Truffle Degustation at Eleonore’s Restaurant
I believe we’ve had an excellent truffle season this year, with a commensurate upsurge of truffle-themed dinners around Melbourne, mostly organised by Melbourne’s very own Fringe Food Festival. I missed out on last year’s dinners, but finally made it to this event.
Eleonore’s Restaurant, Chateau Yering
The dinner’s held in Yarra Valley, where some of Melbourne’s truffles are grown. Chateau Yering is situated just out of reach from the outer suburbs, where the roads stop having streetlights and rural Victoria begins. And the drive there was surprisingly quick, taking just a little over an hour from the city.
The Drawing Room, Chateau Yering
I booked this dinner with kicci, a foodie who’s visiting from Singapore. We became friends through my blog, and he’s about as picky with his meats (steaks, roast duck, foie gras, sushi/sashimi) as I am with my hawker fare and coffees. So we learn from each other.
He also turned out to be quite a natural with photography. All of the collaged shots above and many of the dishes through this meal were snapped by him, it was the first day he used a dSLR.
We were led into the plush, historical drawing room to wait while the rest of the dinner group arrived. Fringe Food Festival organiser, Suzanne, then came out to lead us into the dining room proper. There were many growers and producers in the group, and they sat on the long table closer towards the kitchen. Suzanne then introduced chef Mathew Macartney, and they spoke briefly about the event and about truffles.
A word about Fringe Food Festival. The website’s tagline says ‘for food growers / makers / tasters’. They aim towards creating grassroots food events, with themes around what’s local, seasonal and sustainable. At $97.50, this truffle degustation may appear inaccessible for some. But it’s actually very well priced considering it’s a 5-course degustation with matched wines in a hatted restaurant.
The setting’s quite period and formal looking, with tablecloths, long communal tables, luxury chairs and a lot of cutlery. I stressed over sitting next to strangers as kicci and I won’t get to be as nonsensical as we normally are. I also wondered whether our constant photography (and bickering) would irk our neighbours, but I think nobody cared, and everyone relaxed a lot more as we drank more and more wine.
sautéed escargot, choux pastry, parsley coulis, bacon crumbs, truffle slice
We eased into our meal with a whimsical amuse bouche… whimsical because it really DID look like a creeping snail when viewed from above.
The concept was adorable but I wasn’t too excited by its flavours. And kicci mentioned how he liked the elements of this dish when eaten separately, but not when put together. However, we did remember that the dish arrived with a gloriously rich aroma of truffles… the kind of whiff that makes you want to go “mwah!”. So it was a good teaser for all the other dishes to come.
goats curd fondue, truffle honey, smoked Yarra Valley trout
2011 Punt Road Pinot Gris
Things then began beautifully with a wonderful first course. This dish tasted so good, it had counterpoints of earthy sweetness with tang, creamy, savoury. Kicci thought the dish had a bit of a dessert feel to it.
The matching drinks for each course came courtesy of winemaker, Punt Road Wines.
Now I won’t pretend to be a wine drinker, I usually go for craft beers, G&T’s or ciders. So for most of this meal I only took a couple of sips from each matched wine, with the exception of the next course of suckling pig, where I drank all of that deliciously subtle traditional method apple cider (pictured above).
Western Plains Suckling Pig
scallops, apple, celeriac, celery
Napoleone & Co Methode Traditionnelle Apple Cider
And here’s course number two, served with shavings of Tasmanian truffle.
That refined-looking rectangle of pork sort of fell short of my mental expectations of what a suckling pig dish should be like. Asian-style, it is often served with a focus on crisp crackling skin and all the fat and oils that comes with it. Kicci simply said that the pork was unexciting, though the meat was not inferior.
All that said, I thought the succulent scallops actually went well with all the other light tasting components of the dish, including a delightful piece of chargrilled parsnip hiding underneath. And ooh.. that matching cider…
Baked Truffle & Foie Gras
fig gel, port glaze, parsnip purée
2011 Punt Road Pinot Noir
Our decadent third course came as truffle and foie gras baked in pastry. I really enjoyed all of this dish and wished it came as a bigger serve. Foie gras and truffles together makes a killer combination. Kicci, however, did not like it because he thought the buttery pastry competed with the flavour of the foie gras. He suggested that I taste the fillings on its own, which I did and liked it even more. Ha ha… when it comes to foie gras, I am not quite as discerning as kicci.
I did, however, make it a point to taste that slice of Tasmanian truffle on its own. This one that I nibbled on held mild hints of tobacco spice.
We took a walk to stretch our legs and went to inspect the display table, where a huge-ass 310g Yarra Valley truffle sat. We were at the markets earlier on and noted that this year’s winter truffles were priced at $30/10g. So this monster truffle would’ve essentially retailed at $930!
During the course of this dinner, I realised that as deeply aromatic as truffles are, I found that they’re actually quite mild in taste. It is more that rich, heady aroma in the truffle plays a big role in the enjoyment of its flavour. And that delicious scent is quite fleeting and dissipates pretty quickly once the truffle’s been shaven. That’s probably why in some restaurants, they shave the truffles over your plate right in front of you, so that the aromas come as fresh as possible.
wild mushrooms, intercostals, Perigord jus
2005 Punt Road Shiraz
Our fourth course of soft, soft, melty Sher Wagyu beef and succulent slow-cooked ribs was the night’s winner for the both of us. And I’m glad it came in a more robust serving size. If there’s one thing kicci taught me during his visit, it’s that if a dish is very good, he doesn’t know why, because it almost transcends description. So rather than peel the dish apart, I’ll just leave it be and declare that we loved it.
… although I’ll just have to sneak in one sentence from kicci, who thought that “it tasted like very good beef, but lacking the perfumed buttery sweetness that probably only comes with Japanese Wagyu”.
Pear Tarte Tatin
Roquefort ice-cream, walnut, truffle, pear cider
2011 Punt Road Botrytis Semillon
Just like our first course had dessert notes to it, the night ended with a final course that had entrée elements to it… I mean, look at the truffles, microherbs and blue cheese ice cream. We thought blue cheese was a very adventurous dessert ingredient that can either make or break the dessert.
In our case, we both really liked it. It came with spiced crumbs, pear cider jelly, spiced stewed pear and candied walnuts. And I liked the role that truffle took in this dish. Even the sweet and Jasmine tea-like Semillon it was paired with tasted delicious.
So ended our night of everything truffles. Truth be told, I used to fear truffles because they often feature in rich rich creamy dishes, which scares me. But over the course of this dinner, I thought the truffles were used in a sensible way that made it more accessible for me.
Thank you, Fringe Food Festival, Chef Mathew Macartney and all the growers, makers and producers who made this event possible. We went through a good 700g of winter truffles that night!