12/18 Yarra Place
+61 3 9686 2990
20 Yarra Place
+61 4 30 017 480
I love winter. I love the cold, the bare trees, the grey. While most find that depressing, I embrace it. The dull bleakness heralds in an explosion of colour and warmth and this stagnant, anticipatory season always ends in a good way.
Winter puts a smile in my heart and it too puts a smile in my belly. What’s not to love about steaming soups and hearty stews? And of course, it is the time when one of my absolute favourite ingredients is harvested. It is knobbly, black (or white), has the aroma of sweaty old socks and I simply adore it. Australia’s burgeoning truffle industry means successful harvests in multiple states, truffle-centered dinners and even truffle trade, such that the general public gain easy access to acquiring one for self-preparation and consumption.
When I got wind that a truffle shop had been set up next to St Ali, I dropped by one weekend to have a sniff around and maybe buy a small one to cook with. Madame Truffles is quaint. It is a small little warehouse, housed with barren twigs and sticks and a lone table at one end. I was greeted with a smile, offered a sampling of truffle butter and informed that they had sold out for the day. Nevertheless, an order was quickly made and I picked up my little baby four days later. She was tiny, weighing in at approximately 15g. She was sniffed out by a hound named Gretel and was flown in from Manjimup, WA.
A quick chat later, I found out that St Ali’s truffle dinner was ala carte, meaning you decide which and how many dishes you need want to try and that you pay accordingly. Bookings had to be made prior to the dinner and the booking fee would be subtracted from the total bill of the dinner. The Angmoh and I were lucky to secure a couple of tickets and on Saturday, 27th July, we strolled up to the café.
It was odd entering the street and café in the dark. I was used to seeing the large brunch crowd on weekends and the graffiti-strewn brick walls in the day. Dinner was extremely child-friendly, with a kids menu focused on simple meals children would enjoy (take fish and chips or gnocchi for example), but of course, enhanced with truffle.
The Angmoh and I quickly made our choices. The kitchen and wait staff were functioning at full capacity that night. Our dishes were simple enough: slow-cooked egg, jowl croquette, gnocchi with wild mushrooms and roast veal. They were pretty alright. They were tasty in their own right but lacked a “wow” factor. Our favourite dish was the croquette. The pork jowl was far from oily and gave the croquette a lovely meaty flavour, uplifted by the tangy mustard. The truffled mayo was a fantastic smear, not cloying and full of truffle infusion. Dessert of truffle ice cream came with a crumbled peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. The ice cream was sweet with mild hints of truffle. It did provide a light way to end the meal.
There were a few bumps leading to and during dinner. The Angmoh had to call three times in order to secure our bookings. He was told that he would be called back but never did get a confirmation until his third attempt. Service was pretty slow with approximately 30min waits for our first dish and for dessert to arrive. As we were seated at a communal table, orders got mixed up and we received the wrong bill. And finally, the booking fee was not deducted from our invoice. That was rectified that night (lucky us, we live so close so it was easy to go back once we realised).
On the up side, the food was still enjoyable and we scored a second scoop of truffle ice cream on the house (due to the long wait).
Back to Baby Truff, I kept her in the fridge for about 10 days before finally deciding on what to use her in. She was going to stand out in a simple dish of mac and cheese, surrounded by her cousins. The Angmoh and I tucked into it after watching Pacific Rim. I enjoyed the show and loved the hairstyle of Mako’s. I found it to have quite a strong Japanese influence, so if you’re into Godzilla and Gundam, this is for you. Back to the dish, it was pretty delicious and decadent. I would have grated more cheese into the dish, but The Angmoh said no. I also omitted breadcrumbs as I didn’t have any, but generally it’s well worth scattering some onto the top to add some crunch to the dish.
400g Casarecce pasta
120g Truffled Pecorino
125mg light cream
15g black truffle
Salt and pepper to taste
(Handful breadcrumbs or panko crumbs)
- Preheat oven to 190 Degrees Celcius.
- Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to packet instructions
- Drain the pasta but leave a tablespoon (or so) of the cooking water
- Drizzle in a good glug of truffle oil and mix well
- In a large mixing bowl, grate perorino and gruyere and truffle. Mix in cream and season with salt and pepper. Add in cooked and oiled pasta and mix well.
- Transfer into a oven-proof dish (top with scattered bread or panko crumbs) and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until top is golden
- Eat while hot and avoid burning upper palate.