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Dear Boathouse By The Lake, 

Do you remember me? What’s that you say – you’re not quite sure? Allow me to jog your memory. 

Picture this: A young lady in a new dress brought all the way back from The City of Lights, sitting at one of your big round tables, celebrating the 90th birthday of the dapper white-haired gentleman seated across from her. (Get your mind out of the gutter, Boathouse. He’s her grandfather, not Hugh Hefner.) She’s the one who correctly identified a giraffe’s ankle as being what most people think of as its knee (her Tasmanian uncle and cousin had just visited Canberra’s zoo*, and were testing her knowledge). 

The man on her left ordered this: 

Boathouse Gnocchi

Fiddlesticks. This dish came from the vegetarian menu, which is not listed on the Boathouse website. It was gnocchi with (I believe) blue cheese in some form. Mmm, blue cheese.

Are you starting to remember? You are? And you have a sinking feeling in the pit of your restaurant stomach? That feeling could have something to do with this Valrhona chocolate soufflé, which you served the unsuspecting lass at the end of the night. Did you really think you’d get away with taking Valrhona’s name in vain when plating a dessert for someone who consistently spends hundreds of dollars on fancy-pants chocolate when she travels? 

Not the smartest move, Boathouse. Throwing all third-person narration out the window, I may not be able to tell Balenciaga from Prada or Jimmy Choo from Manolo Blahnik, but I do know my Valrhona. Your soufflé failed to live up to its glorious richness. 

Here’s proof. 

Valrhona Caraïbe Noisette

Valrhona Caraibe Noisette

For some reason reading “Caraïbe Noisette” makes me think “Cosette”, which leads me to Les Miserables, which reminds me that I like Éponine far more than Cosette, if only because On My Own and A Little Fall of Rain aren’t as irritating as Castle On a Cloud. The End.

As well as producing straight-up bars of its various Grand Cru chocolates (such as the Abinao bar), Valrhona also sells these high quality blends mixed with various additions. 

Camille, you might be pleased to know that I finally tracked down your favourite Caraïbe during my last days in New York, albeit with hazelnuts added.  

Valrhona Caraibe NoisetteAs soon as I broke off a corner of this chocolate and placed it in my mouth, a heady, deep, slightly-tangy yet ever-luxurious richness took over my senses. If there’s one thing that always strikes me about Valrhona, it’s the utter chocolatiness of its chocolate. This makes Valrhona a somewhat tricky beast to describe, for in many ways it simply encapsulates everything you imagine chocolate to be. 

Once the initial rush of flavour ended, I was able to distinguish the unique qualities of the 66% Caraïbe blend. It has a little bit of cedar and smoke, but the main flavour notes distinguishing the Caraïbe from the Abinao and Guanaja are red plum, natural yogurt, citrusy honey and even, perhaps, a little bit of orange. The hazelnuts were of less interest to me than the chocolate itself, but I will say that they were fresh and well-roasted, and contributed a pleasant savoury edge to the otherwise sweet (albeit not cloyingly so) chocolate. 

Valrhona Caraibe Noisette

The colour of the chocolate in the above photo is truer to life. Darn my not-quite-there photography skills.

So, Boathouse? This is what your chocolate soufflé ought to have tasted like, seeing as you tagged it with the Valrhona label and all. 

And, erm, if you do remember me the next time I cross your threshold, please know that I write this only in the hopes of helping you achieve dessert greatness in the future.

(In other words, please don’t spit in my food.)

Yours sincerely, 

Hannah. 

* Her favourite animal to visit at the zoo is the red panda. She’d like to smuggle one home under her jacket, but sadly Smurf Kitchen isn’t pet-friendly. Yep, that’s the only reason she’s resisting Grand Theft Mammal at the moment.

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Having already chatted about the lunch celebration my Mum and I hosted for my Grandpa on his 90th birthday, it seems only fitting that I tell you about his birthday dinner at The Boathouse By The Lake, one of Canberra’s fancier restaurants. 

I must admit that I found the food this year a little less spectacular in innovation and execution than it has been in the past. Still, it was tasty, and more importantly the night itself was buckets of fun. I haven’t laughed so hard in yonks, and throughout the night I kept thinking how lucky I was/am to have such a fantastic family. 

I’m here sharing not only some of the night’s dishes, but a few of its moments of giggling too. My hope is at least something in here makes you smile. 

The Boathouse Saffron and Mussel Soup, Amaretto Sorbet

The freebies: an amuse bouche of Saffron and Mussel Soup, and a palate cleanser of Amaretto Sorbet. My soup was a vibrant orange whereas my neighbour's was a lovely creamy colour. I think hers was the 'right' way, for mine tasted simply like melted butter with some chilli. The Amaretto Sorbet was a bit too sweet for a palate cleanser, so my Dad valiantly finished off about four of them. Bravo, good sir!

Conversational Tidbit #1 (en route to restaurant):

Me: What’s a Chef de Commis? Am I pronouncing it right? [i.e. “commie”]
The Brother/E.TeacherLord: The communist chef.
Me: Ah, so I guess they make all the red sauces.
The Brother/E.TeacherLord: [spreading his arms wide] And then hand them out to everyone!
[pause]
Me: And then eat all your babies. 

The Boathouse Oysters with Salmon Roe and Mirin Dressing

My entree: Nine Coffin Bay Oysters with Ginger and Mirin Dressing, Yarra Valley Salmon Caviar. I religiously order natural oysters in fancy restaurants.

Conversational Tidbit # 2 [en route to restaurant]:

Me: I think I should have worn my contacts. Everything’s really blurry.
Mum: Why on earth didn’t you?
Me: Well, I got excited because, as I wasn’t driving, I didn’t need to wear my glasses. I didn’t think to put on the contacts.
The Brother/E.TeacherLord: But you just said everything’s blurry.
Me: Exactly! I was excited by not wearing glasses and I forgot that I can’t see. 

(Yeah. It took a second for what I’d said to sink in, and then there was much laughter. I’d like to think that the four people in the car were laughing with me rather than at me. Seeing as (ooh, pun!) I heard my brother retelling this conversation to my uncle later in the night, though, I think it was more at.) 

The Boathouse Blue Cheese Ravioli

My main: Gippsland Shadows of Blue Cheese Ravioli, Caramelised Onion and Spiced Beetroot Salad, Kardinia Riesling Foam. This was, without a doubt, my favourite dish of the night. I have an anti-foam stance, but this version truly tasted like Riesling and played beautifully with the ultra creamy (albeit mild) blue cheese ravioli filling and the sweet beetroot relish. The highlight of the night, foodwise.

The Boathouse Crispy Skinned Salmon

My dear seat-neighbour's Crispy Skinned Tasmanian Salmon Fillet on Avocado, Pinenut, Roast Capsicum, Sweetcorn & Rocket Salad, Mango Aioli. She quite liked the salmon, but the salad beneath suffered from the restaurant's tendency to over-sweeten some of its savoury dishes.

To showcase how absolutely awesome my grandpa is, I’d like to share with you some of the 20 quotes he handpicked for us to read aloud throughout the night. You might be inclined to think that a 90-year-old choosing quotes for his relatives to read out on his birthday would opt for emotional, Hallmark-esque platitudes. 

In that case, you don’t know my family. 

Words of Wisdom Chosen by my 90-year-old Grandpa

Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.  (Charlotte Whitton, 1896-1978) 

Never try to keep up with the Joneses … drag them down to your level.  (Quentin Crisp, 1908-99) 

I spent a lot of my money on booze, birds and fast cars – the rest I just squandered. (Geo Best 1946/2005, Irish soccer player, who died of liver failure aged 59) 

Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. (Einstein) 

The Boathouse Kobe Beef

My uncle's Kobe Beef Fillet on Sautéed Garlic Desiree Potatoes, Lyonnais Onion, Parsley Coulis, Red Wine Jus, Shaved Foie Gras (Marble Score 9)

Conversational Tidbit #3 [returning from restaurant]:

Me: I actually wanted to order the venison entree, but my conscience wouldn’t let me because of the foie gras that came with it.
Mum: Me too. I felt too guilty to order it, so I got the kingfish ceviche instead. Foie gras’ production is horrible.
Me: I know. I couldn’t order it, even though I wanted the chocolate sauce and sesame puree it was served with.
Mum: Oh… I wanted the foie gras. 

The Boathouse Valhrona Souffle

My dessert: Valhrona Chocolate Soufflé, Pistachio Ice‐cream and Feuilletine.

Camille, remember how I thanked you for showing me that chocolate-based treats can be fantastic? I am tempted to take that back. Because of your influence, I went against my anti-chocolate-dessert instincts and ordered the chocolate souffle. 

Never again. This was not at all good, as the souffle tasted of nothing but egginess and sugar. Funnily enough, it was the only dessert to make the rounds of the table and be tasted by almost everyone, the majority of whom confirmed my opinion. Boathouse By The Lake? I know what Valhrona should taste like. Not only have I blogged about it, but I’ve eaten most of its range and have several favourites in my stash at the moment. Valrhona is rich, and deeply chocolatey, and this souffle wasn’t. At least the ice-cream was serviceable, and the cookie crumbs the ice-cream was served on were nicely buttery. Still, next time I’ll go with my gut and order the cheese plate. That, my friends, was tasty (I stole some from my dad). Apparently the passionfruit tart was pretty good too… 

The Boathouse Passionfruit Curd Tart

Passionfruit Curd Tart, Crème Fraiche, Coconut Shard.

The Blue Cheese Ravioli truly was stunning, though, and nothing could dampen what was a joyous night. 

I think I’ll end this rather long post by co-opting the language of Generation Whatever-Is-Below-Mine… 

I heart you all, my family.

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