By Chris Dwyer
Oct 18, 2021
A HIGH-END CHEF’S CULINARY calendar is peppered with the yearly rhythm of rare ingredients, but none can match the allure of Italian white truffles from Piedmont and Tuscany. Luxury lovers know that it’s now the start of white-truffle season, which lasts from October through January. An indulgent few months when the gloriously heady and uniquely earthy aromas imparted from the world’s most expensive food — US$5,000 per kilo is not unheard of — bewitch diners lucky enough to have the deep pockets to afford them.
Different seasonal and geographical truffles do exist, notably black truffles, usually from southwest France. They differ from white in that they are generally more subtle in flavor, more nutty and less immediately pungent. As they are firmer, they also keep better and longer than white and can be readily crafted into sauces.
But once in the hands of chefs, aromatic white truffles — or tartufi bianchi, as they’re known in their homeland — have something ethereal about them, even before they are crafted into mesmerizing plates of pasta, simply served with eggs or even turned into seriously decadent desserts.
How do they get to our plates? From early October every year, thousands of professional and amateur truffle hunters take their beloved four-legged friends to scour oak groves and forests in pockets of northwest Italy, seeking out the pungent underground aromas that — at least, if you’re a dog — reveal the magical fungi that the 19th century Italian composer Rossini memorably called “The Mozart of Mushrooms.”
Truffle-hunting experiences are a fun, rustic way to play with your food. I recently visited COMO Castello del Nero, a twelfth-century castle turned luxury resort in the hills of Tuscany, and accompanied an adorable pup of the Lagotto Romagnolo breed tramping through forests to unearth the culinary pearls. Likewise in Piedmont, long-time white truffle experts Tartuflanghe organize both hunting and tasting from their base just outside the famed truffle capital of Alba.
However, I’m back home in Asia now and not a minute too soon — just in time for white-truffle season 2021 to start importing more luxury to our lunches and dinners. Here are some of the very best dishes and menus celebrating white truffles across the region, usually available until early January.
Courtesy of Radical Chic (3)
100 floors up, panoramic views of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are already one sizeable draw at upscale and innovative Italian spot Radical Chic, but eyes are fixed firmly on plates with an epic white-truffle degustation menu. Co-owner Matteo Morelo hails from Saluzzo in rural Piedmont and sources the finest fungi direct from Tartuflanghe, bringing the aromas of his homeland to dishes that are crafted by chef Andrea Tarini.
Eggs Four Ways brings together Japanese sea urchin, sturgeon caviar and salmon ikura under a cream of potato, before white truffle is shaved liberally to crown the decadence. Other courses in the five-course menu include truffle with a wagyu raviolo dumpling and Brittany blue lobster, yours for HK$2,880 (US$370) per person.
8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana
To his fans in Macau, Hong Kong and Shanghai, chef Umberto Bombana is acclaimed as ‘the king of white truffles.’ It’s a big claim, but the Bergamo native has arguably served more white truffle than anyone in Asia. Not only that, every year he also serves up a monster white truffle that is sold to support the charity Mother’s Choice. In 2019, a Hong Kong buyer forked out an eye-watering €120,000 (US$132,275) for one seriously hefty 1-kilogram truffle.
His three 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana restaurants — named after his favorite film by Italian director Federico Fellini — include one located in Shanghai. Their six-course white-truffle menu runs RMB3,380 (US$525) per person and features fresh egg taglioni with butter, Parmigiano… and lashings of fresh white truffle, obvs. Other highlights featuring the pricey tuber include traditional chestnut soup, Mayura Station wagyu and a chestnut and vanilla dessert.
Dolce Vita, Mandarin Oriental
Although it overlooks the city’s skyline and the Mandarin Oriental’s expansive, palm-fringed pool, Dolce Vita is a little corner of Italy hidden away in Singapore. A new five-course dinner menu at S$148 (US$110), available this season until the end of November, sees white truffle again take center stage in a series of truly tempting creations.
Poached organic egg with a chestnut velouté, parmesan tuile and white truffle sounds a lovely combination of seasonal ingredients, but it’s the risotto that has set our pulses racing. Special riserva Acquerello rice, smoked potatoes and bone marrow are an intriguing and innovative match, even before the shavings of you-know-what come floating down. Making it rain has never been so much fun.
Sézanne, Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi
Courtesy of Sézanne (2)
Up in the uber-elegant surrounds of Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi, recently installed British chef Daniel Calvert has already wowed diners with his dynamic but light French cuisine at Sézanne, despite having only opened in June. Reflecting his enviable resumé in three-starred kitchens including New York’s Per Se and Epicure at Le Bristol in Paris, and running one-star Belon in Hong Kong, he embraces cultural differences and ingredients to craft stellar plates.
His white-truffle dish most worthy of spotlighting speaks volumes about his culinary journey, as it melds cod shirako — yes, the milt or sperm sacs, a famed Japanese delicacy — with a champagne sauce and white truffle from Alba, their spiritual home in Piedmont. Famed within the industry for his consistency in technique and execution, diners can expect a fabulous rendition of a famed ingredient from one of Asia’s brightest culinary stars. The dish features on the ¥36,500 (US$320) tasting menu that includes three dishes with white truffles.
IGNIV, The St. Regis
Italian white-truffle season always guarantee a buzz of excitement in the Thai capital’s culinary world. At The St. Regis Bangkok, head chef David Hartwig runs IGNIV, the first location for the famed restaurant outside its homeland of Switzerland. The elegant Michelin-starred spot celebrates a shared dining experience… but challenges to that ethos may come when diners won’t let anyone else near his dish that celebrates white truffle.
It’s a creation that may sound comparatively simple and humble: mushroom agnolotti (available à la carte for Bt1,500 or US$45, with additional white truffle for Bt425 per gram). But he uses golden-hued chanterelle mushrooms and a sherry brown butter foam to elevate the fungi to a whole new level, even before the white truffle has been shaved on top, imparting its fabulously special aroma that fills the air and whisks diners thousands of kilometers away, from steamy Bangkok to the cool autumnal forests of Piedmont.
FROM LEFT: A rich Tagliolino all’uovo, tartufo blanco, and Alba white truffle; Pumpkin cream with a sprinkling of Alba white truffles.
Courtesy of LucAle (2)
Finally, back to the +852 and a modest Italian eatery where two renowned Italian chefs have made an alley in the Sai Ying Pun neighborhood a must-visit for the city’s gourmands. As its name hints, LucAle is led by Luca De Berardinis and Alessandro Angelini, a culinary duo who proudly celebrates the best of their homeland through expert sourcing of the finest ingredients available.
Their White Alba Truffle Menu this season not only features four seriously tempting dishes, but they also guarantee that each abounds with a minimum of five grams of white truffle. A starter tartare of Scottona beef (HK$580) is a lovely platform for the truffle, but our vote goes to their homemade egg tagliolini (HK$580) as it truly lets the truffle sing. The decadence is then even taken up a notch by their Rossini beef tenderloin with foie gras — and more of the truffle that the Italian musical maestro so adored.