White Truffles & Sencha
White truffle season is upon us. Possibly the most indulgent and moreish pairing we’ve seen is the famous truffle risotto & Okumidori Sencha 2014 at Gauthier Soho. The restaurant’s manager and tea sommelier, Damian Sanchez, talks us through the pairing which is part of the restaurant’s exquisite tasting menu.
The award winning Gauthier Soho at first glance appears to be a townhouse in the midst of bustling Soho. Ring the doorbell and you’re welcomed into one of London’s most comfortable dining rooms. Their food is always cleverly created; seasonal and distinguishable for Head Chef Alexis’s accent on vegetables.
“Nature is life’s body clock,” says Damian. “It tells us when to eat certain things and exist healthily and in harmony with the planet’s natural rhythms.”
The restaurant also prides itself on its collection of French wines, an enviable tea list and their famous truffle risotto. The risotto at Gauthier Soho is already a legendary dish; richer than a Rockefeller and loaded with truffles.
“The risotto is one of the dishes Alexis began cooking while working for the great Alain Ducasse at the Louis XV in Monaco,” reflects Damian. “It is the complete embodiment of luxury. Rich, expensive ingredients, creamy, and full of all the things you are not supposed to eat much of! It is a treat, an indulgence, like a glass of sweet Sauternes or a delicious pastry from the most marvellous bakery.”
When the dish is ordered, the white truffle board is placed teasingly at the end of the table. You can see it but you can’t smell or taste it yet. Once the fresh risotto arrives at the table, it’s dressed with the jus in front of you. Then the truffle is uncovered. Instantly you’re hit with its intense fragrance that’s hard to forget. The truffle is shaved generously in front of you and fills the air with its scent. As Damian reminds us, “The white truffle is unique as it is impossible to eat out of season.”
The restaurant adds a new level of flavour, pairing it with our Okumidori Shaded-Sencha from 2014. It’s an extraordinarily harmonious match and one that changes perspectives about food and drink pairings.
“I think it’s when you begin to find pairings that are not simply politely complementing each other, but combining to really excite the palate. The right pairing can elevate both elements and create something bigger than the sum of its parts.”
A particularly special tea, this 2014 batch is picked from the organic Nakai gardens in Kyoto. It is picked in the spring which is the premium season for Japanese tea. The tea is made from okumidori varietal tea plants, which make up about 15% of cultivation in Japan and have a silky smooth texture. The plants themselves have been grown under partial shade for 11 days to enhance the rich umami flavours in the leaf. There are only 102kg of it, which makes it a rarity.
“Sencha is the opposite to the black burnt heavily tannin tea we are all used to. Its elegance is unsurpassed, Fresh green vegetables. Soft. Dairy, creamy. The creaminess is key to balancing the richness of the risotto. Good length in the tea matches the lingering aroma of the truffle,” adds Damian Sanchez.
From the preparation to the presentation, making a perfect glass of tea at Gauthier Soho is a skilled process. The amount of tea is measured precisely. A generous 6g is used per 150ml water. The water is measured and checked to ensure it’s added at 40°C and infused for 2 minutes. Once the tea is poured you are immediately captured by its bright creamy green, almost milky colour. The tea is so thick you can barely see through it. Its richness and depth is mesmerising. It has hints of broad beans, edamame and kale. There are notes of pea sweetness, all underpinned by a rich umami. The finish is long and lasts on the palate for minutes.
Tea pairing matches the chef’s sense of taste and core values. Alexis Gauthier has a passion for floral and vegetal flavours and matching food with drinks has always been a main part of the job. “I found Lalani had the passion and the expertise to understand what I was looking for to apply to more vegecentric dishes,” Alexis comments. “One revelation was learning about how tea was actually as if not more seasonal than my favourite ingredients and a new source of discovery into the vegetal world of cooking.”
Damian has a progressive view on food and drink pairing. “Tea is a wonderful accompaniment with food. The flavours of tea are often based on unrefined vegetation – tea leaves are of course a plant – and this means the natural flavour is much closer to food than the acids and sugars of wines. Of course nobody would attempt to suggest tea is a replacement for wine with a meal, but we believe tea has qualities of its own, and in certain cases can work more interestingly.”
Gauthier Soho’s website can be found here. We highly recommend a visit.