Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tony Naylor and reader Tim Golding compare notes on Burnt Truffle.
Tony Naylor is a Manchester-based journalist who regularly writes for Olive, as well as Restaurant magazine and The Guardian. You’ll also find him blogging online for The Guardian’s Word of Mouth.
Tim Golding, 45, lives in Cheshire and eats out five times a month. His favourite cuisine is Spanish and, fittingly, his best eating experience was the pluma iberica with confit potatoes
Gary Usher gained fame in the national food media in a much-publicised twitter spat with Harden’s last year. However his reputation as one of the UK’s top chefs outside of London far outweighs his notoriety for standing up to one of the country’s biggest restaurant guides. Funded entirely through Kickstarter, Burnt Truffle is his second restaurant (the first is the much-lauded Sticky Walnut) and head chef Michael Wong and team inject the Wirral with a rare dose of imaginative modern cooking, stylish, paired-back interiors and brilliantly irreverent service. Usher remains at the vanguard of a movement all his own.
Human is the best way to describe the service. Staff members are chatty and, generally, on-the-ball. There is the occasional lapse (a mix-up over a glass of wine on this visit), but any glitches – a glass was also smashed beside our table – are handled with such good humour that the experience is never less than warm. I’ll take personality over robotic efficiency every time. Tap water was offered without asking. *I was not recognised.
Burnt Truffle feels right as soon as you walk in. Our waitress, Becky, was charming, and when asked about the menu was happy to consult the chefs rather than offer a guess on the spot. The wines suggested matched our food choices perfectly.
Burnt Truffle’s stairwell is decorated with menus from such restaurants as Story and Hibiscus. It is a ballsy bit of interior design, given that, implicitly, it draws a comparison between Burnt Truffle and those stellar venues. It would be excruciating were the dishes coming from chef Michael Wong’s open-kitchen not so damned good.
The de-boned Jacob’s ladder (or short-rib meat) served with a sublime onion purée and truffled, parmesan-sprinkled chips, is a crowd-pleasing dish. But every plate here is executed with unusual technical skill.
Breaded lamb’s tongue (soft as Italian shoe leather, huge flavour), is a killer dish. Every element – chickpea purée, fried chickpeas, chorizo, goat’s curd – works together. It has taste, texture and balance.
A main of pork belly, partnered with cheesy polenta, a raisin pine nut dressing, and pickled chicory, is a triumph. The way the meaty flavours meld with the fruit and the chicory cleanses the palate is very smart.
Are there flaws? Yes, but, at its very best, Burnt Truffle could go toe-to-toe with the famous restaurants hymned on its walls.
I have dined in the excellent sister restaurant Sticky Walnut, and there are similarities. Modern British food is prepared with quality produce and skill. Faffing with ingredients is kept to a minimum, and everything on the plate counts. Vegetarian options are given equal attention to meat and fish (colston basset arancini, cavolo nero, kohlrabi and blackberries – was an intriguing vegetarian main).
Starters were excellent: chicken and pig’s head terrine was served with deep-fried pickles, the latter balancing the richness of the terrine. Even better was the flamed mackerel and tartare with pickled kohlrabi and capers. The astringent kohlrabi was the perfect foil to firm, oily mackerel.
I opted for haunch of venison and my wife had roast pork belly. The pork came with unctuous polenta, rich with butter and Berkswell cheese. The venison was a quality piece of meat, served beautifully pink with damsons, girolles and cobnuts, which added texture to a dish and made the most of seasonal ingredients. We skipped dessertand finished with some very well kept cheese (blue de basque and goddess no.5), biscuits and quince jelly.
The bottom line
At lunch, several mains cost under £10. That must be Britain’s best bargain. Next time (I was seated by a door), I want a cosier table, upstairs, but I will be back, soon. People talk about passionately run restaurants. This is what real dedication tastes like. Bill was £73 for two
FOOD: 8.5/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 7/10; TOTAL 22.5/30
Burnt Truffle is a high-end dining experience masquerading as a neighbourhood bistro. Service is warm and informal without being casual or careless. This is the sort of place where you can happily while away many hours eating great ingredients cooked with skill and imagination. We can’t wait to return. Bill was £121 for two
FOOD: 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 9/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOTAL 27/30
Food Made Good Rating: 6/10
If this month’s punter had been looking for the most responsibly sourced items on the menu, they chose well. The mackerel, kohlrabi and samphire were in season; the latter two were also both locally sourced. The chicken and pig head (from organic, free-range pork) terrine showcase the restaurant’s nose-to-tail ethos – the chicken, though, carries no welfare standards. Venison is served with damsons from a customer’s garden. It’s early days at Burnt Truffle and unsurprising that they’re not up to speed on all environmental and social practices, and recycling (food waste aside). That they’re hiring apprentices, however, is a sign of things to come. thesra.org
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