We hear a lot about shared and tasting plate menus. This style of eating suits Australia’s laid back attitude and it definitely suits Queensland’s warm climate so you can pick and choose what and how much you want to eat. Most tasting plates are typically referred to as Tapas (though they are normally far from the real deal) and are small serves that require you buy several to get variety and a decent meal. Last week I was invited to Tartufo Ristorante at the Emporium complex in the Valley to try out a real shared plate experience that certainly didn’t leave me wanting for more.
Tony and Gordana Percuoco were our hosts for the evening. Owner/Chef Tony is as passionate as they come and whilst he runs the kitchen back of house, I often go past Tartufo and see him out chatting to customers and walking amidst the tables. Gordana runs front of house, where the service is professional and friendly. She provides a calming influence in what is a very busy dining room.
Tony’s Italian Table is a shared plate menu designed for groups of six or more. It provides a relaxed approach to dining, letting the chef decide what the menu is on any given day and leaving you to have a drink and catch up with friends rather than worrying about who’s having the fettuccine or whether one serve of arancini will mean that everyone on the table gets one. The menu is ‘set’ in that it’s a series of courses, working through breads, anti pasti, salads, hot appetisers, pasta and dessert. Whilst the structure is set, the actual dishes served on the day are dependant on what is fresh and seasonal and, what Tony’s current passions are. His current fascination with mushrooms is reflected in linguine ai funghi – house made pasta served with a medley of seasonal mixed wild mushroom, chilli, finished with Parmesan and parsley. You are handing control over to the chef, something that is not the norm for most diners but it is a rewarding way to dine.
We started with a drink at the fabulous zinc bar that extends along the length of one wall, as we waited for our tribe to gather. Moving on to the table, the dishes arrived in small batches. Delicious olive miste – marinated mixed olives are from Sicily (‘never Greek!’ says the patron), antipasto of cold mixed meats and pickled vegetables and a house bread with olive oil. Tartufo like to source their ingredients from local providers but will not compromise on quality. Almost everything is from Queensland. There are a few notable exceptions – the olives and hard cheeses are imported (‘Regiano has to be from Italy. You just can’t get that style or quality here’.) and much of the red meat from the Gippsland and the Riverina where there are better pastures.
A super fresh insalata caprese with soft mozzarella and tomatoes bursting with flavour is an example of where Tony has adapted the recipe. He likes to use Roma tomatoes in this salad but they just didn’t have the flavour he was after so they were substituted. The vitello tonnato – braised Gippsland veal seared cold and thinly sliced with a tuna mayonnaise, capers, anchovies and cornichons may sound like an odd combination but it’s a classic Italian dish and for me, one of the best of the night. The food is unpretentious and generous, harking back to Tony’s own childhood in Naples.
Tasty hot treats were next with the aforementioned arancini as well as delightfully fresh and crisp platter of calamari fritti. This is where an eye for detail and understanding your customers comes to the forefront. If there are six of you, there will be six arancini, seven people will mean seven of these little crumbed rice balls to the table. Tony says ‘Who wants to share the favourites? Why can’t everyone have one and be happy? It makes no difference to the chef but a big difference to the customer.’ Indeed.
Pastas of the day were next, served on large plates to pass around. Best get in quick here as there may not be much left if you go back for seconds. On this particular evening there was gnochetti sardi ai piselli – small shell pasta w onions, pancetta, fresh peas and pecorino cheese; ravioli al pomodoro – filled w ricotta, spinach, nutmeg and served w sauce of tomato and basil and, the aforementioned linguine ai funghi. Another indication of customer focus is that we were asked if there were any special dietary requirements as the kitchen is more than happy to cater for these. Of the 12 dishes, seven dishes that were vegetarian and three were gluten free.
|This man LOVES his customers|
There was more than enough for the group, however Tony checked in (it would probably be a waiter for you lesser mortals) to see if we wanted another dish before we moved on to dessert. Dessert was a divine semifreddo al torrone – hazelnut, nougat semifreddo w crostoli and espresso sauce. No need to share this one as everyone got there own! This shared dining concept was easy and fun. I knew only one of the people at my table yet the conversation flowed freely and people were able to choose how much they wanted and go back to previous dishes (which are never cleared unless they are empty) to compare notes.
Whilst I was a guest of Tartufo on this occasion, I enjoyed the food, service and atmosphere of the restaurant so much that I have booked a group of us in for dinner on New Year’s Eve. If Tony’s Italian Table is available on that evening, we’ll definitely choose that option, if not, ala carte will no doubt offer up a new realm. Choose the Vitello Tonnato if it’s on the menu – you won’t be disappointed.
*TIFFIN attended the Tony’s Italian Table as a media guest of the Tartufo Ristorante.
Tartufo Ristorante Italiano + Wine Bar
1000 Ann St
Fortitude Valley Qld 4006
Visited: Wednesday 28th November 2012 – Dinner Service