Alyn has fed me so many firsts this year, and is the only chef who's had me buying gulls eggs, and eel, to cook at home - that's my idea of an inspirational cook. As a result we were delighted when he received his first Michelin star recently, and won the National Chef of the Year competition a few days later
On this occasion the room was full of truffle aficionado's - though this shouldn't put you off - a truffle tasted for the first time is just as enjoyable as the last... There's something in the scent, the (almost) melt-in-the-mouth texture which will leaves you wanting more. Truffles are rumoured to be addictive, but apparently some people are just more susceptible to their charms than others... Here the dishes were so varied that it wasn't a case of sensory overload, but of a steady appreciation of precious and highly seasonal ingredients.
Sweetcorn might seem an unusual vehicle for truffles, but having had sweetcorn chowder spiked perfectly with lemongrass at Eleven Madison Park, I've come to appreciate its sweet simplicity anew. There was a smooth silky sweetcorn puree beneath the ravioli, and a scattering of crunchy fresh kernels. The scallop ravioli itself was light and delicate, with shaved alba truffle on top.
|Scallop ravioli, sweet corn, white truffle|
Jerusalem artichoke panna cotta is smooth and silky, with a rich dense foie grass mousse piped on top - both have earthy deep flavours, and the truffle and lemon compote on the glass provide a fragrant highlight to the two components. Interestingly the pairing of foie gras and artichoke brings out a green note in the panna cotta, a contrast which was literally mouth-watering - a great play with umami flavours.
|Foie gras mousse, Jerusalem artichoke, black truffle, chickweed|
The quail breast was perfectly cooked, pink, and the legs kofta were delicately spiced with dukka (an Arabic or Egyptian spice mixture). The veloute, again rich and earthy - echoed the continuing autumnal theme - but also echoing the sweetness of the sauternes preserved alba truffles.
Spiced quail, chestnut gnocchi, pumpkin velouté,
marigold flowers and preserved white truffle
A variation of the smoked egg has been on the menu before, and Alyn's truffled soldiers were one of the first things I ate at the restaurant when it opened. Here they make a very welcome return, with the slight acidity of the creme fraiche at the bottom of the dish offsetting the richness of the egg.
|Smoked egg, with truffled soldiers|
|Slow cooked cod, coco beans, white truffle, Ventreche, casserole|
Oh my word... See that little slip of mushroom puree, there in the front? With my finger print in it? Yes... That's because it's one of my favourite things ever - pure umami, richly intense, perfect in every way. The beef was tender, there were tiny croutons providing crunchy bursts of sauce-soaked texture, which was rich with madeira and demi-glace. To top it all (and make it a sauce perigourdine), fresh truffles were shaved over the dish at the table.
|Devon Ruby beef, sauce perigourdine, |
ceps, (and separately, pommes mousseline)
Inevitably there's always one dish that I begin to eat before I photograph it - and here it was because the smell from the vanilla in the rice pudding and the truffle was quite intoxicating. Your brain can't quite rationalise the pairing, but your palate is telling you to shut up and eat it! Very unusual combination, the texture of the truffle is slightly incongruous with the soft, sweet grains of rice, but hey, the flavour and scent more than make up for that.
|(Partially eaten) Vanilla, white truffle, Devon cream, rice pudding|
All my notes say is that pear and truffle are amazing together. No more than that, but with a number of exclamation points. There was a catalan cream, smooth and light, with a pear granita, and softly poached pear... The pine adds an additional spike in the scent, and the sugar shard further texture.
|Pear, pine, crème Catalan, black truffle sugar|
The real skill in this menu is combining so many truffle elements, whilst remaining true to each dish as an individual entity. Truffles were served in a myriad of ways, and eating at Alyn's as often as we do, it's very evident that his menu's are improving, his experimentation is paying off, and his palate is excellent. (And he gave me a little bit of my favourite miso eel at the beginning of the meal. I could eat that forever!)
This truffle menu is available for a limited time at £180 per head (though having just been to a restaurant where the supplement was £70 per dish, it certainly isn't overpriced!) The restaurant also offers a tasting menu at £60 per head, and a lunch menu at £25 for three courses. With inspired service from the lovely Gian-Carlo Princi, and a glittery carpet - what more could you ask for?
Alyn Williams at the Westbury
37 Conduit Street
The Westbury Mayfair Hotel
London W1S 2YF