45 Grafton Way, London, W1T 5DQ www.la-tagliata.com
Some people see August as the time to eat game but not Nick, who hates spitting out shot. For him it’s the season to tuck into black summer truffles.
Did you know black truffles produce a compound called anandamide, nicknamed the “bliss molecule,” a chemical similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana?
Or that the Marquis de Sade used to serve truffles to his victims/pals as kind of appetiser?
While the white truffle is the king of truffles, the Pergigord black truffle comes close, albeit much cheaper, and at this time of year there is a third option, the Italian black summer truffle, the "Scorzone".
It’s subtler than the Perigord black truffle, but as it’s less expensive you can shave more on. And more is never less.
La Tagliata in Fitzrovia, that faded and louchely stylish area near Warren Street tube, has been around since 2017 after moving over from Spitalfields.
It’s made from what was once, presumably, one of the terraced houses of the Antony Powell years and has the proper feel of a neighbourhood Italian restaurant, a feel helped by all the staff being Italian. Or doing very good impressions, if they aren’t
We came to try the three black truffle specials, on the menu for a limited time, but kicked off with a basket of breads - various fluffy focaccia, and the wonderfully crisp thin bread from Sardinia called Guttiau, here sensually aromatic with rosemary and gently dusted with sea salt for a prickle on the palate.
I could have eaten the whole basket, but restrained myself to allow space for the truffle starter - Tuna Tartare seasoned with white pepper and truffle oil, topped with avocado and covered in lavish shavings of truffle.
I was a bit worried by the inclusion of truffle oil; like balsamic vinegar this is rarely the real deal, even in Italy, but usually a horrid synthetic concoction. Well if this was fake, it didn’t taste like it. I think it was a real infusion.
The tuna and avocado pairing was sublime, the two textures effortlessly embracing each other like long lost friends at a railway station, with the white pepper perfectly pointing up the freshness of the fish.
It’s strange, as an aside, how we seem to have rejected white pepper as being somehow suburban compared to freshly ground black pepper, and yet it does have a very clear culinary use. Black pepper here would simply not have worked at all.
A sliver of Guttiau was in the top like a jaunty sail and it came in useful for encouraging the tartare and avocado onto the fork. Its crispness than adding a further texture.
This would have all been perfectly delicious without the truffle, but was even better with. The aroma wafted across the table, making nearby diners raise their heads in a decidedly meerkat manner, and the taste had all the notes truffle is famous for - musky, a bit garlicky, mushroomy and rich in umami.
We separated for mains, I really think nothing quite brings out the best in truffle like pasta. In fact, I think I read a scientific validation of this to do with oil and butter, but I can’t find it now.
So, for me it was full steam ahead for spaghetti carbonara with truffle.The truffle is an added extra but too many people ruin this classic dish by also adding cream. Here it was done perfectly; just long pasta with egg yolk, pecorino cheese, smoked guanciale and black pepper.
Guanciale, or pig’s cheek, is the secret of a proper carbonara. Yes, bacon pieces will do at home, or if you’re feeling a bit posher, pancetta, but guanciale is the best.
Getting the egg just cooked enough to cling to the pasta, but not solidify, is an art.This was perfect, I could not fault it and as you may have guessed, I am rather particular about carbonara.
The truffle on top was the icing on the cake. Fantastico.
J had the tagliata - beef with rosemary, porcini mushrooms and asparagus, scattered with lots of truffle. It’s a simple dish in essence; get the very, very very best steak you can find, cook it rare to medium rare and no more and rest.
Then add some flavourings, and any other bits you fancy, to the pan juices, pour over the meat, slice and serve.
It was a generous piece, perfectly cooked (and rested), and almost buried under the leaf fall of truffle slices. J ate it all down to the plate enamel.
After all that we were both a bit puffed out and awash with truffles, so we only just managed to eat a decent panna cotta, nicely wobbly, and a semifreddo which was not as good as I’ve had elsewhere, but ok.
The truffle menu at La Tagliata is generous and delicious, so do make the most of it while it’s available.
Alongside the truffle menu, until the 30th September, La Tagliata will be running its special Pasta Hour, which will give diners 20% off pasta dishes at the Fitzrovia site Fitzrovia from 6.00pm – 7.30pm Monday to Friday, and 6.30pm – 7.30pm on Saturdays.