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Monday, June 29, 2009

Truffle Festival lunch at Senso Restaurant, Canberra

Head chef and owner, Jan Gundlach, breathes in deeply

EDIT: Senso Restaurant has closed.

Truffles. Is there are food more veiled with gastronomic intrigue and romantic mystique?

We headed to Canberra's first Truffle Festival to find out first-hand the allure of the truffle, a road trip that detoured via Berrima for scones, before arriving at Senso. for a four-course truffle lunch.

Pumpkin pickles with lemon and pepper

Senso. sits on new premises at the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets. Located above the hubbub of the square that contains fruit and vegetable shops, delicatessens, bakeries and butchers, Senso is a scene of tranquility, a large and narrow open space that has a dining area on one side, with an uninterrupted view into the kitchen.

The open kitchen

When we first sit down, the waiter presumes we want the Flying Buffet lunch menu, and at $29 for three courses, we're almost tempted. On the day we dined, $29 would've gotten you homemade breads with pumpkin pickles and goats fromage fraiche; fennel soup with orange; slow-cooked ocean trout with tarragon mustard sauce; osso bucco with herb polenta; and poached quince with lemon ice cream. The Flying Buffet menu changes daily, using ingredients sourced from the markets.

Despite the alluring menu, we're adamant we've driven 280km in search of truffles. The three course truffle menu is a very modest $75 and includes a glass of wine.

Salted and unsalted butters

Goat's fromage frais

The presentation of our appetisers is impeccable, a tear-drop shaped bowl of sourdough slices alongside serves of bright orange pickled pumpkin cubes and a snowy white mound of goat's fromage frais. Two types of butter necessitate intensive tasting (of course!). It's a pick-and-mix combination of flavours, and whilst I love the trail of salt flakes on the plank of salted butter, I'm enamoured by the pale sweet creaminess of the unsalted version.

Pots on the stove

The crockery shelves

Jann adds the finishing touches

The open kitchen provides a welcome show of gastronomic theatre. The plating is all done at the front counter, a sight that is both fascinating and mesmerising, making me a poor conversationalist amongst friends as I constantly desert our table for photo opportunities.

Fennel soup with orange and truffles

Our starter is a fennel soup with orange and truffles, a light and creamy soup topped with snow-white foam and garnished with straws of fresh truffle.

I find myself using the spoon to eat the truffles on their own, trying to preserve their flavour and relishing their slight stickiness. Their flavour isn't overwhelming, althought they do seem to add a slight earthiness to the soup.

Plating our entrees

Celeriac, chestnuts and truffle puree

Our entrees is a disc of baked celeriac, topped with toasted chestnut pieces and a quenelle of truffle puree. There's a interesting contrast of textures, the crunch of chestnuts against the smoothness of the truffle puree and the caramelisation and slight chewiness of the sweet celeriac.

Truffle and truffle plane in the kitchen

Pouring the beef stock at the table

Our main of beef tenderloin, cooked sous vide, arrives, a second waiter quickly stepping forward with a carafe of beef stock that is poured like a honey-coloured cascade over the top of our meals.

There's a lovely sense of sophistication and decadence associated with such personal service, not to mention the wonderful visual of steam and the heady aroma that bathes each diner, both from the stock as it's poured out, as well as the truffle and beef and the hot liquid is absorbed.

Beef tenderloin 'sous vide', beef stock reduction and truffles

The thick carving of beef tenderloin, cooked in a vacuum sealed bag in water, is incredibly moist and tender. The star of the dish is the truffle, thin shavings that showcase the spidery white lines inside for which the truffle is known. Eating the slivers of truffle is another revelation, its satiny texture and musty flavours much more evident.

Bright green buttons of edamame beans add colour and creaminess, and the earthy theme of the truffles is echoed in the slippery stalks of shimeji mushrooms.

Adding truffles to the pappardelle

Pouring over the spiced jus

Pappardelle, spiced jus and truffles

We conclude with pappardelle, spiced jus and truffles. I love the fat silky ribbons of pappardelle, roughed up with the dusting of shaved parmesan, the refreshing zing of lime zest, and straws of fresh truffle. The pasta is slinky and sensuous, and whilst some at our table aren't keen on the lime zest, I find it adds an uplifting counterbalance to the smouldering flavour of truffle.

Coconut macaroons and macarons


Complimentary petit fours include coconut macaroons and macaron, both delicious and made in-house. I'm impressed too, with the coffee, which has plenty of intensity and body.

Four courses of truffle later, I'm no expert on truffles but I can certainly see the allure. It's hard to describe the flavour of truffle, and whoever said they smelt like "old socks and sex" is not far off the truth. There is an earthiness to its flavour, a musty, sweet, mushroomy meatiness that exudes the cool dampness of a rainforest floor.

Oh yes, now I'm starting to see the appeal.

Read the next Canbera post: National Portrait Gallery, Fyshwick Markets and dinner at Mecca Bah

View Larger Map

The Capital Country Truffle Festival continues in Canberra until July 11, 2009. Check the events schedule as well as the list of participating restaurants for more.

Senso will be running a truffle cooking class on July 9, and Jan's Table Truffle Dinners on July 11 and 18. Contact Senso direct for more information or to make a booking. Truffles are available for sale from Senso whilst the truffle season lasts.

Senso Restaurant and Culinary Studio
EDIT: Senso Restaurant has closed.
Level 1
Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets

Corner Dalby and Mildura Streets,
Fyshwick, Canberra, ACT

Tel: +61 (02) 6295 7722

Opening hours
Thursday to Sunday 9am-11pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Canberra Truffle Festival Part 1: Truffles for breakfast, scones from morning tea
Canberra Truffle Festival Part 2: Truffle lunch at Senso Restaurant
Canberra Truffle Festival Part 3: Dinner at Mecca Bah

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16 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/29/2009 03:14:00 am


  • At 6/29/2009 6:46 am, Anonymous Simon said…

    Love the open kitchen. The pappardelle plate with the small bowl and massive rim, not so much.

    Looks like a great restaurant!

  • At 6/29/2009 8:23 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    I think the beef broth pouring shots constitute a 'money shot'. :)

    I have never tried truffles, but always think of the movie with catherine zeta jones and abegail breslin, where the little girl smells them and throws them in the bin!

    I have also seen truffles used alot in the iron chef, and last week on masterchef it was stuffed into quail in hong kong.

    I would love to try someday.

  • At 6/29/2009 9:56 am, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    Wow, talk about truffle overload, if there can be such a thing. I tried truffle for the first time this weekend (in a custard) and am crazy to try more. Your weekend seems like the perfect way to do it!

  • At 6/29/2009 11:21 am, Anonymous Howard said…

    Food looks outstanding, the restaurant wouldn't look out of place in Syd or Melb! I love the open kitchen, it really makes for an interesting dining experience. Reminds me of Japan, it's great to see the chefs go through the motions from prep, cooking to plating.

  • At 6/29/2009 1:19 pm, Anonymous aptronym said…

    As an ex Canberra gal, maybe it's time for me to head back down for a Senso meal :) The open kitchen looks great, and your photos give the restaurant just an air of casual elegance. I like the little touches like the carafe pouring with the aroma wafting upwards. Mmm....

  • At 6/29/2009 1:46 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    You've done a great job of the action photos - I hope it didn't interrupt your meal too badly. Your description of truffles smelling like a rainforest floor sounds wonderful.

  • At 6/29/2009 8:41 pm, Anonymous kat & lo' said…

    $75 for a four couse truffle lunch with a glass of wine is a steal!! Why can't we have something like that here is Sydney?! Sigh... Might have to check out next year's festival.
    Great post, AG! & great photos too. ;)

  • At 6/30/2009 11:45 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh woww 75 dora for such a trufflefest! Loving the open kitchen as with everybody else, but a pity the macarons aren't truffle flavoured?

  • At 6/30/2009 2:55 pm, Blogger Implosion said…

    OMG all those *Hypervetilates* truffles...

  • At 6/30/2009 5:47 pm, Blogger Food lover said…

    Picks look amazing. I just don't understand people's fascination with truffles - they don't look that appetising and smell like dirt socks... I understand they are rare, but does it taste really that special?

  • At 6/30/2009 6:08 pm, Blogger dyeo said…

    Wow! Truffle Festival! They all look fabulous. I'm very intrigued by the Fennel and Truffle soup.

  • At 7/01/2009 1:57 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Simon - I actually loved the pappardelle plate - I think they make the food look so reverential and I loved the ridged surface :) Was great to see them plating up, and taking photos was a given, of course.

    Hi Tara - You must mean No Reservations? lol. I guess truffles are the ultimate in gastronomic decadence. Their rarity only makes them even more popular!

    Hi Belle - It was a day of truffle indeed. I think it'll be a while yet before the amount of truffle consumed gets repeated anytime soon!

    Hi Howard - The open kitchen was fantastic and it was wonderful to have so much space and light in the huge room. Yep, I agree, chef tv is the best, especially when it's live and right in front of you!

    Hi aptronym - Casual elegance is a great descriptor. The carafe service was lovely - it really added to the atmosphere, by scent, sight and sense of luxury!

    Hi Arwen - I think I'm probably quite guilty of ignoring my dining companions when I'm "working". lol. I'm lucky they are all very understanding!

    Hi Kat - $75 was an absolute bargain, and if I was a Canberran I'd definitely return for the changing degustation. Such great value.

    Hi FFichiban - Ha, I'd be intrigued to try truffle macarons myself! Or maybe truffle ice cream?

    Hi Implosion - The one Jan was holding was absolutely huge! It was quite a sight to see them being shaved and chopped, like edible black pearls.

    Hi Food Lover - Blue cheese smells even worse and I do love a good stinky blue! I think because the aroma and flavour is so unusually musty, subtle and varied, it intrigues the palate. Perhaps in a perverse way, I'm sure the price does add to its desirabiilty too! Surely noone would want diamonds so much if they weren't so expensive!

    Hi foodie-central - The fennel soup was delicious. It was the same fennel and orange soup on their Flying Buffet menu but garnished with truffles.

  • At 7/01/2009 4:44 pm, Blogger Forager said…

    Looks delicious! I'd love to get down to Canberra for this. You're such a trooper dedicated to your craft!

  • At 7/02/2009 3:11 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Forager - I think I'm just lucky to have great friends who are as appreciative of food as I am :)

  • At 7/17/2009 9:35 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    My wife and I also attended a truffle lunch at Senso. It was so amazing that when we returned home I felt compelled to start a journal about food. We have eaten at Senso a number of times since it opened earlier this year and have found each experience distinct and memorable – each meal is a new culinary adventure because the menu changes daily and the flavours are divine.

    Our favourite dish on the day was the pappardelle. It was lovely - the spice jus and truffles were so delicious that I wanted to lick the plate! The other dishes were also excellent, but I’ll remember the pappardelle forever.

    We took some friends to the truffle hunt and lunch. It was a pleasure to see our friends’ eyes light up each time they tried a new dish – it was similar to watching the scene in the movie Ratatouille when the food critic enjoyed the ratatouille dish so much that he had ‘flash backs’ to memories of his childhood. There is something magical about spending time with friends over a good meal. The chefs at Senso create that magic.

  • At 7/17/2009 10:08 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Thomas - Wow, sounds like you had quite an epiphany. I love the fact you started a food journal! Now you just have to get it online so you can share it with everyone!

    The pappardelle was amazing, wasn't it? The food was fantastic - perhaps just as well I don't live in Canberra or I'd be eating there every week!

    I was very impressed with the food and I loved the fact the kitchen was so open and the chefs were so friendly. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. And I love the Ratatouille reference!


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