Thursday, 21 March 2013

Tartufo - Italian for truffle
There is a spot over at the Emporium in the Valley that used to be one of my favourite restaurants, unfortunately it closed down and the spot remained vacant for a while.  That restaurant was Belle Epoque and it was a lovely French restaurant, where ironically I had the best risotto ever.  I say ironically because the restaurant that replaced Belle Epoque was an Italian fine diner called Tartufo.

Chef and owner Tony Percuoco has a long and distinguished career in the food industry, which started in his family's restaurant in Naples as a young boy.  In 1973, Tony began his career at Bennalong at the Sydney Opera House, then onto continue working in his family's restaurant in Kings Cross.  After opening and running his own restaurant in Surrey Hills, Senso Unico, Tony moved to the Gold Coast to open a number of restaurants including the well known Restaurant Fellini.  All of this led to taking over the space at Emporium and creating Tartufo.

It's this background that has helped Tony create one of the best restaurants in Brisbane in such a short time.  Tartufo has built a loyal following and has been rewarded with a Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat as well as a Gourmet Traveller Star, one of only a handful of restaurants in Queensland to hold both a Star and Hat at the same time.  And just when you think the accolades have stopped, it has a 15 our of 20 in the Australian Good Food Guide, which gives it two hats!

For those of you who had been to Belle Epoque, there have not been too many changes to the interior of Tartufo.  When you come through the front doors and are welcomed by the extremely friendly maitre'd, the space is dark, yet welcoming at the same time.  It's quite a large restaurant but is sectioned off in to lots of booths, so you get a very intimate feel when seated.  SC and I felt very welcome as we were seated and offered the food and wine menu, we felt even more welcome when we found out that our waitress for the night would be K, who we knew from our years of going to Confit.  It seemed as if it was going to be a good night.

The menu at Tartufo is really quite extensive, with a heap of options on the a la carte menu and the option of a degustation for those with a little more time.  When considering our options, K advised us that the main sizes were quite large, a fact that we knew from previous visits.  Not wanting to waste food, as we had last time we were here, SC and I both opted for the iprimi (entree) size meals for both starters and mains.  We also chose to have some fresh baked bread to start to offset the fact that we would have smaller meals.  The bread was warm and fresh and was delightful when dipped in the fresh olive oil with a hint of balsamic vinegar.

To start the meal I went for an old favourite, the capesante e barbabietole - pan seared scallops, served on fresh beetroot medallions, cauliflower puree and oils of beetroot and parsley.  The large and beautifully cooked scallops arrived and were artfully decorated with flowers and micro herbs.  Sometimes flowers and micro herbs add little to the plate, but in this instance they contrasted well with the rich red of the beetroot.  The scallops were expertly cooked and has a lovely caramelisation and I was pleased to see that there were four plump scallops on the plate.  The flavours worked wonderfully together with the beetroot medallions adding a contrasting sweetness to the cauliflower puree.  The micro herbs added a little bitterness to the plate, which worked well.  This was a yummy way to start the meal.

SC has had a penchant for carpaccio lately, and didn't disappoint when she ordered the carpaccio di manzo - thinly sliced raw beef tenderloin, served with garlic infused extra virgin olive oil and lemon, finished with fresh rocket, shaved parmesan and cracked black pepper.  The beef was sliced incredibly thin and was artfully displayed on the plate, with some lovely contrasting fresh rocket and parmesan.  Not only was the beef thin but incredibly tender, the pieces just melted in your mouth.  The garlic infused olive oil provided a subtle and smooth garlic taste and the rocket provided an additional peppery flavour to the dish while the parmesan, being a little chewy, providing a different texture to the dish.  This was refined and delicious and as always with a good carpaccio, left SC wanting more by the time she finished.

After having a light entree, SC went for a pasta dish as her next course and was immediatley drawn to the linguine ai frutti di mare - house made long flat pasta served with mixed seafood, chilli, tomato, garlic and wine, topped with parsley.  There was a generous helping of seafood with the dish and the star on the plate were the perfectly cooked mussels which SC polished off first!  All of the seafood in the dish was cooked to perfection, which is not an easy feat with so many different types of ingredients.  Another highlight was the calamari strips, which were soft and deliciously cooked.  The pasta mixed through the was cooked al dente and had a lovely chili garlic sauce infused throughout.  The chili was quite strong and was bordering on being overpowering, but never overtook the subtle flavours of the seafood.  Perhaps the saving grace was the acidity from the tomatoes tossed throughout the dish, which balanced out the strong chili.  SC really enjoyed this one!

I had reflected back to my favourite risotto of all time at this venue, albeit a different restaurant, and opted for the risotto allo zafferano - arborio rice risotto cooked with fresh scampi (WA), fennel, leek, fresh peas and a saffron infused stock.  Whenever I have a risotto I compare it to that one fateful time, hoping to hit the same heights of flavour.  While the scampi risotto did not quite hit that benchmark, it was none-the-less spectacular.  The saffron infused rice was perfectly cooked and you could see each individual rice grain, which is a sign of a great risotto.  The scampi was beautifully cooked and amazingly for such a subtle flavour, was not lost in the dish.  There was some great contrasting textures to the rice with the fennel and leek and quite a shocking (in a good way) contrasting flavour with the small and sweet peas.  This definitely ranks as one of the better risottos I have had and was served in the traditional way on a large flat plate, which elevated the look of the dish.

It was time for dessert and after having two slightly smaller courses, we both decided on something sweet to finish the meal.  SC liked the look of, and ordered, the tartina di pesche - caramelised peach tart with almond frangipane and vanilla bean gelato.  The tart was not quite what we expected and was very rustic looking, which was an interesting juxtaposition to the rest of the plate, which was much more refined looking.  The peach pie was nice, with pastry that was on the edge of being a little too short and crumbly.  The whole dish was very sweet, with the almond frangipane and vanilla bean gelato both providing differing levels of sweetness to the dessert.  SC loved the dish and didn't think that it needed any contrasting tartness to counter the sweetness.

Being in a fine dining Italian restaurant, I wanted to see what Tartufo would do with a traditional dish, so I ordered the pannacotta al mango - mango infused pannacotta served with passionfruit sauce.  This was a very pretty dessert with lovely contrasting colours and textures on the plate.  The pannacotta was wonderful and sweet, with just the right amount of 'wobble'.  There was a mango jelly sitting on top of the pannacotta, which was wonderful to look at and tasted great, but made cutting the pannacotta a little more difficult, I needed to use my fork to cut through the jelly, then use the spoon to scoop it all up.  There was just the right amount of passionfruit on the plate to offset the very sweet pannacotta and the tuile that accompanied provide some satisfying crunch.  As far as pannacotta's go, this was 'the bomb'.

It would be remis of me to mention that the last time I came to Tartufo I didn't have the best dining experience.  The service was a bit on the slow side and our meals were mixed up and the wrong main delivered for SC and my main was not really that nice.  While this was the case last time, this visit could not have been further removed.  The service was fantastic (thanks K) and the meals were devine.

I was pretty surprised to see how busy Tartufo was on a Tuesday night.  Lately when SC and I have gone out earlier in the week, we have not come across a busy restaurant.  Tartufo is a huge space and it was not completely full, but it was filling up.  Another surprise was to see that Tartufo had their own little celebrity working onsite for the night, with Jake from MKR working at the bar.  It was funny seeing him in person and it's fair to say that he seems as large in life as he does on TV.  When taking photos of the bar area, I didn't have the heart to tell him to duck out of my shot :)

We had a fantastic time at Tartufo and a wonderful meal and I will definitely be back again soon.  The only problem is that going back reminds me that one of my favourite restaurants is no longer there.  I guess this is the cycle of life and I will have to reconcile that I have a new favourite on the site.  At least I can console myself with the Belle Epoque patisserie, which is still right where its always been.

SC had a lovely little Italian Pino
Sexy little booths for couples!
Starting to fill up
The bar area was quite empty on a Tuesday night, but its a great spot on the weekends
Did Jake scare everyone away on the night :)

Ristorante Tartufo on Urbanspoon Tartufo Ristorante + Bar

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