In London, it’s possible to find some of the best and most affordable truffles in Bethnal Green. Unknown to many, the area is home to Italian deli The Green Truffle, and owners Natalino Murano and Stefano Dellutri get i tartufi straight from the source, cutting out the middleman with some family connections. The pair come from Irpinia in Campania — prime black truffle country — where the population used to eat truffles, once a peasant food, “like apples.”
The trouble is, neither Murano nor Dellutri know when exactly they might get their hands on any truffles. They will at some point — definitely black, probably white — as the season gets underway. It's just a case of logistics. Both have said in the past that the truffle industry is “fucked”. Climate change, outside interference, and all manner of other unscrupulous dealings make finding and selling truffles challenging. But it remains massive and profitable.
Of course, ignoring the wanton farmed varieties grown elsewhere in Italy, mountain truffles — like so much of the country’s food — are seen as wondrous things, near immaculate in their design. Many believe that to top a steaming bowl of pasta with truffles is to elevate said bowl into a mystical realm, and such an act is therefore justifiably accompanied by celestial prices. Here’s Elystan Street’s Phil Howard:
There are a handful of ingredients that are truly special and stand out from the crowd. White truffles are simply the most luxurious and wonderful of them all – imparting their truly unique and incredible aromas once shaved and lifted with a bit of warmth. All that is required to savour them at their very best is a bit of heat, a bit of texture, a bit of fat and a bit of cheese. Hand-cut strozzapretti with chicken stock, butter, shaved white truffle and Parmesan is about as epic as one can hope for.
Bocca di Lupo’s Jacob Kenedy is unequivocally poetic: “They taste of the earth, as oysters do the sea.” He likes his shaved on tajarin, with melted butter, Parmesan, and a “barely poached duck egg yolk.”
There are questions to be asked of the truffle. Particularly the white variety. Last year, the harvest was plentiful; Piedmont’s prized Alba mushrooms hit the Asti market en masse. Prices, however, remained high. Even extortionate? Jay Rayner has mused in the past as to whether the taste is worth the money. And then there’s the point of ethics.
Mountain writer Tamara Griffiths says that cultivated properly, “truffles represent a highly sustainable mountain product, and in this culture they are extremely ecologically friendly 'farming'.” To farm in such a way creates a market in which prices are “high to the point of absurdity,” but meddle not, as Griffiths says. To do so would be to “debase” what is classified as a wild food. Artisan food costs: if seeking that true tuber mangnatum flavour — fuelling economies and paying tribute to heritage in the process — then there is no financial shortcut. As the season approaches, here’s where to tuck in to the truffle in London.
Quo Vadis, unquestionably: the restaurant is selling Alba truffles at cost price. The team offers a truffle ‘the right size for your party,’ so it’s all about sharing. There’ll be a special menu featuring scrambled eggs and fresh taglierini, paired with Piedmontese wines. Here’s head chef Jeremy Lee:
What a treat to have one of the last great seasonal ingredients! The noble white truffle excels in restoring all faith in nature, the seasons and the simplest most delicious cooking. An extraordinary price tag for this most luxurious ingredient is tempered by the use of the humble egg or potato gratin.
La Fromagerie is also doing tagliolini with white truffle for £20.
Probably Claude Bosi, who’ll be using white truffles at his two Michelin-starred Bibendum. It’s not yet known quite how he’ll be using them, at least in terms of specific dishes. But a betting diner might wager a plate of pasta that it will be indulgent.
Hélène Darroze at The Connaught will serve Alba truffles with langoustine, ricotta and XXL scallop, and Poulet de Bresse. In true Connaught style, the five course menu is £295 per person.
And a quick mention to Corrigan's, Mayfair, where Ross Bryans has devised a six-course tasting menu using both black and white truffles from around the world. Included are truffles hunted in England, found in the "deepest countryside" and supplied by the appropriately named Wiltshire Truffles. Cause for intrigue: Bryans is preparing a white truffle risotto with caramelised pears.
Daphne’s in South Kensington — a very truffley sort of place. Head chef Mike Brown is doing simple, pleasing dishes like veal tartare Piedmontese, risotto, beef carpaccio, and tagliatelle, all of which may be topped with white truffle until the end of December.
Now to Angela Hartnett, who has Alba truffles on her a la carte menu at Murano. Tagliatelle will benefit, as with scrambled eggs, risotto. So far, so usual. She’s also doing confit pink fur apples, Tunworth (Brit Camembert-like soft cheese) and truffle (black, but white are also available); and salted caramel ice cream with white truffle. Truffle and ice cream? It’s real.
Do not miss
Obviously, as Instagram dictates, the potato ravioli with gravy and egg yolk at Stevie Parle’s new Pastaio. It’s £8, or £18 with 2g of white truffle.