It’s getting seriously chilly. Pull the jumpers out from the back of the cupboard and…
As construction continues in ANU’s Union Court, on the other side of campus an old favourite has quietly reinvented itself.
The grand dame of campus dining, my student memories of Boffins are of somewhere you might take your parents post-graduation, or where one might meet a visiting fellow.
Established in the early 1970s, Boffins restaurant has been a mainstay of the Australian National University (ANU) since its inception. But just as the campus is about to unveil its major facelift, Boffins has also been given a new look.
“The original Boffins bistro opened in August 1973 and by all accounts had a fairly radical initial interior design channelling the best of 1970’s chic of purple, orange- browns and pink,” explains manager Matt Dowdney.
“Over the years since a number of basic renovations had taken place and sadly all of the original heritage detailing had been covered or removed.”
“In early 2017 when planning commenced we were keen to bring Boffins back to a life whilst also restoring and undertaking a sympathetic interior upgrade that would both fit the House and as a contemporary dining destination.”
Original Queensland Walnut heritage timber floors have been “lovingly restored” and fittings have been chosen to reflect the heritage of the space.
“Working closely with heritage advisors; we removed unfortunate additions from the 1980s and 90s and stripped it back to bare bones before commencing reinstalling – wall sconces and smoked glass pendant lighting were selected in a style reflective of 1950s, albeit with a modern twist.”
“The aim was to create a dining room that would be calm, contemporary, relaxed yet sophisticated in a modern way—we wanted to reinvigorate Boffins and inject new life to ensure it remained relevant in the highly competitive Canberra food scene.”
In addition to a new look, Boffins has also reinvented its ethos when it comes to food by “actively considering” its environmental footprint by reducing food mileage, limiting food waste and giving preference to smaller farmers and producers.
“We are passionate about local, seasonal and fresh produce,” says Head Chef Bernd Brademann.
“We want the produce to determine the menu, not the other way around. With that comes the opportunity to keep evolving the menu and stay relevant. You won’t find the same dishes all year around, sometimes not even in the same month.
Bernd explains that not only will this showcase the best of regional produce to guests and diners, but will create a connection between Boffins’ chefs and food staff and their suppliers. Some of these suppliers include potatoes and pumpkins from Ingelara outside of Bredbo, apples from Loriendale Orchards near Murrumbateman and Bredbo black garlic.
“I have a fundamental belief that the produce needs to be seasonal and local,” adds Bernd.
“I have always lived this way through my upbringing. We grew up with gardens and our own produce. This is something I teach my kids now, showing them the importance of where our food comes from.”
In addition to local produce, tables are set with locally crafted flatware. Wines include many from the Canberra region as well as a curated selection from across Australia, with Matt noting that Boffins’ hopes to work with small wineries and vignerons in the future.
One of the most exciting features of the refurbishment, however, is a new 16-seat private dining area where drapes will allow the space to change with each booking. There is also a “redefined” lounge area, which will serve as a casual wine bar.
“My hope is for Boffins to settle in to become a restaurant of choice for both University and non-university staff,” says Matt.
“I am keen for diners to experience fantastic food with a story, fabulous wines made by dedicated winemakers more obsessed with the product than the dollars and served by a team of passionate professionals.”
“I don’t want diners to feel stiff or contained, I hope our guests will add the all-important element of laughter, joy and great conversation in an environment rich in history.”
What: Boffins at University House
When: Open Tuesday – Friday from 11.30 pm – 2 pm for lunch and 5 – 10 pm for dinner and Saturday from 5 – 10 pm
Where: University House, 1 Balmain Crescent, Acton
Photography: Martin Ollman