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It’s taken a long time to be convinced to dine at The Boat House by the Lake, mainly because the venue is inextricably coupled in our minds with the notion of ‘wedding venue’, the Boat House’s weekend alter-ego, and corporate functions. A birthday celebration was the needed push to taste the restaurant’s a la carte credentials, and it passed the test pretty well – it’s polished, sleek and traditional with a just a twist of modern, with a firm focus on the food.

The venue itself, in pride of place overlooking Lake Burley Griffin at Grevillea Park, Barton, is a straight-out win. Mid-week it wasn’t difficult to secure a seat at the extended window-wall overlooking the water to the string of Kingston foreshore night lights and Kings Avenue bridge, with the flag on The Hill subtly waving to the right. Not quite the glory of Sydney Harbour’s sparkly magic, but an impressive Canberra view, matched on the inside by the glowing, ambient flames of a fireplace (yep, September and we still need some heating). No crowded floor here and being bombarded with other patrons’ irritating conversations (intriguing as they may sometimes be): part of the large room is closed off and excess tables removed to create a spacious and private feel to suit the number of patrons. Lovely.

Spoilt as we are in Canberra for BYO, the Boat House doesn’t encourage it – as their website states, they have an extensive wine list, but they are accommodating for special bottles ($25 charge). Given we had a special bottle (La Pleiade 2006 shiraz by Laughtons of Heathcote, but that’s another story), we didn’t take a peek at what they have to offer, though as expected matched wines are possible with the degustation ($40).

The menu has become a degustation-only affair at some point in the recent past – with a choice of 7 set courses for $100, or 4 courses for $80 for the less robust (us!), or with a bit of persuasion the accommodating staff may be coerced into letting you go for just three. But hell, it was a birthday after all, so let’s go nuts with four.

Interesting flavours and ingredients abounded during the evening. Delightful honey carrots made special by an (abundant) dusting of cacao rib and caraway and seated on a bed of goat milk yogurt, and a new discovery was made of kohlrabi – a root vegetable aka German turnip apparently, thinly sliced and bursting with freshness. Course number two brought excellent Moreton Bay bugs draped (literally) with a coverlet of passionfruit and ham hock infused gel nesting on chargrilled miniature cos leaves. An excellent and interesting dish, though the provided knife and fork proved quite inadequate to deal with the resulting flavoured broth. The main courses had mixed success at our table. The lamb cutlets were perfectly pink (sous-vide for 60 minutes), but the accompanying soy eggplant was unnecessarily strong, and the south coast snapper (always thought that needed an ‘h’), which appeared smothered under a clumsy-looking cover of thinly sliced Jerusalem artichoke and looking a bit like a doona cover, was overpowered by the squid ink sea it rested in and would have benefited from a light vegetable accompaniment. The little quenelle of pumpkin condiments that appeared elsewhere in the evening would have been perfect, for example.

Dessert presented an interesting array of choices, beyond the usual suspects. The refreshing and flavoursome burnt strawberry featured touches of strawberry – fresh and crumbled, crisp shortbread and fromage frais and even sorbet, though the strawberry cremeaux was of the way-too-flummery variety. The carrot opera cake was an exercise in layered technique and flavour, with mousse-like layers vying for attention with slivers of pastry and licorice, but don’t blink or you’ll miss the promised meringue. Even the pannacotta was enlivened on the menu with an intriguing chervil and cucumber sorbet.

We weren’t planning on trying the banana mousse (not sure that term should ever appear on a restaurant menu), but when a delightfully iced plate sporting a birthday message and two mini banana mousse squares appeared as a final and lovely touch, it had to be sampled. The textures were lovely, but I remain committed to my opinion that banana mouse is a term to be avoided on menus of any ilk. Ever.

While a couple of tweaks could have improved the presentation and balance of the meals, the Boat House is certainly more than a corporate food venue. With friendly and competent staff who are more than happy to find out and explain the intricacies of the dishes and with a menu worthy of exploration, it sits comfortably in Canberra’s fine dining scene.

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