Food24 eats at… Il Tartufo
De Tocqueville once said that in a democracy, we get the government we deserve. The idea of is capable of broader application – it’s fair to say that people generally get what they deserve, good or bad. For example, I have often wondered what the good people of Parkview did wrong to deserve the Spar in that suburb’s main street and no, the recent renovation hasn’t made much difference.
What set me off musing along these lines was Peter Goffe-Wood’s recent piece ‘Why I Closed My Restaurant’. Goffe-Wood ran one of Cape Town’s better eateries. He suggests that what closed it was not the post-World Cup hangover, but the fact that Capetonians, for reasons known only to them, choose to hibernate during the winter leaving their restaurateurs to tough it out until ‘the season’.
Jozi moral higher ground vs Cape Town fickleness
Johannesburgers, on the other hand, support their restaurants year round, with the obvious exception of the annual slumber that is most of December in the city, when its inhabitants migrate to generously support the restaurants of Cape Town, Plett and elsewhere. The clear implication here is that Johannesburgers have the moral high ground – the fickleness and wussiness of Capetonians (by any definition hardly the stuff of virtue) denies their restaurateurs what they justly deserve.
We had a booking for dinner at Il Tartufo Restaurante Italiano (the full soubriquet) on what turned out to be the coldest day this winter. That did not deter us, nor did it deter many others. The restaurant was packed. But none of us were there out of any sense of obligation to reward virtue – we were there, despite the weather, because the food is damn good.
Il Tartufo has been around for a year or so, with Luciana Righi (she of Assaggi, Illovo) in the kitchen. The ambience is not certainly not Assaggi, which doesn’t have ambience to speak of unless ‘shopping centre chic’ and sitting-in-a-walkway-with-your-table-up-against-the-next is your preferred style.
Il Tartufo is not a deli with tables- it’s a spacious, high-ceilinged dining room, modern and understatedly elegant. In spite of the cold outside, the atmosphere was warm. Word has it that Il Tartufo can occasionally become overrun by the city’s precious and pretentious, but none were in evidence on the evening we were there (Do they hibernate?).
The generous list of specials that embellished the main menu held out promise. From it we chose the calamari served with deep-fried zucchini strips, and the white anchovies dribbled with olive oil and served with pickled vegetables. The calamari was tender; the zucchini strips a signature dish at Assaggi, and no less commendable here. The anchovies were not the brown, salty, from-the-tin variety of your local pizzeria – their sweet, firm flesh was lifted by the piquancy of the marinade and the pickled vegetables.
Moving on to the mains, the pick of the night was the home-made tagliolini porcini; with runner-up the tagliolini al pesto di basicilco. Both comprised a generous plateful of skinny home-made pasta, the former with fresh, rich and meaty porcini, the latter with a perfect pesto Genovese. Not far behind were the tortellini stuffed with mozzarella di bufala, served with a napoletana sauce (the soft cheese encased in pillows of pasta topped with an agreeably fresh sauce) and the home-made potato and spinach gnocchi, served with a rich gorgonzola sauce and topped with grated parmesan. More robust winter offerings from the list of specials included roast veal with porcini and mash, and a guinea fowl cacciatora with polenta.
The only disappointment of the evening was in the dessert department – we ordered the chocolate fondant and the panna cotta. The fondant was served in a ramekin. It was announced on arrival as a ‘chocolate soufflé’. A soufflé it wasn’t. A hot chocolate pudding it was, a good and gooey one at that. The Little Woman ordered the panna cotta al frutti di bosco, mellifluous and perfectly set, with the red currant coulis a perfect counterpoint to the texture of the cream. Other desserts on offer included a tiramisu, a home-made almond ice cream, a variety of sorbets and a crème brûlèe.
The service was knowledgeable and attentive, notwithstanding the full house. The bill for four, including a bottle of Delaire Shiraz, mineral water and two coffees but excluding a tip came to R887.00.
Il Tartufo ranks as one of the best, if not the best, Italian restaurant in the city. You will feel morally virtuous and superior to any Capetonian (and replete) by patronising the place in winter, or at any other time of the year. You won’t like this if you think Italian food is a panini to go, or if you’re the kind of person who, like a Capetonian, prefers to stay at home on a cold night to be fed by Mr Delivery.
Il Tartufo was reviewed by Like Father Like Son.
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