Chef Silvio Armanni has designed a menu this summer for Michelin-starred Umberto Bombana’s more casual Italian restaurant, Octavium. The truffle menu ($1,580/person; +$880 for optional wine pairings) – available only for dinner on Thursday, 27 June 2019 – is built around the black winter Périgord truffle, which is sourced fresh from The Truffle & Wine Co in Western Australia. Winter truffles are known for their deep, earthy flavour, whilst summer truffles are generally a lot milder. It’s no small feat to pull off such an intense and often dominating ingredient, but Chef Armanni has done it at Octavium.
I went into this tasting completely uneducated. For starters, I thought that truffles were still hunted by pigs, but it turns out that pigs get very aggressive when they smell truffles and you risk losing fingers should you get in their way! They now train dogs to hunt them instead. The more you know, huh?
I’m used to the kind of truffle flavour that you might find in an aioli with fries at a burger joint – that overpowering flavour that is often just artificial flavouring in many restaurants. These truffles were nothing of the sort. With varying textures and accompanying an array of ingredients that are usually the stars of the show, these truffles took centre stage. Nutty, robust and earthy, they were subtle enough to complement the dishes without being overpowering.
The menu starts with an amuse-bouche of crunchy rye bread with a good smattering of butter, topped with creamy black truffle and a little anchovy, accompanied by a warm shot of black truffle consommé. The anchovy was appreciated with this tasty morsel, adding a much-needed salty zing to the creamy truffle.
The first starter consists of three mouthfuls that had my eyes rolling into my head. Japanese scallops – three browned cylinders of meaty sweetness – topped with the same creamy black truffle as the amuse-bouche and orange, tongue-like sea urchin, giving a fresh, warming hug of the sea that is so redolent of everything Japan. The slither of onion and tangy mayo added a bit of burnt sweetness – beautiful. Whilst I understand the function of a starter, I would have liked about 30 more of these babies.
Next up are curls of rare Challans duck with juicy, sweet cherries, earthy, browned leek, some sort of chopped nuts and julienned truffle. The wine pairing for this dish stands out for me – a fresh Nebbiolo, acidic and very sour (to match the cherries), with a dryness that went well with the duck. It seemed as effortlessly paired as tea with biscuits. The duck was juicy and trimmed with flavourful, crisp fat, giving the dish all the saltiness it needed. With the truffle cut this way, I really appreciated the nutty texture – so much more delicate than the ominous, knobbly exterior would suggest.
Think Italy and you think pasta, right? This homemade tagliolini was cooked to al-dente perfection, with meaty chanterelle mushrooms nestled amongst the strands, coated in a warm, wine-infused cream sauce. The generous shavings of paper-thin truffle swirled easily onto the pasta on my fork and added that pop of tannin that surprised me with every bite. Though comforting, I think perhaps this dish is a little safe. Whilst it pays homage to the truffle, it could do with some pizzazz, some tang, some heat, even, to contrast with a lot of rich flavours.
Giving it a sweet, rich flavour, this Mayura Wagyu beef sirloin is fed with chocolate! The truffle-seared aubergine was smooth and smoky, coupling beautifully with the rich beef. Tiny cubes of pickled vegetables added a nice bite to cut through all the deep flavours. I reckon this dish was the most well balanced of all.
I was more excited about dessert than usual. Ice cream with truffle – go on then, impress me, I thought – and impressed I was. The chopped truffle inside the two jewel-like parfaits was distinctive and unmistakably truffly, and the rich dark chocolate coating was a surprisingly great complement. These sat either side of a quenelle of ricotta ice cream, with those familiar paper-thin truffle shavings adding warmth to the tangy ice cream. It’s hard to make such an indulgent dessert this light, and yet here it is in all its truffly glory! The wine pairing is a Ceretto Moscato d’Asti 2018 dessert wine, with fruity flavours of vanilla and honey. Its delicate fizz perfectly washed down this sweet ending.
Octavium’s exclusive truffle menu is anything but a disappointing experience. Prepare to have your eyes opened to the versatility of the not-so-humble truffle. As I stumbled merrily out of the lift, delirious with good wine and delicious food, I felt a door had opened to the possibility of flavours and textures in fine dining as a whole.
8/F, One Chinachem Central, 22 Des Voeux Road Central, Central, 2111 9395, firstname.lastname@example.org
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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