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Review: Chifley’s Truffle Dinner

Natassja Hoogstad Hay

In case you hadn’t noticed it’s truffle season in Canberra, and the flavoursome black fungus is taking over menus all over town including Chifley’s Bar & Grill where I headed last week for my first ever truffle degustation.

I have one word to describe this dinner – epic. And delicious. Okay, make that two words.

After marvelling at the fireplace in the Hotel’s foyer for a few minutes (it was a cold night), we made our way to the dining room next to the main Chifley’s Bar and Grill restaurant where we were greeted at the door with a glass of sparkling with a strawberry – always a great start to any evening.

Expecting an intimate dinner for two, I was surprised to find we were sitting at a group table for nine, but sitting on a group table made for a fun evening. The table looked impressive with wine glasses stacked three deep in front of each place.

Before the first course was served we were introduced to Chifley’s Bar & Grill head chef Michael Chatto, the man responsible for the evening’s spectacular menu.

We then met Sherry McArdle-English, from French Black Truffles of Canberra, our host for the evening and who was there to talk all things truffle throughout the course of the evening.

As we tucked into the first of six courses, Cauliflower soup with truffle cream, Sherry shared with us the early beginnings of her truffle farm. After working for more than 20 years as a counsellor, Sherry and her husband (a civil engineer) moved to a farm in Majura after her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was only after realising they needed a hobby to keep them busy that they discovered Canberra’s climate was perfect for truffles. This was in 2004 and pre-Masterchef days; a time when truffles weren’t so well known outside the hard-core foodie scene.

cauli soup

Tonnes of lime were added to the soil to increase its acidity, and Sherry planted oak trees inoculated with truffle spores. The trees were imported to Canberra from Tasmania, the only other place in Australia where truffles were grown at the time.

The first course was a lovely gentle lead into the menu for the evening. But what’s more is I love cauliflower, and found the creamy soup had just a hint of earthy truffle flavour – a great warm up dish for the truffle extravaganza that was about to follow.

From here, the kitchen upped the truffle factor with the next course of Suckling pig terrine featuring a truffle dressing and shaved truffles.

pork terrine

I wasn’t sure at first about the idea of a cold pork dish but the flavour of the pork highlighted the flavour of the shaved truffles well. I thought the servings of shaved truffles were generous weren’t at all overwhelming. With fresh truffle, I find it’s the smell that hits you more than the actual taste – earthy but not overpowering. The crispy kale and potato added a lovely crunch to this dish.

By the time we’d finished the second course, I had two glasses of wine racked up as moved onto the third matched wine for the next course. The wine complemented the food well, but the serves were too generous for me to keep up, especially on a school night! If you come to one of these dinners, I highly recommend not driving so you can enjoy the full experience.

Next course was White asparagus with poached egg, fresh truffle and shaved parmesan. This was quite a light dish, and probably my least favourite of the night. I thought the truffle flavour got a bit lost in the asparagus and the egg, and overtaken by the parmesan.

This was however matched with my favourite white wine of the evening – Nick O’Leary Riesling– it was beautifully fruity with a slight fizz. I finished this glass but the other two remained unfinished. Priorities!

In between courses, Sherry shared more of her truffle stories. The dogs, she said, are trained to treat the finding of truffles as a game, and are given rewards when they find ripe ones. They love it and usually go truffle searching for around 40 minutes at a time so they don’t tire out.

She also showed us a photo of her truffle dog, Snuffles, an American cocker spaniel. Did you know that any dog can be a truffle dog? The important quality is that they have obsessive-compulsive tendencies so they’ll do anything to find truffles and get their reward. There are about six dogs who work on Sherry’s farm sniffing out truffles all winter, but they are trained every day throughout the year.

Snuffles

At this point, a (carefully supervised) jar of fresh truffles worth about $2,500 was passed around to each of the tables. Apparently it takes three whiffs of a fresh truffle for people to grow to like the smell but I thought they smelt pretty good the first time – maybe because I had already been eating them all evening.

We switched to red wine for the next course – Truffled scallop ravioli with ox jus. I had a slightly different version of this to accommodate my gluten intolerance – Truffle scallop served with cauliflower puree and ox jus. The flavours were perfect and I was assured by my fellow diners that the version with pasta was just as delicious. More fresh shaved truffles featured on this dish.

ravioli

The best had definitely been saved until last as we moved to the final savoury course of the night – Ranger Valley Eye fillet with truffle and bone marrow sauce.

This dish. Wow.

steak

One of the most tender pieces of steak I’ve ever eaten, cooked to medium-rare perfection in a sous-vide machine. The sauce had just the right balance of  a salty, rich flavour to complement the beef and truffles. I liked the bone marrow although found it quite rich and was unable to finish it all.

Another standout wine from Nick O’Leary accompanied this course, the 2013 Bolaro Shiraz. (I think I need to visit this winery after enjoying so much of it at this dinner).

pannacotta

Last course, dessert, didn’t have any truffles but was amazing nonetheless. The vanilla pannacotta had the perfect wobble that all Masterchef judges are obsessed with and was smooth and creamy. The rhubarb and the accompanying dessert wine both added a fruity element that cut through the creaminess of the Pannacotta.

All in all a fabulous evening of wine, food and truffles. I loved hearing Sherry speak of her experience in the truffle business and everything that goes into growing these nuggets of black gold. The venue was cosy, old school glamorous and the food was superb.

The only thing I thought that could’ve made the evening better was an appearance by Snuffles the truffle dog, but I guess I’ll have to visit the farm to meet her.

the essentials

What: Chifley’s Bar & Grill six-course truffle dinner (including wine), with special guest Wayne Haslam from Blue Frog Truffles, as part of the Truffle Festival Canberra
Chef: Menu curated by Chifley’s executive chef Michael Chatto, using Blue Frog truffles
When: Thurs 23 July 2015
Where: Chifley’s Bar & Grill, Hotel Kurrajong Canberra
Time: 6.30pm
Cost: $135
Book: Phone the restaurant on (02) 6234 4444 or email [email protected]

The author and her guest dined courtesy of Chifley’s Bar & Grill, but all opinions remain her own.

 Feature image of truffles courtesy of Shutterstock.
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Natassja Hoogstad Hay

Natassja Hoogstad Hay is a communications professional working in Canberra. An unashamed foodie, she loves cooking and going out to eat, and has a special love of coffee and wine. She’s obsessed with social media (handy in her field!) and is working on perfecting her Instagram game. In her spare time you might find her at a yoga class, cosied up on the couch with a book or the TV, or outside taking photos of beautiful Canberra sunsets.

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