It's a beautiful spring evening out on the lake, cool but not too cold out. A family of ducklings is making their way home as the wind rustles through the trees.
Sitting in The Boat House's dining room overlooking Lake Burley Griffin, this dinner has felt like a long time coming. For 14 months we were largely without restrictions - aware, but not really affected by COVID in our little Canberra bubble. Now, emerging out of lockdown, it feels like things are finally about to change. Restrictions are lifting, borders reopening, families reuniting.
The Boat House's glass dining room feels like the perfect spot to reflect on the year, or rather years of living through bushfires followed by a once-in-a-century pandemic. Here, chairs are set up to all face outwards, overlooking the lake. You can revel in the joy of dining out again while watching the world go by.
They've made great efforts to be COVID-safe. Tables are spaced far apart and drink menus are via QR code. Printed food menus still grace our tables; four courses ($115) each with four options except the chef's course, which is set. Ever the ceramics nerd, I enjoy seeing servingware from local producers Bison in use here.
Service is friendly and efficient, though it's not really a place to linger. Seating times are a firm two hours because they need the table back for the second seating. At time of writing, the restaurant is fully booked for December. If you're after a glass of wine with a view, their outdoor bar, Armada, is open Friday to Sunday.
The drinks list is impressive, and not just for its variety; there's a range of non-alcoholic options, along with beer and spirits, but also for its collection of regional wines. A range of local favourites such as Helm, Collector and Clonakilla live amongst the wine list, along with smaller producers like Whitton Farm and Chalkers Crossing. There's lot to tempt by the glass too. Tonight, it's hard to resist one of our Barossa Valley favourites - Rockford's Rod and Spur ($19 by the glass, $45 carafe).
An amuse-bouche is quick to land on our table. We're instructed to "fold it up and eat like a taco". It's a perfect bite of balanced flavours and contrasting textures - fresh betel leaf and spanner crab, finished with crisp onion rings and toasted sesame.
Food here leans towards the classic; strikingly plated and precise, with an emphasis on clean flavours and solid technique. There's a glimmer of Asian influence woven in amongst the traditional, making everything just that little bit more exciting. The chef's course, for example, is a single, plump tortellino in a wonderfully clear, deep brown consommé, a leaf of Russian kale draped over the top. I think I detect a hint of spice - star anise, or five spice perhaps and chilli - that's a nice twist. It's a beautiful mouthful, gamey kangaroo tail against the earthiness of mushroom consommé.
An entrée of scallops comes tucked under a mound of tiny squid ink cavatelli. The cavatelli is perfectly al dente - chewy and moreish, and the saltiness from diced chorizo contrasts the sweetness of the scallops.
Dishes like the crown roast duck still linger in my memory. Mushroom and pistachio sausage is tucked under the skin of a perfectly pink duck breast, and its golden skin is crisp and gleaming. The bitterness of radicchio is a welcome foil against the richness of the duck, and I love the little lift that the pistachio adds.
For mains, my partner opts for Riverina angus scotch fillet with pommes anna. The steak is cooked well, but the potatoes are a highlight, intricately layered and browned on the top. With firmly French flavours, Chinese cabbage and shiitake mushrooms add another unexpected and interesting Asian twist.
The Berkshire pork rib with whey-braised leek and padron peppers is another winner. Garnished with bright orange nasturtiums, bold char lines grace the pork, while the sweetness of the leek balances the savouriness of black garlic.
Raspberry ripe is a cracker of a dessert - a twist on a cherry ripe. The dish looks simple enough - a dark chocolate dome studded with pink meringue slivers. Cut open, it reveals layers of raspberry mousse, coconut and chocolate dacquiose. The combination of flavours is elevated by the nostalgia of eating cherry ripe bars. I wish I didn't have to share.
Fortunately, the citrus layer cake of Meyer lemon, cumquat, yuzu and mandarin is similarly delightful. Layers of jelly, mousse, curd and meringue are gorgeously layered - yellow, orange, white. I wish I remembered more of it, but like its friend, the raspberry ripe, it's gone in a flash. I love when dessert isn't just an afterthought.
It's a rather luxurious night out, but with its iconic setting and some exciting spins on classics, dining at The Boat House is one of those Canberra bucket list experiences not to be missed. Book in for the 6pm sitting - if you're lucky you'll also get fantastic sunset views over Lake Burley Griffin.
Address: Grevillea Park, Menindee Drive, Barton, ACT
Phone: 6273 5500
Hours: Lunch, Friday to Sunday. Dinner, Thursday to Saturday
Owner: James Souter
Chef: Jack Gould
Vegetarian: Limited options
Noise: Not an issue
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