My family is no stranger to The Boat House by the Lake, one of Canberra’s fine dining stalwarts, and yet it had been long enough since our last visit (four years, in fact) that I felt a little nervous walking through its doors last week. Would it live up to the magic I remembered? Had it changed in the intervening years? Had I?
The answer, on all counts, is yes. And while I may not be ready to express how my years in Canada changed me, I can say that The Boat House has definitely only improved with time.
The Boat House by the Lake offers a degustation for $100 a head, or an a la carte option of four courses (with the first being the ‘chef’s choice’) for $80. As my mother has a few allergies to juggle, we chose a la carte, and barely had we placed our savoury orders when the above dazzling plate was set before us.
This wasn’t even the first course. It was a bonus appetiser platter, and sweet holy heavens did it set a brilliant tone for the evening. Clockwise from top left:
— olive shortbread, so divinely buttery that it almost crumbled to the touch
— fried whitebait, miles tastier than potato chips (I’m classy, yo)
— pork and veal terrine, soft and meaty with a lovely pop of herbs
— beetroot jelly, with layers of tangy jelly and sliced beetroot
— egg custard, presented almost too adorably to eat
As a side note, I must mention how great The Boat House was in adapting the menu to my mum’s allergies. The servers noted what she needs to avoid, then for the rest of the night explained how each dish had been altered (where necessary) for her. It makes a huge difference to be treated kindly rather than made to feel a nuisance.
Our first course was the chef’s choice of cured kingfish with cucumber noodles and shiitake consommé. Ohhhhh yes. The consommé was deeply savoury, the whisper-thin kingfish melted in the mouth, and the cucumber noodles were a cooling contrast.
Dad’s second course was the quail with witlof, pear, and blue cheese, while Mum and I both opted for the watermelon gazpacho with pickled rind, radish, and fetta:
This gazpacho was less sweet that I’d expected, and I’d love to know how the chefs coaxed such savoury tones from watermelon. The pickled rind was terrific, crisp and almost apple-like in flavour, and I loved that the radish was watermelon radish. I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE CHEFS, VERY CLEVER.
However, I only had eyes for my blue swimmer crab with avocado, tomato, and potato:
This blew me away. Imagine fresh crab bathed in avocado and (I think) remoulade, interspersed with carved petals of tomato, layered between freshly-made potato chips that, I’ll admit, were even better than the fried whitebait I previously said was better than potato chips. When the server came to clear our plates, I couldn’t help but rhapsodise over this dish, only to be told it’s a brand new menu item and this was the first night it’d been served. Fingers crossed it sticks around.
And now, of course, we come to the best part of any night: dessert.
Described as The Boat House’s take on an Iced Vovo, Dad had the ‘Raspberry Textures: coconut, biscuits, marshmallow’. While the presentation made me giggle, the springy raspberry marshmallows and quenelle of coconut ice cream were lovely.
But my dessert won.
Isn’t it gorgeous? This deconstructed pavlova pulled together chamomile jelly, basil granita, cream, a myriad mini meringues, and everything from tiny fresh banana and kiwi slices to plump glowing blackberries and raspberries.
At this point I pulled the marvellous manager of The Boat House into a conversation about whiskey, as one of my 2015 goals is to become Someone Who Likes Whiskey. I was steered towards a ten-year-old Glenmorangie that was surprisingly light and almost floral, and then the manager brought over a taster of an Ardbeg Islay malt whiskey, which tasted like pure smoke. It was fascinating.
Oh, and did I mention it was my dad’s birthday? We finished the night with a surprise gift from the kitchen: three chocolate ganache truffles, made mere moments before with ingredients safe for my mother to eat (I’m guessing they were nothing but dark chocolate, butter, and a little sugar, and by golly were they good).
Looking back on the night, I know that I wouldn’t have changed a single thing, a single dish, a single giddy moment. And Dad? Happy Birthday. You’re swell.