Tutto Bene ~ It’s been a long time…
The Malthouse Theatre is not known for its surrounding, bustling dining scene… in fact, I think it faces a vacant lot. So, when we were going there with Andrew’s parents to see a play… I was left with the task of selecting a restaurant to have lunch and still make a 2pm show! I searched, and I searched people… and there’s nothing near the place. So, it was that I turned to the ubiquitous Southgate complex.
As you know, dear discerning reader, things can be a bit hit-and-miss at Southgate. One longstanding restaurant that has stood the test of time is Tutto Bene. I used to frequent it regularly, for it had Melbourne’s premier selection of risottos. At the time, there was 16 different varieties on the menu, and always a daily special. The head chef, Simon Humble, was widely acknowledged as the Risotto King, and had even created a dish for the Italian President’s visit in 1998 – Risotto el Presidente, which was a magnificent creamy, rich parmesan risotto drizzled with aged balsamic.
Now… here’s the problem… a couple of years ago – the head chef of Tutto Bene was charged with paying underage girls for sex. He ended up being found guilty and was jailed for seven years. The day the charges were printed in the paper, I was horrified and swore off Tutto Bene for life, because it was only when it hit the papers that the chef was terminated. I reasoned that they MUST have known about it – and only did something about it when it their business was implicated. I have zero tolerance for that behaviour. It was a bittersweet decision – but I was firm!
And then… almost two years later… I was having dinner with good foodie friend J, who just happens to be on very good terms with one of the owners of Tutto Bene, Tamara Volkhoff. J was able to set me straight. Apparently, the owners had no idea about the charges until they were published. Distraught and horrified, they immediately moved to buy out Simon’s share of the restaurant and terminated him immediately. I can only imagine how difficult this period in their professional lives would have been. I was glad that I was fortunate enough to learn the whole story, and knew that I would have to rekindle my love for Tutto Bene, which had always been one of my favourite restaurants.
And so it was… dear friends (thanks for hanging in there with the long story)… that I booked us in for an early lunch, before we hit the Malthouse. We had two menus to choose from – the a la carte, and the pranzo lunch special where for $40 you got 2 courses, a glass of wine and tea or coffee. I’m not usually one to go for lunch specials, finding the reduced menu a bit limiting – but there was some good stuff on there. So, three out of the four of us ordered from the pranzo menu, while Andrew’s Mum had her eye on the scallop and asparagus risotto on the a la carte menu.
Bread and olive oil
To start some lovely bread with Tutto Bene’s own olive oil – always delicious!
Calamari Fritti Piccanti
Andrew’s Dad and I each ordered the lovely spicy fried calamari with aioli. Fortunately, we were able to talk Andrew’s mum into sharing with us. It was a very generous serve of tender calamari. I personally think that the coating could have had a little more kick to it, as it came across a little floury.
Pancetta di maiale impanato
Andrew meanwhile had his eye on the crumbed pork belly filled with roasted pumpkin and herbs, which was served with a ginger and balsamic aioli. When his eyes feasted on the dish, he couldn’t have been happier. What’s not to love about some crumbed and deep fried pork?? The pumpkin provided a sweeter note to the dish. I couldn’t really detect the ginger in the aioli – so perhaps it could have been a bit more punchy?
From the pranzo menu I had chosen the risotto featuring spanner crab with tomato and chilli. I was a little disappointed with this dish – mainly because I was expecting a few more reasonable chunks of spanner crab. Also, I think I would have preferred for the tomatoes to be a bit chunkier rather than becoming the sauce for the risotto. I was imagining a much more delicate dish – it was still nice, but you know what it’s like when you order something and it’s not quite what you expected.
Andrew’s mum had chosen this beautiful scallop and asparagus risotto that had been drizzled with vincotto. It looked absolutely gorgeous and she was very happy. I’ll be honest and admit that I had a bit of plate envy. I normally go for the creamier risottos – and was regretting my choice a little bit. She reported that it tasted beautiful, and I did see some reassuringly generous chunks of scallop.
Cotoletta di maiale
Andrew’s dad had decided to choose the pork cutlet from the pranzo menu. It came with a mustard fruit glaze and a rotolo of cabbage and black truffle. I adore mustard fruits and I’m sure their sweetness would have beautifully complemented the pork. What a great alternative to the traditional apple! I managed to get a taste of the rotolo, which was basically cabbage rolled up with a bread stuffing inside. The truffle, unfortunately, was not that discernible. However, don’t get me started on how overrated I think truffles are… moving on….
Bistecca di Wagyu
Andrew was drawn to the slow cooked Wagyu rump which came with a sweet garlic and rosemary jus, some roasted vegetables, and a rapé puree. Rump is not naturally his favourite cut – he’s a tender man, so he goes for the eye fillet! The rump had some good flavours, but needed a bit more work that he’s used to. The roast vegetables were delicious, and the jus really complemented the meal – although there could have been a little more!
Overall, it was good to get back to Tutto Bene. The service was great, as usual – and it does have one of those quintessentially great views of Melbourne and the Yarra River from the balcony. I have to concede it wasn’t exactly the best meal I’ve had there – in that it was good, but not great. However, Tutto Bene have an excellent track record with me, so I’m looking forward to proving that that particular day might have been an anomaly. I’m hoping the demise of a certain head chef has not diluted the gastronomic quality I’m used to… I guess time and a few more risottos will tell. Here’s to rekindling the relationship!