It’s a culinary speciality, but Jill Turton finds there’s no need to go to Italy to sniff out rare white truffle.
It’s the truffle season and the price for Alba white truffles is currently £280 per 100g. If you think that’s pricey, it’s cheaper than last year because in the Langhe and Roero regions of Piedmont in northern Italy, where the best white truffles come from, 2013 is proving to one of the best harvests this century. With a bumper crop has come a fall in price.
Nearly £300 for a knobbly bit of fungi might seem over the top when you can have a three-night break in Rome with Jet2 for half the price, so what’s the big deal about truffles? Black summer truffles and the rarer Alba white truffles are the ugly, mushroom-like fungi that develop underground in areas of beech, hazel and oak woods. They are highly prized not just for their taste which has been described as pungent, aromatic, heady, musky and earthy, but because they are seasonal, scarce and hard to find.
Short of taking a trip to the Alba White Truffle Fair which is in full swing in mid November, one of the best chances of sampling truffles in Yorkshire, black or white, is at Le Langhe, the restaurant and gloriously stocked deli, at Peasholme Green in central York.
Owner and chef Otto Bocca is a native of Langhe and knows both his wines (there are some 600 Italian bottles on his list) and his truffles. He imports directly from Piedmont and sells fresh truffles by the gram along with delectable offerings of Italian hams, bread, cheeses, homemade pasta, plum tomatoes, Sicilian lemons, porcini and all those exclusively Italian wines.
As well as being a deli and lunchtime café, Le Langhe also opens on Friday and Saturday nights for dinner and it’s worth booking when they roll out the truffle-inspired menu at this time of year. In summer it’s good to eat in the sunny downstairs room or the garden but winter suits the upstairs dining room painted a rich vermilion, its beams exposed to the rafters and walls decorated with old wine boxes and a mix of paintings and posters – all a conspicuous change from Le Langhe’s cramped former premises on Goodramgate
We dither over the menu. We’d like to sample a truffle dish from among the starters as well as a pasta course of black summer truffle or white Alba truffle (£25), but then will we be able to manage a main as well from the choice of calves liver, wild boar, partridge or skate and what about cheese and pudding?
Given that the a la carte is beginning to add up to £45 plus, we reckon that £39 each for the chef’s selection of small courses looks like good value.
So we work our way through eight courses. It is no effort, they are small and delicate: smoked salmon with quail egg; shredded cod on polenta with black summer truffle; butternut squash, with cream of Parmesan and black summer truffle (yes, two courses in succession with generous slices of intoxicating truffle, none of that inferior truffle oil) then it’s wild boar ragu with handmade fresh egg pasta, a proven house signature.
When a heady Prosecco jelly arrives, it seems we’re on the last leg but then comes an impeccable plate of roe deer with juniper and chocolate and dauphinoise potatoes, as tender as, well, roe deer in a deep, rich sauce. A sample of half a dozen cheeses comes on a slate: goat’s cheese with ash, testùn with apricot and grappa and four more whose names I lost in translation. We finish with a small portion of panna cotta in a glass, topped with American grape coulis.
Every course is perfection, in size, taste, flavour and presentation. After numerous meals here I’m convinced this is the best Italian food in Yorkshire, the real deal. The only drawback was our inability to speak Italian or fully understand our charming Italian waiter who patiently explained all with an accent you could cut with a coltello. If service has been rocky on previous visits (one vegetarian friend a couple of years back was treated with startling disdain), it is spot on this time.
And then there are the wines. With that gargantuan list, the bottles are everywhere, wall after wall of them and in every possible nook and cranny. We can’t possibly navigate the list, let alone get our heads round Cesanese, Greco di Tufo or just about every other Italian grape variety. We take advice from il cameriere who advises on a minerally white Toricino for our first three courses and with our roe deer a delicious brick red Compagnia di Ermes Attis. They work perfectly and we promise ourselves we’ll be back for a bottle of the Attis from the deli and who knows, maybe blow the holiday fund on a white Alba truffle.
Le Langhe, The Old Coach House, Peasholme Green, York YO1 7PW. Phone 01904 622584, www.lelanghe.co.uk. Open: Monday-Thursday, 10.30am-5.30pm; Friday, 10am-5.30pm & 7pm to finish; Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm & 7pm to finish. Closed Sunday. Price: Dinner £39 plus wine and coffee.