Truffle Degustation at Benchmark Wine Bar

24 Jul

It’s a typical cool cold Canberra evening in the middle of truffle season when my friends and I descend onto classy Benchmark Wine Bar (near the Novotel and bus station on Northbourne). Benchmark Wine Bar has had truffle degustations each Tuesday of the past few weeks, but the menu’s changed each time; we’ve no idea what to expect from our four courses.

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Well, no idea what to expect until we arrive, where the menu is set out beautifully at each place.

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Exciting! Our first glass of wine is poured quickly, but we have to Google which region in France it is from. I’ve been saving myself for this meal all day, so am starving, and am looking forward to the first course. Scallops done well – whether you like seafood or not (one of our attendees falls into the latter) – are divine.

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Scallops with pumpkin puree and truffle beurre blanc

Scallops with pumpkin puree and truffle beurre blanc

And these scallops are just that. I know describing something as ‘cooked to perfection’ is terribly cliched, but these really are. I cut my scallops into small bites so I get to savour both their flavours and delicate preparation, as well as get plenty of beurre blanc and puree into each mouthful.

From another angle... I can't help myself

From another angle… I can’t help myself

There’s plenty of puree and beurre blanc, but it’s not as thick nor as hot/warm as I’d expect. It’s incredibly delicious, and I all but lick the plate, but a slightly thicker texture would have been ideal. But really, I’m being picky. It’s excellent. The truffle in the beurre blanc doesn’t stand out (in fact, we have a lengthy conversation about where the truffle is in the dish); it’s difficult to identify if you’re not sure what you’re looking for visually, and by taste.

Last angle. I promise.

Last angle. I promise.

Things get a little slow from here. The glass of rose (a mix of cabernet and syrah grapes) comes out next… and it’s all we’ve got for about half an hour. We later conclude that a couple had arrived a little after us and had also chosen the degustation, and it seemed as if our next meal was going to be cooked with theirs. Makes sense, but it meant Benchmark had two happy customers who didn’t wait long, and four who may have finished their glasses of rose well before the next course came out (it was half an hour, after all!).

Benchmark gets the wait service right; our staff tonight might not always be the most knowledgeable (in response to “How is rose made?”) but they are constantly attentive, and respond to everything with good humour. What’s more, our rose glasses are refilled just before our second course comes out, and we get a sincere apology for the delay. It’s the kind of service which drives home exactly why good service is important: it makes all mistakes forgiveable.

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Gnocchi, truffled mushrooms and shaved truffle

Gnocchi, truffled mushrooms and shaved truffle with rose

And a close up - these good looking truffle shavings are from a truffle unearthed in Sutton

And a close up – these good looking truffle shavings are from a truffle unearthed in Sutton

The gnocchi is well cooked; as usual with gnocchi, it doesn’t look like much, but it’s incredibly filling. Three of our group find the dish very peppery, which neither enhances or detracts from the dish. The shaved truffle is a welcome addition, but I’m coming to the conclusion that it works best when cooked into the dish. The highlight for us all are the truffled mushrooms – they’re soft, juicy and meaty and, like T1 circa aged 5, I find myself saving them until I’ve finished everything else on the plate.

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Veal involtinis, pithivier, truffle jus and truffle aioli

Veal involtinis, pithivier, truffle jus and truffle aioli

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None of us is sure what a veal involtini is, nor a pithivier, but the dish comes out very quickly once our empty plates are cleared. It turns out that the veal involtini is rolled veal with a light cheese filling (perhaps goats cheese), and a pithivier is a pastry filled with vegetables. There’s stacks of jus on the plate, and a huge dollop of truffle aioli. The veal is tough on the outside – which strengthens the flavour for me – and bright pink where it’s been cocooned inside. The pasty on the pithivier is fluffy and buttery for most of us, and the combo of the jus and the veal gives a strong umami taste: we liken it to soy. Like the rest of the dish, the aioli is incredibly strong, but manages to cut through the flavours of the jus and the veal to complement them. I think the dish works, and we’re a lot slower on the wine this time as we work through the flavours of the food. We each scrape our plates, but I don’t think any of us could handle a bigger portion size.

Thoroughly scraped plates

Thoroughly scraped plates (with unfinished wine)

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Aren't they a handsome bunch?

Aren’t they a handsome bunch?

Truffle creme brulee

Truffle creme brulee

It’s another decent wait for the creme brulee, but its top is hard and needs a bit of force to crack through – perfect. The kourabiethes are like very, very, very short shortbread and literally disintegrate on touch (except mine, because I was careful). I’m not a huge fan. The creme brulee is delish. It’s probably the one dish where I really can’t notice the truffle at all (it seems to have been burnt into the top), but it doesn’t matter: I’m too busy trying to get as much of the remainder off the side of the bowl.

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The Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise tastes very similarly to the botrytis wines of the Canberra region, and matches surprisingly well with the creme brulee.

Did the dishes best show off the truffle? Yes and no. I expect truffle to be a flavour enhancer, but perhaps we plebs would have benefited from a bit of an explanation of what we should expect to taste. It was fun to guess with each dish, but, really, we could have been completely off, with no one to correct us. The dishes themselves were excellent and varied, and suited a winter theme very well. The wines – while not from the Canberra region – matched the truffle theme.

My final small but critical piece of advice? Don’t sit near the door!

Date: Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Attendees: T1 + Boyfriend + friends

Cost: $125 each (four courses + wines)

Want more? The Truffle Festival runs into the middle of August in the Canberra region. You can eat truffle dishes at some of Canberra’s best restaurants (especially this coming weekend), or go truffle hunting, or head to the markets for cooking demos. Try the Truffle Festival website for Canberra, or do a quick Google search (the Truffle Festival website doesn’t have everything).

 

 

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9 Responses to “Truffle Degustation at Benchmark Wine Bar”

  1. Hilary Schmilary (@hil_clix_pix) July 24, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    I’ve never been to Benchmark, I’m almost tempted, tho i do loath to wait too long for my food…. :o)

    • inthetaratory July 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

      It’s hard to stay annoyed when they make it up to you with wine 🙂

  2. Jas@AbsolutelyJas July 24, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    Hmmm. I think the best truffle dish that I’ve had was the scrambled eggs I made with truffle last week. Not because my scrambled eggs were amazing (they were literally just scrambled eggs with truffle), but because you could really taste the truffle – it was the first time that I’d eaten it that it was distinguishable from the rest of what was on the plate.

    Thank goodness for those wait staff with the wine 😉

    • inthetaratory July 24, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

      You’re making me jealous! I think I feel the same – something where the truffle was the star of the dish rather than a part of the dish was what I was looking for. But it was still a lovely dinner and great food.

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