There are some absolute treasures to be discovered amidst the noise of Canberra's burgeoning restaurant scene. Boffins Restaurant at University House in 'old' Acton is one such establishment.
Boffins has been providing superb food, wine, and service for over 30 years. Whilst other establishments have come and gone with the trends, Boffins has stood the test of time. The restaurant offers a glimpse into the past, exuding the old world charm of the heritage-listed, award-winning building that surrounds it.
Officially opened in February 1954 by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, University House was the first building erected on the campus of the Australian National University and was originally used to accommodate students and academic staff.
Constructed around a beautifully landscaped central courtyard which is a perfectly tranquil retreat, University House is said to be representative of the modern architectural residential style influenced by British architectural schools and (Oxford-Cambridge) university colleges. Indeed, every time I visit I find myself transported to another world.
'Meet, Celebrate, Stay' is the mantra for University House - fitting methinks, given that it is home to Boffins Restaurant, together with Fellows Bar and Cafe, a 105-room hotel, and also private meeting and function rooms.
I have enjoyed numerous visits to both Boffins Restaurant, as well as the Great Hall - a rather magnificent venue where literary events are regularly held. These events are a rare opportunity for Canberra's food enthusiasts to meet some of Australia’s most well-known and influential chefs, while enjoying an evening of great food, wine, and conversation.
University House has hosted the Meet the Chef series for just under a year, during which time high profile guest chefs have included Matthew Evans, Adam Liaw, Paul West and James Viles. Stephanie Alexander AO, Mark Best and Manu Feildel are among the culinary giants expected to visit later this year.
The evenings are a culinary journey of the adventures, flavours, and techniques that have shaped each of the guest chefs. In the lead up to each event, chef Anshul works closely with the guest chef to design the menu. Dishes exemplify the flavour and style of cooking that the guest chef is known for - masterly prepared by chef Anshul and his team.
During dinner, the guest chef shares a conversation with a local journalist, discussing their cooking, philosophy, and experiences. The discussion is lively and interactive, with questions taken from the audience as well.
'The series offers the chance to taste the style of cooking that the guest chef champions, as well as learning more about them in an intimate setting,' Executive Chef, Anshul Chandna, explains.
With the Truffle Festival Canberra Region now in full swing, Boffins Restaurant is marking the season with truffle-laced dishes on the menu, as well as hosting a cocktail evening featuring artisan truffled canapés and wine pairing on 12 August.
Through to 21 August, Boffins will offer a new truffle special every two weeks. The dishes will star Black Perigord truffles, sourced from The Truffle Farm in Canberra.
When conceiving the dishes for the Truffle Festival, chef Anshul says he was inspired to create meals and pairings that highlighted the three core elements of truffle season – the winter season, local black truffles and fine wines. Chef has carefully paired each dish with a matching wine to complement and harmonise the truffle element.
Truffles at Twilight will be held on August 12, 2016 at 5:15pm. The cost is $65 per person. Book now.
To book a table for lunch or dinner at Boffins Restaurant, telephone +61 2 6125 5285.
For more information about upcoming events at University House, including the Meet the Chef series, visit the web site.
A conversation with Executive Chef, Anshul Chandna...
I had the pleasure of chatting with Executive Chef, Anshul Chandna, recently. Our conversation follows below:
Chef, thank you for your time. Please tell me a little about your background...
My pleasure, Liz. With more than 16 years of culinary experience, I joined ANU as Executive Chef in March 2012, bringing forth my food and hospitality knowledge of various five star hotels and celebrated restaurants which include The Westin Sydney Hotel; Westin Palm Springs Resort-California(USA); Marriott Hotel-Essex (UK); Park Hotel-St. Albans(UK) and Taj hotels (India).
I am also credited with the planning, organising menus, opening and establishing a new function centre (Gandel Hall) and Kitchen hierarchy at the National Gallery of Australia in 2010.
What is your philosophy at Boffins?
Our philosophy behind food is simple. We create ingredient and season-driven dishes, nurtured through traditional and modern techniques - served with respect for produce, which always adds a new dimension to our diners’ experience.
Boffins has grown over the years through this passion driven approach towards cooking and has garnered many rave reviews.
Who are your food heroes, if any?
Matthew Evans for his approach towards sustainable and honest produce. James Viles, after presenting an event with him recently at University House. His passion as a cook to create nature driven dishes is exemplary.
What fresh ingredients are always in your market basket?
Depends on the season, though I have personal favourites. Currently fresh Perigord truffles, fragrant mandarins and rose petals top my list, but I am equally fond of stone fruits, baby beetroots, watermelon, radish, sprouts such snow pea and chick pea shoots, nameko mushrooms, and leaves such as red veined sorrel, bronze fennel, sago grass and endives.
I also extensively use Australian outback produce on my menus: river mint, samphire, sea parsley, lemon myrtle, finger limes, muntries (native berries), riberry (lilly pilly) and kutjera (desert raisins).
Violas, pansies, nasturtiums and red lace can also be often seen in my market basket.
When it comes to cookbooks (if you use them), do you prefer to keep the pages pristine, or do you like them well used and splattered?
I like to keep them pristine (with just a few books that I have in my collection). Nowadays, I don’t spend much time with books, though a lot of time on internet research work, built around my network of fellow professionals, where we have a common platform of discussing menus, industry changes and new ingredients(molecular gastronomy products and so on) coming into the market.
And finally, what’s for dinner tonight?
Guava braised beef cheeks with sprouted grains tossed in cumin & duck fat, roast eggplant caviar and mustard cress.
A dear friend and I recently enjoyed a truffle dinner for two as guests of Boffins at University House. Previously, I have been a regular and devoted guest (at my own expense) of the literary events - including Eat Drink and Be Literary with Annabel Crabb; Matthew Evans; Adam Liaw and Kerry O'Brien; among others. Note, this is not a sponsored post.
Boffins Restaurant is located at University House, 1 Balmain Crescent, Acton, Canberra. It is open for lunch from Monday to Friday from 12.00-2.00pm; and dinner from Monday to Sunday between 6.00-9.00pm. Bookings are essential. Telephone +61 2 6125 5285. Visit the web site for more information.
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes, postcards and morsels from my adventures, conversations with cookery writers
and chefs, and news on food and cooking.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.