Grand Truffle Dinner at Hyatt Hotel Canberra
It’s truffle season here in Australia, and the Grand Truffle dinner held at Hyatt Hotel Canberra was the first event that Soy and I attended that was part of the Capital Country Truffle Festival. Up til now, Soy and I have had brief brushes with the French black truffle (tuber melanosporum), also known as the Périgord truffle (the Périgord region in France is famous for its foie gras, but is also one of the major truffle areas), but this season is the first time we have been immersed in knowledge about truffle growing in Australia and how to cook with truffles.
So what are truffles exactly? The French black truffle is the fruiting body of the fungus tuber melanosporum. The roots of oak and hazel trees are inoculated with the spores of the fungus, and form a symbiotic relationship. The truffle is harvested in winter when it matures, and trained dogs sniff out the ripe truffles that are located just below the soil, to a depth of about 20 cm. Truffles are probably most known for their distinct smell, which has been described as “earthy”, “damp” and even as “old socks”. To me, it smells exactly like an extremely pungent fungus would. Taste-wise, truffles are described as ‘umami’ or savoury, and are a glutamate, so they are a flavour enhancer and have an affinity with any food! Though the French claimed the first truffle, remains of truffles have been found in stone age middens, and have been written about by Aristotle to Brillat-Savarin. Truffle growing in Australia, though, has become very successful, and since the unearthing of the first black truffle in Northern Tasmania in 1999, the number of truffières have grown all across Australia. The Canberra region, with its cold temperatures and suitable soil conditions, have produced very high quality black truffles. Oh and by the way, all truffle oils are synthetic. They don’t actually contain any actual truffle in them.
The amount of science, money and time required to grow a truffle and the scarcity of truffles means that they do cost a fair bit! The average price is about AU$2-3 per gram. This beauty was one of 3 truffles from Sutton in the Canberra region that was auctioned at the dinner, with proceeds going to the RSPCA. I loved how the organisers chose to honour their doggie friends, without whom truffles under the ground would not be found! This truffle was about 40g and was auctioned for $160.
Now, to the food! Executive chef at the Hyatt, Hartmut Kehm, put together the dinner, which was absolutely divine, and stands out as one of the best dinners that Soy and I have ever had in our time! The only regrettable thing for me was that there was so much food. And I know that this is a good thing usually, but my poor stomach could not handle everything, though I wanted to scoff everything down so much! Soy and I agree that this wagyu carpaccio is the best that we have ever had. The beef slices were truly melt-in-your-mouth and paired beautifully with the tart vinaigrette and savoury truffle. It was absolutely brilliant, and made me re-think my recent “discovery” about not really liking carpaccios or tartares.
The artichoke soup was extremely satisfying and warming. The truffle butter brioche was fragrant and crumbly. What I loved most was finding little morsels of chewy parmesan, and slivers of truffle in spoonfuls of the velvety soup, that had a nice tartness to it as well.
I am not a huge fan of risottos, and so when I have one that I enjoy, I know that it is a really good one. This risotto was alright, but what stood out for me was the thick, juicy balmain bug paired with the seafood-y truffle emulsion.
By this stage, I am stuffed. But the veal dish just looks gorgeous. The veal fillet itself was tender and cooked to just the right point, but I absolutely loved the celeriac purée with the mushrooms and jus. I tried my best, but ate only half my dish before I gave up, and Soy ate up the rest of my celeriac purée even though she was also pretty full by then.
I was very surprised when we were presented with the cheese plate. I expected that we would have a cheese platter in the middle of the table and everyone would help themselves. I felt so bad at this point, only because I thought I could not possibly put another morsel in my mouth, and we hadn’t even started dessert yet! I had a nibble of each of the cheeses, and the truffle honey was just out of this world! The quince confit, I really was not a fan of. It tasted more like chutney to me, and it had a spice that I just don’t like- I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I think it was either cumin or tumeric. I am not a fan of chutneys on a normal basis, though! The winner for me for this dish was definitely the truffle honey, and Soy and I are infusing our own honey as I type this.
Then, it was time for dessert! A dessert fanatic like me was thoroughly excited at seeing four desserts on the menu! The desserts were paired with de Bortoli Noble One.
We started with this truffle ice-cream. It was creamy, full of vanilla flavour and had a subtle hint of truffle. I cannot tell you how much I wished that the servings for the mains were not that large, because although I do have a separate stomach for dessert, I could have done with way more room for this ice-cream. Soy, who is not as obsessed with dessert as I am, and tends to have an aversion to things that are too creamy, polished off not only her ice-cream but half of mine as well!
Everyone went “ooh” when the plate of gold leaf-topped chocolate truffle tart was set down on the table. It was just heavenly. The tart shell was crisp and broke off with a resounding snap when I bit into it, and the lush dark chocolate was divine. I didn’t detect that much truffle flavour in the tart though, but I think the truffles were probably used in a smaller proportion in order to be an undertone to the rich dark chocolate.
I have to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that by this time I am truffled out! Oh dear, I did not think that this was possible, but the warm dessert brought out the aromas of the shaved raw truffle on the top of the dish, and this was just a little too overpowering for me on a full stomach. I didn’t try this dish, but our other dinner companions loved it.
The final dessert was a show stopper aesthetically. We thought the chilli lemon syrup was very unique, and slightly reminiscent of sweet chilli sauce, but with a much smaller presence of chilli. The syrup, paired with the cake, truffled clotted cream and candied lime was very refreshing, and probably the dessert I enjoyed the most because it felt the lightest.
At $155 per person for that entire meal, Soy and I, and all our dining companions were extremely impressed at the generosity of not only the serving sizes, but also of the amount of truffle served with each dish. I am still a bit torn about the serving sizes though. I had expected the dishes to be degustation size, but they were full serves. I know that most people are going to see this as a good thing, but I truly truly felt disappointed that I could not fully enjoy the later dishes (especially dessert!) just because I was so full. I think I am going to say that I would have preferred if the portions were degustation style, as I think we would have been just as satisfied.
The other thing that we were all talking about that night was the level of service provided by the staff. They were extremely attentive and flexible. Soy and our other dining companions are primarily red wine drinkers, and were surprised that the first 3 courses were paired with white wines, especially the carpaccio. When they requested the nebbiolo from the first course, the wait staff obliged, and still provided tastes of the white wines as the dinner progressed.
Overall, the quality of the food was impeccable, the portion sizes and amount of truffle used extremely generous, and the service was brilliant- all essential ingredients in creating an impressive and memorable dinner. Soy and I feel so fortunate to have been part of the only 100 people who attended the dinner, and we will definitely look out for it again next year!
Hyatt Hotel Canberra
Capital Country Truffle Festival
On now until the end of truffle season (late July- early August)
Tags: black truffles