24 March 2023

Five minutes with James Souter: The Boat House, Armada Bar and Margot

| Lucy Ridge
James Souter wears white jumper and smiles with hands in pockets

James Souter is the general manager at the Boat House and Armada Bar and co-owns Margot. Photo: Supplied.

In a nutshell, who are you?
I’m James Souter. I’m the general manager of The Boat House and Armada Bar and one of the owners of Margot Bar, which recently opened down on the water.

What’s a dish that best sums up what your venue does?
At The Boat House, the menu changes all the time. But on the menu right now, there is a beautiful charcoal heirloom tomato, parmesan, basil and jamon consomme. It’s a good dish, but it won’t be on by the time you run this article … probably!

READ ALSO Hot in the City: Say bonjour to Margot!

What’s your favourite dish or a memorable meal?
One of my favourite things is to go to the markets myself and see what seafood looks fantastic that day, what’s fresh, what looks good and put together a beautiful dish. Maybe a piece of fish, some chorizo and mussels in a light broth. To me, that’s a memorable meal.

Favourite cuisine?
Asian food, I love Chinese specifically. Not necessarily ‘Australian’ Chinese. I don’t mind it, but I probably like more of the Szechuan style. I’m a big fan of the Chairman Group’s restaurants. I think they do a wonderful job with that kind of cuisine. Lanterne Rooms is one of my favourite restaurants.

Josiah Li, Chairman Group

Josiah Li’s hospitality stable includes Chairman & Yip, Lanterne Rooms and new venues Mu and Cicada Bar at Constitution Place. Photo: The Chairman Group

An ingredient you can’t live without?
Despite modest use in the restaurant, my go-to at home is a lot of onion and garlic. Onions and garlic go in everything I do. Whatever the recipe says, I just double it.

Who is your biggest culinary influence?
Coming up to 30 years of The Boat House this year, and given that it’s a family business, it would be remiss of me not to say my father, who started the business.

Chef and staff

Jeff Lamshed of Lamshed’s Restaurant Yarralumla. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

What do you wish people understood about your job?
As anyone in hospitality in a management position can appreciate, it’s a job that doesn’t really end. You’re on all the time, especially at a place like The Boat House. We’re busy from Monday morning, working with clients and trying to organise bookings to Sunday night when we’re doing that last private dinner experience. And then it starts again on Monday!

Where do you dine out in Canberra for comfort food?
I love Lamsheds in Yarralumla. I think it’s a great restaurant.

Where do you dine out for special occasions?
I would pop over to Rizla in the city because they have a great wine list and always look after everybody well.

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What’s your go-to coffee?
I’ve learnt a lot about coffee recently [since opening Margot]. For my go-to coffee, I enjoy Farmer’s Daughter in Yarralumla.

Who do you admire in the Canberra food scene?
Ben Willis from Aubergine. He’s always been a good person to bounce ideas off and talk about things. I know he’s not working anymore, but I’ve always enjoyed his input.

Ben Willis in kitchen

Ben Willis (previously of Aubergine) casts a giant shadow on the Canberra food scene. Photo: Lean Timms.

Where are you travelling next?
When I want to travel, I often like to completely get away. So often when I go away, I can’t get any reception. I’m going down to Flinders Island in Tasmania soon. It’s going to be quiet: I don’t even know if my phone will work there!

READ ALSO Women in Hospitality Spotlight: Melissa Hobby, chef at Capitol Bar and Grill, QT Hotel

What’s a well-kept (or not-so-well-kept) foodie secret in Canberra?
Melted Toasties in Fyshwick. They do the best toasties and I’m not sure many people know about that. They’re from seriously top-end hospitality backgrounds and they make the sickest toasties.

What do you think the ‘next big thing’ is in Canberra?
Hopefully, we will see the return of some more high-end dining. We’ve lost some restaurants like Aubergine and Ottoman, those formal restaurants, so hopefully, we get a few more.

glass of wine and charcuterie

Margot is the perfect place for a drink in the sun. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Where are you excited to eat next?
I want to go to Bert’s in Newport. I just like that style of dining and the location looks absolutely beautiful. It’s been there a while, but I haven’t been yet, and I’m just excited to go.

What are your top 3 recipe tips?
1. Always use more garlic and butter than suggested.
2. Don’t use too much salt – I have a tendency to over-salt.
3. If you’re anything like me, try not to finish the whole bottle of wine before you finish cooking!

Exterior of the boat house with sign

The Boat House. Photo: The Boat House.

Find out more about The Boat House, Armada Bar and Margot by visiting their websites.

Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on Riotact.

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