This review isn’t just about another good meal in Canberra. It is about a pleasing culinary experience that comes from a combination of quality food, a well-chosen wine list, impeccable service and the bonus of a location with lovely water views of Lake Burley Griffin.
The Boat House is one of Canberra’s long-standing restaurants and, for most, it is a special occasion destination. Many Canberrans will have been to The Boat House for a wedding, a special occasion family celebration or even a conference. But I am looking beyond that. The Boat House is one of a handful of grown-up restaurants in Canberra that is somewhere you can take anyone, especially someone you would like to impress.
Last year’s renovations have created a new look that is crisp and very contemporary; the restaurant sits comfortably by the side of the Lake; the decks wrap around the front to provide even more outside space; and the expanses of glass in the dining areas enhance the sparkling view, even on an early spring evening.
The Boat House (formerly Walter’s Restaurant in The Boathouse) was built on the site of the old East Basin rowing pavilion in Grevillea Park, close to the Russell Offices. It opened in April 1993. An article in the Canberra Times described the then Chief Minister, Rosemary Follett, performing the opening honours, with a description of a golden dragon rising out of the Lake, a gastronomic display of celery lilies, capsicum anthuriums, and beetroot roses, and entertainment supplied by Can-Can girls. Twenty-four years later, the presentation of food is somewhat different, but the original intention of creating a building that was designed to offer the sensation of floating on the Lake has been a success. Declared at its opening as being the sort of place that Canberra needed, the same is still true today.
Entry to any venue sets the tone and level of expectation for the evening. After a friendly greeting and coats cloaked, we are escorted across the polished wooden floor to the main dining room, nicely warm from the open fire, and pretty with the lights reflecting from the Kingston Foreshore. We are immediately offered a drink or a bottomless bottle of sparkling water.
The décor is restrained and minimalist, with subtle low lighting. Tables have a generous amount of space around them, the leather chairs are well-designed, and either side of the impressive corten steel fireplace hang large contemporary artworks. The owner, James Souter, has shown a keen eye for detail and thought everything through: acoustics are good, music pleasant and unobtrusive, and even with a couple of large groups and other small celebrations, the level of noise is low.
Chef John Leverink’s current menu straddles late winter and early spring and offers a short list of tempting options. I always love to see Cowra lamb on any menu, but I decide it is to be a seafood evening.
The degustation was tempting but we decided on the four-course meal as there was plenty of choice, including a vegetarian menu. The first course was the same for everyone, with four choices for each of the next three courses.
The first dish presented was a grilled king prawn served in an almond gazpacho with black garlic, sliced olives, and grapes. There was an interesting hint of chilli which came from the marinated olives: it was a piquant and complex dish that made a good start to the meal.
The Spanish Mackerel entree provided a subtle taste of the Mediterranean. Served lightly grilled on an avocado mouse, with tomatoes and goat cheese and a native herb, the flavours were perfectly matched. Our other entrée was another Mediterranean-style dish: tender grilled octopus with an unusual crisp made from the ink, tapioca and sesame, tender pickled cucumber, and compressed watermelon and yoghurt.
In between courses, we try to identify the buildings on the other side of the lake. The Kingston Foreshore seems far away, twinkling pleasingly on the south side of the Lake. Moving around to the west, we can clearly see the electric blue of artist Warren Langley’s “Touching Lightly” glass chimney on the Kingston Powerhouse reflecting dramatically across the Lake. For a moment, I mistake fast-moving lights as a water taxi (wishful thinking) when in fact it is cars speeding on Bowen Drive. Behind Barton apartment blocks can be seen the floodlight bell tower of St Andrews, and the outline of Parliament House and the National Institutions, and further around a bright strip of light that is the span of the Kings Avenue Bridge and Carillion. This is a really interesting view of the capital city of Australia.
The char-grilled Swordfish main was served on a bed of delicately braised fennel. It was garnished with fresh radish, caramelized walnuts and the new love of my life – beach banana – a succulent that is both salty and sweet and provided a soft crunch that made this dish very pleasing to the palate. I have since discovered the beach banana is now being farmed in East Gippsland.
The Angus eye fillet and wagyu brisket were both rich and complex, but not a heavy dish. The meat was tender and flavourful, the charcoal paper was intriguing, and there was a hint of ginger in the bone marrow jelly.
Surprisingly, the Majura Honey mousse was not too sweet. Coated with crystallized chocolate chips, and sitting on a marmalade of salted pear, it was finished with a light spray of whiskey.
Because the wine list has so many good local and regional wines offered by the glass, we decided to stick with local Canberra wines – 2016 Nick O’Leary White Rocks Riesling with citrus overtones was pleasing with the seafood dishes, and a Bordeaux-style 2015 Majura Estate Shiraz was perfect with the Angus beef main. There were other regional wines by the glass including the very good Italian-style Secco Rondinello Corvina from Freeman’s Hilltops region winery, and whites from Beechworth and Tumbarumba.
With our coffee came a couple of petits fours, and I knew immediately the tart pineapple pinot gris jube was just what I needed at the end of the meal. The evening was memorable: the small courses worked well, service was evenly paced, and waiters kept their eyes on every table with empty plates immediately whisked away. I was impressed with how knowledgeable our waiters were as they described each dish to us. We enjoyed well-sourced good quality food, beautifully cooked, presented, and exceptionally attentive – indeed impeccable service. An evening out at The Boat House, Barton was hard to fault and shouldn’t just be reserved for special occasions. It is so good you should find any excuse to make a booking and go soon.
Location: The Boat House is located right on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin on Menindee Drive off Parkes Way near Russell. There is a large car park and overflow parking along Menindee Drive.
Cost: $90 menu for four courses with cheese for an extra $10. The very tempting degustation menu is $120.00, cheese course extra $10, and with matched wines, add $70.00.
Wines: fully licensed with extensive wine list and a pleasing selection of wine by the glass. BYO by arrangement.
Reservations: essential. You can book here.
All images by the writer.
Maryann Mussared was a guest of The Boat House Restaurant