Put down that bag of truffle-flavoured crisps: mass produced truffle products have about as much resemblance to the real thing as a packet of prawn cocktail does to the shellfish cocktail at Bentley’s.
Truffles are tubers, or edible spores, that grow underground and once harvested, quickly lose their flavour, hence the expense. The cheaper black truffle has an earthy, mushroomy flavour and grows well throughout western Europe and Australia; the pungent white truffle, synonymous with Alba in northern Italy, smells and tastes like nothing else on earth, which is why chefs make such a song and dance about its arrival every autumn.
The famous French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called white truffles “the diamonds of the kitchen” and they can fetch almost £3,000 per kilo at the autumn truffle market in Alba in Piedmont. And perhaps even more this year. “Prices are high because of a dry summer and warm autumn,” says Sam White, head chef of 45 Jermyn St, “so there has not been an abundance of truffle to kick off the season. But I’m hoping for a better yield in November as weather conditions change.”
And how best to eat it? “I adore white truffles, the first whiff of that magical scent sends my knees to jelly,” says chef Theo Randall. “It’s all about the aroma, so it’s important to cook something that complements the truffle rather than overpowers it. I tend to go with the classic ‘tajarin’, which is a very egg-yolk rich pasta from Piedmont, tossed in butter and then served with finely sliced truffles on top. It’s important to slice the truffles at the table so you get the full aroma and immediate taste.”
And while white truffle is an increasingly rare find in the woods around Alba — some chefs believe the finest specimens now come from Croatia — here are the best restaurants to go on a truffle hunt in London. Sniff them out, but be quick: the season ends in January.
Theo Randall at the InterContinental
Theo Randall spent 15 years as head chef of The River Café, which not only means there’s nothing the chef doesn’t know about seasonal Italian ingredients but his pasta is second to none. The dining room in Park Lane’s InterContinental hotel isn’t, admittedly, the most atmospheric spot in London but Randall’s cooking is full of personality: tajarin with butter and white truffle; carne crudo (steak tartare) with mache salad, Parmesan and white truffle; risotto bianco with white truffle; agnolotti del plin (pasta stuffed with slow-cooked veal) with white truffle. The luxe tuber is also offered as a supplement at £8 per gram for any dish.
One Hamilton Place, W1J 7QY, theorandall.com
45 Jermyn St
One can of course buy white truffles in the food hall of Fortnum & Mason (100g for £800, bargain) but it’s far easier and cheaper to get hotshot chef Sam White to knock up something in 45 Jermyn St, the Fortnums restaurant with its own identity on the corner outside. Star billing goes to a raclette cheese toastie with a topping of grated truffle (£35) or there’s tagliatelle and risotto with white truffle shaved at the table (both £55.50), washed down, for preference, with a glass of Domaine Rossignol-Trapet Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes. Perhaps steer clear of the killer cocktails, however, or you might find yourself toddling round to the food hall for a truffle to take home.
45 Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6DN, 45jermynst.com
Bocca di Lupo
Jacob Kenedy’s regional Italian menu naturally finds space for the most famous ingredient from Piedmont but what is more unusual is that the chef encourages diners to bring their own truffle to his Soho restaurant. Should a truffle auction somehow elude you en route, Kenedy’s Gelupo ice-cream shop over the road providentially sells white truffles for a fraction of the price of restaurant mark-ups to be cleaned at Bocca and shaved over dishes marked up with a ‘T’ on the menu: the warm anchovy and garlic fondue of bagna cauda, perhaps, hand-chopped veal tartare, or tajarin tossed with raw duck egg, lemon and Parmesan — or indeed any dish which take’s one fancy.
12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB, boccadilupo.com
Mark Kempson is a staunch supporter of seasonal ingredients and as well as going big on game this autumn, the chef is serving a truffle menu (£140) at his Kensington restaurant from November 15-27. Three varieties of tuber will be liberally used across the four courses: black autumn truffle in the 36-month aged Parmesan churros, white Alba truffle with hand-rolled spaghetti in the cacio e pepe, a Périgord black truffle mash with a ‘pie, mash and liquor’ of brown butter pie and roast chicken gravy, and truffle honey with the pear and vanilla rice pudding. Add matching wines for another £50.
11-13 Abingdon Road, W8 6AH, kitchenw8.com
Famously the Soho site where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in the 1860s, gourmandism not communism is the order of the day at 21st-century Quo Vadis, whether in the dinky ground-floor dining room or the private club upstairs, should one know an obliging member. Jeremy Lee is a vocal champion of British ingredients but the Scottish chef-cum-bon viveur also finds space on his ultra-seasonal menus for the finest produce from beyond these shores. White truffle can be added to two dishes for £5 per gram: chopped veal tartare and potato, ricotta and Parmesan gnocchi, which raises the decadent prospect of two courses of truffle festooned with as much tuber as one can afford.
26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL, quovadissoho.co.uk
Dining at Daphne’s feels like being an extra on set in The Talented Mr Ripley, with the old-school Italian glamour underscored by a plum Chelsea location a well-shod hop, skip and jump from the boutiques of Brompton Cross. The four white truffle dishes (from £30) are as elegantly turned-out as the clientele: carpaccio with rocket and white truffle, cured meat with burrata, black figs and white truffle or, for something more filling, risotto or tagliatelle with white truffle, available in both starter and main-course portions.
112 Draycott Avenue, SW3 3AE, daphnes-restaurant.co.uk
The ground-floor segment of Ollie Dabbous’ three-floor gastrodome may not have the Green Park view of Above at Hide but who cares when there’s a heavy snowfall of truffle shaved over everything? Add white truffle to a croque monsieur for an extra £25, flatbread with wild mushrooms, stracciatella and lemon thyme for £32, or 50 day-aged shorthorn beef ribeye cooked over charcoal to share, for £52. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far there are homemade crumpets with black truffle, honey and Brillat-Savarin cheese for £24, while casual (for Mayfair) spin-off Hideaway on Mount Street has a black truffle pizza with London honey and wild thyme for £28.
85 Piccadilly, W1J 7NB, hide.co.uk
Manhattan import Sette is the restaurant within the Bulgari Hotel on Knightsbridge: no one’s idea of a cheap date, though glamour, at least, is guaranteed in surroundings of cream and toffee leather as butter-soft as a serpent-clasped handbag. The white truffles here are sourced from the southern Italian region of Abruzzo rather than the market of Alba and include scrambled eggs with butter (£32), buttered homemade taglioni (£48) and risotto with butter and parmesan (£48), with a gram of white truffle grated over each dish at the table.
4 Knightsbridge Green, SW1X 7QA, settelondon.co.uk
One of those French expressions that doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English — take your pick between ‘the silver rooster’ or, less elegantly, ‘money cock’ — Coq d’Argent’s name nonetheless eloquently expresses the high-rolling clientele to be found on the rooftop of No. 1 Poultry and its view of the Bank of England. Just the place, then, for a truffle blow-out from a £130, six-course menu (until November 25) featuring both autumn black truffle and Alba white truffle in the likes of cauliflower crème DuBarry, leek and chervil risotto, rump of rose veal and dark chocolate fondant. Matching wines can be added for £90.
1 Poultry, EC2R 8EJ, coqdargent.co.uk
The Twenty Two
This new arrival in Grosvenor Square comes courtesy of billionaire Newcastle United co-owner Jamie Reuben, though fund managers not footballers seem more likely to be found among the stealth-wealth clientele of the 31 room hotel-cum-members’ club. The pretty powder-blue dining room turns out some pretty decent cooking, including a quartet of white truffle dishes available until December: white bean and mushroom soup with white truffle, a toastie of fried duck egg, smoked duck and white truffle, a white truffle risotto with Champagne and mascarpone, and white truffle fettuccine. Walk on by, however, if you baulk at the idea of paying £65 for a bowl of soup.
22 Grosvenor Square, W1K 6LF, the22.london
A good rule of thumb for any successful food and drink pairing is to match the cuisine of an area with its local wine. Put the theory to the test at Manteca on November 2 when the Shoreditch nose-to-tail Italian specialist is hosting a five-course dinner (£250) of Alba white truffle washed down with barolo from top Piedmontese wine producer Poderi Oddero (and introduced by family member Pietro Oddero). Expect the truffle-scented likes of duck liver parfait and tagliarini matched to five wines from the Oddero estate, including a vertical tasting of single-vineyard barolo.
49-51 Curtain Road, EC2A 3PT, mantecarestaurant.co.uk
Claude Bosi at Bibendum
In case there were any doubt as to the two-Michelin-starred status of this Chelsea dining room in the art-deco former HQ of the French tyre company and guide-book publisher there are stained glass reminders depicting the cigar-chomping Michelin man throughout, which lend a lovely blue hue to the room when the sun hits. White truffle can be added to half a dozen of chef Claude Bosi’s dishes with a £10-per-gram supplement: new-season Torbay prawns, Scottish cep mushroom, Cornish winkles and green dill, Cornish cod à la grenobloise, British rabbit with langoustine, and eight-hour mash potato, plus vanilla ice cream with warm honey madeleine for pud.
Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 6RD, claudebosi.com
Francesco Mazzei might hail from the sun-baked toe of Italy but the chef is an avid fan of the truffles dug out of the wooded slopes of the hilly north west of the country. Mazzei is adding white truffle to the likes of tagliolini, Grana Padano risotto, veal chop with butter and sage, beef battuta, spaghetti carbonara, scrambled eggs, zucchini fritti and zabaglione. Mamma mia! Tutto quanto, then. There is also a pasta dish of paccheri with sausage and black truffle at Mazzei’s riverside restaurant Fiume in Battersea.
20 Savile Row, W1S 3PR, sartoria-restaurant.co.uk
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught
Where else would one expect to find Piedmontese white truffle but a three-Michelin-starred dining room in a five-star Mayfair hotel overseen by a famous French chef? Bargain hunters should look away now but The Connaught is a suitably luxurious location for one of the world’s most exclusive ingredients, which can be here added as a trio of £65 supplements to the £195 tasting menu in dishes of Rhug Estate pheasant with foie gras and salsify, Kyle of Lochalsh XXL scallop with pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano, and Sicilian almond mascarpone. One may need a stiff drink when the bill arrives; happily, Darroze’s family are renowned Armagnac producers.
Carlos Place, W1K 2AL, the-connaught.co.uk