpone and fennel pollen parfait, pineapple and ginger sorbet and smoking liquid nitrogen meringue chalk.

Happy that I somehow managed to capture the smoke!

Happy that I somehow managed to capture the smoke!

This is another special dish – the parfait in particular is special, but everything’s good: there’s the chalky, sweet meringue; the piquant pineapple carpaccio; the smooth but slightly bitter and zesty sorbet.

While we gush to the chef about our love for this dish, we get our final surprise: an offer of a final final dessert. Of course we say yes.

Mandarin textures

Mandarin textures

That squiggly bit at the bottom of the dish? Yep, that’s spaghetti. Yes, you read that right. This is reminiscent of the strawberry textures dish – the sweet tartness of five imaginings of mandarin are offset by black pepper custard, burnt white chocolate and thyme custard.

But what about the wine? We (wisely) agree not to match our wines with this degustation, knowing the food was going to fill us up without a glass of wine with each dish. Some of us have a little more, others a little less, some have some wines and some have others, and our waiter obliges – matching wines to the more than one dish (no mean feat), offering a bottle if we’d like to have a little more, but ensuring there’s no pressure on us to finish a bottle. The standout to me is the Les Capriades Blanc Piege a Filles (I think I’ve got that right!) – a mix of chenin blanc and menu pineau grapes. There’s no added sulphur or extra sugar – our waiter describes it as like fairy floss without the sugar.

In sum? Boathouse by the Lake is still the best restaurant in Canberra. It’s fun but intimate; personal and personable. The service is light-hearted but obliging and serious where it matters. The food speaks for itself but the best way I can describe it is compelling. It draws you in, and holds your attention from start to finish – in fact, it’s how I’d describe the entire experience.

Date: Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Where: Menindee Drive, Barton (not the Parliament House side of Barton)

Cost: $100 for six (plus three extra!) course degustation, and varied for the wines ($50 to match the wines)

Value for money: High

Worthwhile factor: Extremely high

Want more? Check out my review from the first time I went; or Rachi’s excellent review of this experience.

Boathouse By the Lake on Urbanspoon

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11 Responses to “Boathouse by the Lake Redux”

  1. whisperinggums May 19, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Woo hoo, eh … this place is truly wonderful. I have been there before with the fire and it’s gorgeous. And I agree re the round table. Whenever we’ve had an extended family do there we’ve always asked for and got a round table.

  2. veronicashortandsweet May 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    Great post! I think the Boathouse menu is on a par with Sage but the whole dining experience is more relaxing. I love their squid ink rolls. And the butter!!!

  3. Liz Posmyk of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things May 20, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

    Gee, what a surprise…. the last two times I ate there (when I went there for courses with work) the food was really bad (I wasn’t the only one who thought so)! And to make matters worse, there was barely a vegetable in sight. Good to hear that things have improved…. significantly by the sounds.

    • inthetaratory May 21, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

      How long ago was this, Liz? I think it’s gone under a pretty dramatic change in maybe the last 1-2 years? I think it’s well deserving of its (new found?) hype πŸ™‚

      • Liz Posmyk of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things May 22, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

        Hi Tara, it was sometime around 2008 maybe? We were a large group of women, there for a two-day course. Lunch consisted of a pork hock the skin of which was soft, fatty and disgusting. The meat underneath was grey. The hock was sitting on a bed of … wait for it… couscous. And there was some sort of truffled sauce. Ugh!!! I can still taste it. Not a vegetable, nor salad in sight. We actually pleaded with the management that we were females, not farmhands, and could we please have some vegetables, if not salads, the following day. I’m glad to hear that they have changed dramatically, for believe me, they needed to!

      • whisperinggums May 23, 2014 at 1:21 am #

        That’s interesting Liz … I wonder if that was their “function food”? I have been there many times over the last two decades and while the food has varied to some degree, it’s never been terrible. It’s been more that a piece of meat was a little tough or dry, or a meal wasn’t quite hot enough, but never anywhere near “disgusting” just, sometimes, not inspiring. Mostly it’s been evenings, but I did go once for my birthday for lunch, around 2008-2010. It was a degustation style menu and they blew us away with their ability and willingness to completely tailor on the spot almost every course due to food intolerances at our table. We felt that was real “chaffing”.

  4. whisperinggums May 23, 2014 at 1:22 am #

    That was supposed to be be “cheffing” but the darned autocorrect kept correcting and I thought it had finally taken my neologism!

    • Liz Posmyk of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things May 23, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

      Hi there I promise it was disgusting… I don’t often say something that strong about food I’ve eaten in restaurants, but this was definitely the case at this establishment over a two-day period. Perhaps it was their function food, but with an all female contingent, they really hadn’t thought the menu through. And those hocks on the couscous with the truffle, gah!!! That said, I’m sure things have improved 300% or more by the sounds of things.

      • whisperinggums May 23, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

        It must surely have been their function food because I’ve been there on and off since it opened and many times since 1997. I’ve never had anything disgusting. That does sound like an odd combination for an all-woman contingent – and was it lunch? Even moreso for a lunch dish.

  5. Kim May 26, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    I think I need to make another trip to Canberra and that you will need a third trip to Boathouse.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2014 – a year for eating all the things (until I lost 90% of my stomach) | Mouthless Mutters - December 31, 2014

    […] so so glad I ended my life of degustations with this wonderful dinner. Tara wrote about our evening here, and so did Rachi […]

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