Tartufo (meaning truffle in Italian, as well as an ice cream and frozen fruit dessert) opened in mid May 2013, in the base of a Victorian mansion block, now a boutique hotel in Chelsea. Chef Manuel Oliveri trained at the legendary Gualtiero Marchesi's Ristorante di Erbusco in Milan (Mr Marchesi was the first Italian chef to gain three Michelin stars). He later cooked at Ristorante Teverni at Semifreddo Mulinazzo. He moved to London in 2010 and worked with Alexis Gauthier, of Roussillon and now Gauthier; as we shall see, this heritage showed in some of the dishes. The menu was priced quite modestly, at £30 for three courses and £40 for four courses. The menu is perhaps European rather than pure Italian.
The dining room is split into three sections, seating around 50 people at capacity. There was also an open-air terrace, suitable for dining on one of England’s rare sunny summer evenings. The dining room was quite cosy, with low ceiling, white walls and wooden floor, but noise levels were modest and the tables reasonably well spaced.
The short wine list, populated with selections from Italy and France, ranged in price from £22 to £750, but most wines were under £50. Examples included Tenute Iuzzolini Bianco 2011 at £22 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £7, Collio Friulano Marco Felluga 2011 at £52 for a wine that retails at £14, and Prunotto Barolo 2008 at £102 for a wine that will set you back £35 in a shop. Water was a hefty £4.75 a bottle, coffee and petit fours £4.
There was a nibble of barbaguian, a savoury pastry that is the national dish of Monaco. It is stuffed with Swiss chard, onions and cheese. This is a dish sometimes served at Louis XV in Monaco, and I presume the connection is that the chef here trained with Alexis Gauthier, who himself was a chef at Louis XV for a time. Unfortunately something has been lost in translation here, because this dish, which should have crisp light pastry with a piping hot centre, was here soggy and not hot enough when served (11/20).
Bread was a mixture of bought in and made from scratch. The bought-in carta de musica was poor, pliable when it should be light and crisp; poilane bread was better, but by far the best bread was the only one made on the kitchen: black olive focaccia. This was very good, with plenty of olive flavour. This bread itself was 15/20 level, the bought-in ones much lower in standard.
Ravioli of crustaceans was rather disappointing, the pasta a little too thick and having a slightly grainy texture, though the assorted shellfish were correctly cooked (13/20). Much better was tortelli with mascarpone and summer truffles, the pasta here light and delicate. Walnuts with the pasta were fresh and avoided any sogginess, providing a useful textural balance to the pasta (comfortably 15/20).
Sea bass was served with capers, tomatoes, basil, asparagus, crushed potatoes, lettuce and a little chervil. The fish was carefully cooked, the vegetables nicely prepared and the seasoning good (14/20). Pork was served with leeks, sautéed broad beans and a jus made from the black spotted pig. On the side were little chips made from chickpeas. The pork had good flavour, the green vegetables were nicely cooked and the jus had plenty of flavour (14/20).
For dessert, ice creams were a mixed bag. Mango sorbet had plenty of fragrant flavour, and chocolate ice cream was good. However a vanilla ice cream was lacking in vanilla flavour, and given that the ice creams were made in a Pacojet the slightly too thick consistency of the vanilla ice cream was surprising (perhaps 13/20 overall). Much better was dark chocolate crunch with walnut and praline, with a chocolate glaze and lemon ice. This dish was a variant on the croustillant served by Alexis Gauthier at Roussillon and now at Gauthier, who used to prepare the original version when he worked at Louis XV. This is a lovely dish, and here the chocolate glaze was rich and dark, the praline base having good texture (16/20). Coffee came with biscuit petit fours.
The bill was £75 a head, but this included a bottle of champagne. With a modest wine, a meal with coffee and service would come to around £60 a head. Service was pleasant, with our waiter formerly from Roussillon, and very capable he was too. Overall this was a rather erratic meal, but one where the best dishes were very good indeed. If the kitchen can settle to a greater level of consistency then Tartufo should do well.Book