They cost a fortune but the aroma could raise the dead. We check out the truffle and champagne menu at Brunello because someone had to.
It’s that time of the year again, when dogs and pigs go snout down in the Italian earth to snuffle out the truffles. Actually, pigs are better at it than dogs, but they tend be, well, rather piggy about it and will often eat the truffle before their handler can stop them.
It’s also the time of year when J and I go truffle hunting in restaurants; J loves them so much he even named his dog Truffles which, as the dog is a great big bulldog, must get some sniggers when the dogs and owners all meet up in the park.
This year we heard that that Brunello in the Baglioni Hotel has a special menu of truffle dishes matched with different expressions (as the pros say) of Charles Heidsieck champagne, so were round faster than I can write the Fun Guy joke, you know that one right? Sure, you do.
The restaurant has been refurbed since I last visited, so I get a bit of déjà vu; I think I recognise it but then I don’t. Things have been moved about and the décor lightened. This is a good thing; before it used to have a bit of a ‘hide out for the over-wealthy’ about it. People who have no taste but know how to read a price ticket. Now it’s simply pleasant and only murmurs about all the money.
The place hums with quiet efficiency. Waiters and Maitre d all fluid in motion and arriving at the right time and not mid mouthful.
Eight dishes, eight different Heidsiecks. All the dishes have been scaled to not be too filling and not all have truffles, which is a good thing as surfeit is avoided.
A kick off of quail egg, truffle, leek and celeriac compote is delicate and fine, the truffle notes perfect with the egg. The Heidsieck Brut Reserve crisp against the celeriac.
A follow up of beef carpaccio with crispy parmesan flakes is simple and superb, totally reliant on the quality of the beef which is irreproachable.
A Heidsieck Rose Reserve has a hint of sweetness that matches the sweetness of the meat and bumps in a friendly way with the salty Parmesan.
Tuna crusted in black and white sesame seeds raises the bar again, perfectly seared and just touched with heat on the inside.
A tangle of softly stewed red peppers against a balsamic reduction shows simple class.
Another rose, this time a 2006 tickles with soft bubbles.
You simply can’t, in my opinion, not have a truffle pasta or risotto dish. Truffles seem made for it. Here Chef Raffaele Lauriola, who seems to have a firm grasp of classic Italian cooking, shows his skills again with rice that is perfectly al dente.
The Acqualagna truffle is shaved on at table, its aroma rising as soon as it floats, Autumn leaf-like down, onto the hot rice. Charles Heidsieck Millesime 2005 tickles the palate.
Do you like smears on your plate? People tend not to, these days.
Chef Lauriola has found a new way to serve his truffled sauce, it’s dropped onto the plate so it forms a splash as if some 60s artist had created it. I like this idea. On top is sea bass topped with a pistachio crust.
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995 is one Heidsieck’s rare vintages, and quite superb. Very fine bubbles, creamy, aromatic and citrusy it’s a joy to drink, especially with this dish. You may feel, as we did, this is the standout pair from a menu already outstanding.
We had a refill for the cheeseboard, which served to show how well this fizz works with different textures and flavours of fine cheeses, and kept a bit back for our classic Tiramisu.
Yes, it’s almost a cliché but why not? No one can refuse a tiramisu who has any kind of love of food.
Yes, it is not cheap this menu, and you only have a few days left, but if you have the time and the money I recommend it (or ‘urge’ you as Nigella would say) to try it.
Failing that, do try the Brunello for a meal anytime; it’s not a trendy place and chef is mature and experienced.
If you like that kind of cooking as much as I do, as well as classic quality service from professional staff, then you’ll be as happy as a pig in truffles.