A Brussels institution for over 25 years, La Truffe Noire is a one Michelin-starred Italian restaurant set in a beautiful maison de maître not far from La Bois de la Cambre. The setting felt more like a home than a resturant as we made our way through the entry hall and into the main dining area which opened out to a charming courtyard terrace.
We took our seats at one of the outdoor tables and remarked that this was the first time we’d experienced outdoor dining at a Michelin-starred establishment. The bold-coloured mosaic tables and wrought iron chairs lent a sense of informality, which was further emphasised by the lack of white tablecloths and the multicoloured neon lighting along the vertical garden. Diners puffing away on cigarettes during their meal struck us as a little unusual at first, but reminded us that we are in Europe after all – the resturant even has a fumoir (smoking lounge)!
We were greeted by owner and maître d’ Luigi Ciciriello, before deciding on the five-course weekly menu which this week consisted of an entrée of king crab ravioli with summer truffle, a main of wild salmon steak with celeriac mousse, and a lemon soufflé dessert. As we sipped on our Italian wine and waited for our dishes to arrive, we were treated to the sight of Luigi preparing his “Luigi style” beef carpaccio dish at the neighbouring table – even the dressing was made from scratch à la table.
Later, he gave a passionate tutorial to another table as he served his signature dish, Périgord Truffle “A la Croque au Sel”, whole truffle cooked in port wine and served with truffle butter and toasted bread. A small sliver of butter was placed on the bread, not spread, since the butter loses its flavour with spreading. With the butter perfectly positioned, a piece of truffle was placed on top and then sprinkled with salt flakes. Luigi was a technician and a showman – we couldn’t wait to taste the food he’d be serving us that night.
When the appetiser arrived I immediately started salivating. Beautifully presented, the trio of appetisers consisted of a white asparagus soup, an artichoke mousse with puffed rice and a toffee-apple-inspired caramel cherry tomato, which we were told should be enjoyed in that order. As we dived into the shot glass of artichoke mousse , Luigi came over mid-bite to point out that we were eating it incorrectly – the sage leaf (which we’d mistakenly taken for a garnish) should be eaten first, he explained, releasing flavours in the mouth that would complement the mousse. I felt a little as though I was being scolded by my school teacher, but I have to admit he was right – eating the herb first did change the flavour completely. I was wowed.
The entrée of crab ravioli with mushroom foam arrived soon after and it was a nice-looking dish with a beautiful light sauce, but had far too much butter for my liking. The salmon main looked great on the plate – the chef had created fish scales using thin slices of potato which had been baked to crispy perfection. I am a strong believer in serving fish with its skin on, so while the potato scales were a nice, creative touch, I couldn’t get past the void left by the missing crispy skin that might have been.
The dessert of Limoncello soufflé was the definite hightlight of the meal for me (and for Bec too, judging from her excited reaction). The soufflé had great height, and was perfectly cooked to a light and airy mass, with just enough of the lemon liqueur to jazz it up. The Limoncello-filled shot glass served on the side gave us the option of adjusting the amount of lemon in our soufflé to our liking, or simply enjoy it on its own as an after-dinner digestive.
After we’d finished our petits fours, Luigi was waiting by the door to farewell us. I was impressed by how much time Luigi spent with his customers, and even though I felt the service lacked warmth and sincerity, it was certainly professional. For a Michelin star restaurant I felt a little underwhelmed, but some outstanding elements in our dishes made for a very enjoyable evening. The restaurant is celebrating its 27th anniversary this year, and a restaurant doesn’t make it to that age unless they’re doing something right.
Restaurant La Truffe Noire
Boulevard de la Cambre 12, 1050 Brussels