Funny things, truffles: brain-shaped, funky smelling fungi that like to parasitise the nutrients of trees. How the first people gave truffles a whiff and decided it was worthy of shaving onto their quattro formaggio pizza is an open question. God bless them though: truffles are legalised crack; catnip for humans; outrageously expensive.
Fortunately, you don’t have to shell out on a $200 tasting menu to experience the joy of having the mushroom shaved all over your business *ahem*. Here are five Sydney cafes with truffle offerings that won’t blow the bank. There’s no better way to usher in winter!
An important note: this post is a celebration of truffles and the cafes offering budget-conscious ways to enjoy them. It excludes full service restaurants. Scores also won’t be assigned – I’ve blogged about all of them in the past; please comment below if you have any questions about any of the cafes in this list!
Cavalier Specialty Coffee – Crows Nest
I know I said I wouldn’t be scoring, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that everyone’s on equal footing. Not when Cavalier Specialty Coffee is in the game.
With five visits under my belt and buying longer belts thanks to each said visit; Cavalier Espresso, under head chef Harry George’s incredible stewardship, has done almost no wrong with its ‘fine dining cafe food’ concept since its inception in late 2015. The exceptionally finessed quality dishes coming out of that little kitchen never fail to make my mouth water; it is my favourite cafe in Sydney (gasp!).
No surprises then, that Cavalier’s truffle offerings – supplied by the excellence that is Madame Truffles – are top-notch. For anyone considering where to begin (and heck, end) their #truffleshuffle adventures, Cavalier’s the be all and end all.
Cavalier offers customers the option to shave truffle on any dish on their Winter menu (+$10), so they aren’t creating specific truffle creations. This opens up the possibilities quite a bit, and admittedly I may have gone overboard in over-representing Cavalier in this post. Oops.
My favourite truffled dishes would have to be the black pig’s benedict and, rather surprisingly, the pedestrian cheeky jaffle.
The benedict was a winner due to the use of high quality black pig’s leg ham, superbly-balanced ‘secret’ hollandaise & mustard, perfectly poached eggs, and buttery toasted challah (a type of brioche) from Brooklyn Boy Bagels. And then BOOM, the truffle gives everything a boost: with plenty of buttery, saucy goodness to go around, truffle was a perfect fit for this dish.
Then on the flip side of the equation we get the primitive cheeky jaffle. Literally a toasted sandwich, there’s something very anti-establishment about adding a supplemental element that’s more expensive than the cost of the dish itself. $18 jaffle may not be your idea of ‘cheap’, but it’s certainly everyone’s idea of deliciousness – especially when it’s a perfect melt-in-your-mouth, crunchtastic experience.
And then there’s the macaroni & cheese w/truffle. Look, do I really have to waste words (and your precious scrolling patience) here? Mac n cheese with truffle WORKS. And when Cavalier luxes it up with duxelles, grana padano and #yolkporn, it’s taken to new, gooey heights. A bit too much dill in it, would be my one and only issue.
I’ve had it twice now, and both times I’ve had to literally ‘draw the line’ on the plate to ensure even distribution of the dish.
Trust me my dear readers, you don’t want to lose friends over this.
Cavalier’s portions are generally quite dainty relative to standard big bold cafe portions. While I like how this allows me to go for variety, those looking for a more fulfilling option would be left wanting. Enter the 15hr beef cheek. Like all other dishes here, it’s incredible just by itself: succulent, melty beef, creamy celeriac, a perfect egg, and an overall nutty flavour profile that’s a guaranteed winter smasher.
And then of course, you add truffle to it. Duh.
Truffle’s efficacy on sweet dishes is also well-known, cue Cavalier’s famous french toast. For a menu that undergoes constant change, this one’s remained a stalwart, with good reason. It’s probably one of the best French toasts in Sydney, and the easy test for me is to ask: could I realistically finish one of these by myself without feeling sick?
Just try and stop me. Harry’s trick is to keep it light and refreshing: airy coffee cream, a thin layer of mascarpone, lots of crunch in both the brioche’s crust, as well as chocolate dust to keep the texture interesting, and – cleverly – passionfruit. Zing!
The addition of the truffle, as expected, improved the dish – though not to the same extent as it did the savoury dishes. You could save yourself the $10 and just get it by itself.
I’m giving Cavalier way too much real estate in this post, but I can’t move on without canvassing their truffle hot chocolate/mocha. Served in specially made ceramic cups by Rita Mu, this is a multi-sensory beverage where the feel of the artisanal cups add to the experience. Sounds wanky, I know – but you want your $8 to go far, right? So BELIEVEEEE.
Adding truffle enhanced the depth of both drinks, with the ostensibly odd choice of salting the truffle actually being an excellent way to balance out the sweetness of the drinks and enhance its depth.
Ah Harry, you’ve done it again.
Three Williams – Redfern
It may be called Three Williams, but I was going to give birth to four (food) Williams when I was done chowing through the truffle menu at this ever-packed Redfern favourite.
Three Williams is headed by Jacqui Ektoros: former head chef of Devon Surry Hills.
Devon Cafe’s always been known to have amazing food – especially their winter truffle offerings – and a large part of that was due to Jacqui’s talent. Her move to Three Williams marked a new age of truffly goodness for the Redfern joint, and it’s proudly brandished in the form of a dedicated five-strong truffle-centric menu, running from now till the end of the season.
There was obviously only one option: order every option.
My favourite item from Three Williams’ truffle menu was a close call between the loaded mushroom toastie and the peking duck angel hair pasta. However, only one of the two dishes was a parade of gooey, oozy gruyere and hot buttered bread. AUTOMATIC WIN.
A critical aspect of the toastie was that it wasn’t dry – thanks to the copious amounts of yellow crack. The spinach actually had a big role to play as well – don’t underestimate the salad heroes.
Add in the final touches of a double-fried egg, a generous hand of shaving truffle, and you’ve got something that just might contend for the title of ‘best toastie in Sydney’.
…is that a blog post idea for next year? 😉
I did mention that the Peking duck pasta wasn’t far behind: it’s cooked perfectly al dente, with a surprisingly light touch of gingery sweetness, and the optimum intensity to keep it moreish. No wonder it came so close to pipping the top spot. As for the addition of truffle – it’s truffled shaved on top of creamy pasta. I don’t have to justify myself here.
The one downside? The skin of the duck was soft and rubbery. I know there are times when soft duck skin is acceptable, but my Chinese upbringing means that personally – it’s crisptastic or it’s a dud.
Just pick out the skin if it bothers you. A big deal suddenly not so big.
When I thought I’d truffled it all, out comes sweet potato fries with oodles of the stuff. While I’m no stranger to truffle on regular potato fries (something that Devon once did to great effect paired with ice cream), it hadn’t occurred to me that it could work with its sweeter cousin. The sweet, punchy three cheese sauce was the cardinal ingredient that brought together the natural sugariness in the sweet potato with the fragrance of truffle. The dish would likely have failed without it.
The one downside? The fries were the fluffy, baked-till-soft type. While this was likely deliberate, I prefer my fries to retain their crunchy exteriors. You know that feeling of soggy fries after microwaving them? It’s like that – but fresh (with a few crispy exceptions).
Three Williams’ safest truffle offering, the crispy truffle chicken breast brings together an age-old pairing of chicken, cream, and truffle. The somewhat sloppy presentation notwithstanding, I liked the dish overall as the flavours were tasty – the earthy artichoke puree, slightly bitter notes from the rocket, sweetness and umami from chestnut were all winners.
I did feel the use of chicken breast meant that the dish was ‘drier’ than I’d have liked, though the crispy (and flavourful!) skin did prevent a ‘Sahara Desert’ situation from occurring.
If there was one truffle dish on Three Williams’ menu you could skip without too much repercussion, this one would be it!
The final hit of decadence on offer is truffle cookies & cream. Three Williams always has a cookies & cream dessert on the menu, with regular variations of ingredients. It’s something the team is familiar with, which evidently shows in just how well-executed the dessert was. The buttery, crumbly macadamia cookies, the truffled mandarin creme patisserie that’s almost perversely indulgent in its hedonistic creaminess, and the near-overkill of crunchy elements which for me, means ‘just right’.
In all honesty, it’s not a dessert from which I could take more than a few bites – it’s a real heavy treat that ought to be shared to keep sugar levels sane, in spite of its diminutive size.
The truffle on top was almost an afterthought considering the richness of the dessert itself. It’s winter – who’s gonna be showing off their six-pack at the beach anyway?
Not me (because there’s no chance of getting one now).
Devon Cafe – Barangaroo
As alluded to in the Three Williams section, no Sydney truffle roundup is complete without the Devon Cafes – yes, that’s both the Barangaroo and Surry Hills outposts. To make both worth visiting, the offerings differ significantly between the two, with some overlap.
It’s not as complicated as you think: Devon at Barangaroo follows the same model as Cavalier, where you can ‘pimp’ any dish with truffles for an extra charge. In addition to this, there are two blackboard-marked items that are specifically truffle-centric. These are covered below.
Once again, Devon’s croissant royale hammered in all the right nails, cementing its perennially favoured position amongst truffle hunters. A crunchy, flaky & buttery croissant, the addiction that is well-cooked bacon, and very importantly: eggcellently scrambled eggs. It’s a dish that doesn’t need truffle to stand out, so of course it improves dramatically with it.
You know it’s something worth imitating when more than one cafe’s doing it: like Cavalier, Devon also serves up a classic jaffle with a smashing hit of truffle. The truffle jaffle’s highlights were the gooey truffle mornay and truffled mushrooms coming straight out of the filling. This meant that it was truffly all over, unlike Cavalier’s which only incorporated truffle on top. A dedicated truffle dish makes a difference, but you certainly pay for the privilege – $27 is probably the most expensive Jaffle you’ll ever buy.
The rum mont blanc French toast technically doesn’t include truffle by default, but after seeing an overwhelming number of Instagram posts depicting this piece of art with the holy mushroom shaved on top, I made the executive call (at least, in my own little universe) that truffle be a non-negotiable aspect.
Okay, I might have overstepped my boundaries: the dessert didn’t really need the truffle, it was fine just by itself. Soft, buttery brioche, nutty & sweet chestnut vanilla puree were selling it already. The intensity of the rum ice cream was particularly noticeable, and overshadowed the aroma of the truffle. I’m still not sure if I actually preferred the inclusion of rum – a bit on the fence about this!
As for the truffle itself? Its impact was understated. You’ll definitely notice the rum in that ice cream more than anything else.
Devon Cafe – Surry Hills
And then we have the original Sydney cafe that started the ‘pimp my dish’ trend. Devon Cafe’s Surry Hills outpost has been doing it ever since it opened, and like a wise old wizard whose every word is loaded with wisdom, so too are its dishes loaded with flavour – and truffles. This year’s truffle-specific offerings are perhaps its best yet – and that’s not even counting the fact that you can pimp any dish with 5g of WA truffle for $15!
Side note: Devon tends to cop a bit of flak for using truffle oil as a finisher to its truffle offerings, which is why – if you eat widely enough – you’ll find its dishes are so much more ‘truffley’ than those from other cafes.
There is significant controversy surrounding truffle oil use – it’s an artificial fragrance, with no actual truffles used in its production. Some chefs don’t mind it, others swear it’s a devil’s substitute for real truffle. The reality is, infusing a dish with truffle and drizzling truffle oil onto it produce very different results: truffle oil doesn’t actually tasted like real truffle, but it still exhibits the pungent flavours that one might come to expect of truffle. Shaving truffle on top gives real truffle aroma, which means when the two are used in concert, it’s not bad – not bad at all.
Whether you are a purist or not about this is up to you, in the end the dishes at Devon are significantly more fragrant & flavoursome as a result; frankly, I like it – I’m not that anal. Anyways, enough nerding and onto eating – don’t let the use of truffle oil turn you off from what is otherwise excellent food!
The most expensive croissant in Sydney, the only two things that could pimp out this dish even more would be caviar and gold leaf. Zac’s Croissant has been a winter offering at Devon since the beginning, and it’s easy to see why: it’s a classic that’s done without fault. Gooey, creamy curds of scrambled egg, a nicely-toasted croissant from a specialist bakery that‘s retained its layered goodness, enough bacon imparting saltiness and meatiness, and the sheer volume of the dish – including the sea of black truffle sprinkled on top makes it a veritable king of breakfast dishes. Yes, it’s got the calories of more than two Big Macs, but it’s certainly more than twice as tasty.
I’m aware that a good part of the aroma in this dish is a direct result of the truffle oil used in it, but the generous amount of actual truffle shaved on the dish keeps it legit in my eyes. Even without truffles, this is probably one of the best ways to eat croissants (other than plain), right up there with Cuckoo Callay’s bacon mac daddy!
P.S. while Devon at Barangaroo serves up what seems like the same dish, let me tell you that the Surry Hills Devon’s version is vastly superior – the eggs are cooked better, and the croissant is much more buttery/flaky!
The original ultimate toastie was the stuff of legend: a mountain of buttery mushroom on a thick slice of toasty artisan sourdough, with melty cheese, perfectly-poached eggs and of course – truffle. Times have changed and so has the toastie, with version 2 evolving the concept but keeping the fundamentals intact. The biggest change is switching the thick sourdough slab with smaller, more manageable pieces of focaccia. This was quite welcome as the original toastie was difficult to finish due to the carb count. Another change I like is the use of more spinach, and an excellent mushroomy cheese sauce which really boosted flavour.
What I don’t like as much is the dramatic price hike ($25 to $31), yet with a halving in the egg count from 2 to 1.
It’s still a good dish (though its construction means it’s not really a ‘toastie’ any more ), but is it still the ultimate toastie? Three Williams might have something to say about that…
They’re called super fries, and that’s exactly what they deliver: superlative quality. These are ridiculously crunchy chips with a ton of earthy aroma (from truffle oil and the real stuff), cheesy notes, culminating in finger-licking goodness and blitzing the ‘just one more’ test.
These might actually be some of the best fries I’ve ever had *gasp*.
A regular winter menu dish of Devon’s, I loved the ragu alla bolognese so much when I first had it that I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have some truffle shaved on top of it.
To nobody’s surprise, it worked splendidly: meat sauce, cheese, pasta and truffle. The only way it could have been a better match made is if the dish was based on a creamy white sauce – though of course, that would be a completely different dish altogether.
That said, I actually wouldn’t bother paying the extra $15 to pimp up this dish – it’s perfectly good just by itself. At Devon, Zac’s Croissant and the super fries are probably your best picks for truffling.
Lucky Suzie – Darlinghurst
As the mastermind behind both Devons, as well as Lucky Suzie, I’m painfully aware I’m over-representing Zacharay Tan in this post. And as if to further question my rationality including this Malaysian cafe in the post is the fact that Lucky Suzie only offers two truffle items on the menu.
But when one of those items is a 18-layer taro cake w/truffle custard, the game changes:
This is right up there with Cavalier’s Tiramisu French toast as the best truffle dessert in this entire roundup, and easily one of the best truffle-centric dishes you could get in Sydney this winter. 18 layers of firm, rich taro cake (with texture not unlike kueh to those familiar with Malaysian sweets) is generously drenched with truffle custard that does not hold back on the truffle. Add precision-shaved, paper-thin truffle on top and you get a work of modern art that wouldn’t be accepted by any art gallery: because the curators would eat it faster than they could say ‘I’ll take it!’
In case I haven’t driven the point home: Lucky Suzie is worth visiting for this cake alone.
Just as well, because Lucky Suzie’s second truffle offering of crumbed mushroom was extremely underwhelming. Melty raclette cheese: check. Tender mushroom: check. Crunchy batter: check. Flavour: nooooooope. I felt a need – a need for umamiiiiiiiii. In all seriousness, the bite-sized morsels sorely lacked flavour, and thus while I include them in the post for completeness, I can’t recommend them.
Go for a second serve of the truffle taro cake if you’re still hungry. I should have!
Got this far? Well done! You obviously love truffle as much as I do – happy hunting and happy eating! If you have any other hot truffle tips to share, please let me know in the comments below – I would definitely appreciate it 🙂
All venues in this post were independently-paid for