The World’s Best Truffle Restaurants
Agria potato purée with asparagus and new-season fruffle at Rhoda, Hong Kong. Photograph courtesy of Rhoda
At last, it’s truffle season. Sure, they’re pricey, but they’re the true taste of autumn .
Mr Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the higher divinity of French cooking, called truffles “the diamonds of the kitchen”. To 19th-century novelist Mr William Makepeace Thackeray, they were able to “lull the senses, and yet enflame them”. While the French writer Mr Maurice Goudeket, was more direct: “anyone who does not declare himself ready to leave paradise or hell for such a treat is not worthy to be born again”.
Frankly, we couldn’t agree more with Mr Goudeket at MR PORTER. We don’t just count the days until autumn so we can dig out our chunky knits and three-quarter-length coats, the season is also a time of culinary bounty, when those little funghi begin to make their presence felt, and all the world’s chefs begin to quiver.
Truffles don’t come cheap. The finest white specimens sell for between £5,000 ($6,000) and £8,000 ($10,000) a pound. So are they worth it? We’ll let you decide, but only after visiting the restaurants below.
Epicure at Le Bristol, Paris
From left: restaurant courtyard; truffled macaroni. Photographs courtesy of Le Bristol
What to order: macaroni stuffed with black truffle
In a fit of pique at what they thought was a rather staid World’s 50 Best Restaurants list last year, US website The Daily Meal went out on a limb. It declared that the best restaurant in the world wasn’t to be found in Girona, Modena, New York or Copenhagen, but in Paris, within the confines of Le Bristol. The hotel’s restaurant gastronomique, Epicure, has three Michelin stars and Mr Eric Frechon as presiding genius in the kitchen – little wonder that it is so popular with well-upholstered visitors from the Far East, and sharply suited civil servants taking a breather from the The Élysée Palace.
The tasting menus change with the season, which means only one thing as November approaches – truffles. Mr Frechon uses them with all the sensitivity you would expect from a man who holds the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (a sort of culinary version of a lifetime achievement Oscar). His hen egg with grated white Alba truffle, chestnut and hazelnuts is particularly subtle, but his macaroni stuffed with black truffle, artichoke and duck foie gras, gratinated with mature Parmesan cheese, is even better.
What to wear...
34 Restaurant, London
From left: restaurant interior; lobster macaroni with truffle. Photographs by Ms Sim Canetty-Clarke. Courtesy of 34 Mayfair
What to order: lobster macaroni with shaved black truffle
South Audley Street’s 34 Mayfair is that rare bird: a restaurant that still excites four years after it opened. It is not just down to the fact that it is a perennial favourite of the peripatetic art crowd (the walls are covered in works by Ms Tracey Emin and Mr Damien Hirst), or that the service is as assured as any grand hotel, but rather because of the food itself, which excels in taking familiar culinary ideas and perfecting them. Witness, for instance, the lobster macaroni and cheese, with its large tender flecks of shellfish surrounded by a snow storm of truffle. It does not strain the boundaries of culinary innovation, but why should it? It has the sort of down-home perfection that has us going back time and time again.
What to wear...
NoMad, New York City
From left: restaurant interior; whole-roasted chicken for two filled with foire gras, black truffle and brioche. Photographs by Mr Daniel Krieger. Courtesy of The NoMad Hotel
What to order: whole roasted chicken for two with foie gras, black truffle
Chef Mr Daniel Humm and restaurateur Mr Will Guidara are primarily known for 11 Madison Park, their three-Michelin-starred joint that seems to collect plaudits the way others collect silk ties, but as much as we love the place, we don’t always have three hours to spend on a tasting menu. When we want lunch on the hop, relatively speaking anyway, we head to NoMad in the hotel of the same name. Here, Messrs Humm and Guidara have created a menu known for both its simplicity and its richness. The prima donna here is a dish Mr Brillat-Savarin might recognise, a vast, golden-skinned chicken for two whose skin has been freighted with brioche, foie gras and truffles. It tastes every bit as good as it sounds.
What to wear...
Rinaldi Al Quirinale, Rome
From left: restaurant interior. Photograph courtesy of Rinaldi Al Quirinale; toast with buffalo mozzarella and truffle. Photograph by Mr Samuel Muston
What to order: mozzarella on toast, with shaved truffle
Far away from the main tourist traps of Rome, Mr Rinaldi Antonio’s restaurant is a small but perfectly formed joy. Off a side street by the Quirinale Palace, it offers a changing menu to a mainly Roman crowd. Locals don’t shout about its joys, lest it be invaded by iPhone 7-toting tourists, so be sure to have Google Maps handy if you plan to visit. Only the not-so discreet presence at the door of two Armani-suited bodyguards, who belonged to two lunching diplomats, alerted MR PORTER that this was indeed the right place.
When truffles are in season, Mr Rinaldi is at his happiest. Several of the pastas can be accessorised with black or white diamonds, though if you are a purist and want to taste them as nature intended, order the special dish pictured, which is essentially mozzarella cheese on toast with truffles.
What to wear...
Rhoda, Hong Kong
From left: restaurant interior; Agria potato purée with asparagus and new-season truffle. Photographs courtesy of Rhoda
What to order: asparagus with black truffle
When chef Mr Nathan Green of 22 Ships wanted a collaborator to open a new restaurant, there was only one person to call – Ms Yenn Wong, the woman who made Mr Jason Atherton a star in Hong Kong. Their restaurant, Rhoda, has a nose-to-tail philosophy and fuses Asian, Australian and European influences and, what’s more, does it successfully. The menu changes daily and the crowd is a mix of Vetements-wearing creatives and globetrotting hedge-funders.
What makes it particularly fabulous during truffle season is that they don’t just add it to carb feasts. They also do a nice line in vegetable-centric dishes that are then ornamented with truffle. Small wonder that Hong Kong is one of the largest truffle markets in the world.
What to wear...
The French Laundry, California
From left: restaurant exterior. Photograph by Ms Meg Smith. Courtesy of The French Laundry; white truffle risotto. Photograph by Ms Deborah Jones. Courtesy of The French Laundry
What to order: the tasting menu. And ask for more truffle
Über-chef Mr Thomas Keller’s 60-seat French Laundry is less a restaurant and more a temple – and no wonder. The list of chefs who cut their teeth here is a Who’s Who of the culinary world, from Alinea’s Mr Grant Achatz to Mr René Redzepi of Noma. At the mothership in Yountville, in the heart of Californian wine country, Mr Keller is very much in charge, sourcing all his ingredients locally and continuing to produce his finely honed Franco-American food. There are two standard nine-course tasting menus (£250/$310, before tip) available each day, neither of which uses the same ingredient twice. That’s great, of course, though we sort of wish he would use the white truffles that crown his creamy risotto more than once. Twice, three times, maybe…