We were thrilled when we first learned of Casa Tartufo. So recently when a dinner opportunity with a couple of old friends presented itself, that instantly came to mind. Casa Tartufo (Italian for ”House of Truffles”) is a shiny Italian restaurant located in Forum The Shopping Mall, run by a husband-and-wife team. With Casa Tartufo, Alex and Tammy realised their dream of running a restaurant that quote, unquote ‘aims to be the reference for truffles in Southeast Asia, trading the finest ingredients from Italy, France and the rest of the world, in order to give our guests the best products at the best prices all year round’. Nice.
Curiously incongruous with its surroundings, the restaurant interior is a welcomed change from the brightly-lit corridors and boutiques of a mall more associated with children’s apparel. Characteristic of a well-appointed dining establishment, there is a bar and a cosy waiting area before the main dining room, where guests may enjoy a pre-dinner drink while waiting. The decor is classic Italian – warm, inviting and casually elegant, replete with dark wood fittings, white lace, mirrors and chandeliers.
The menu of Casa Tartufo features, but of course, the prized mushroom. The restaurant serves seasonal truffles, typically white Alba truffles from Italy during the winter months, black Périgord ones from Italy and France in summer and Australian black truffles for the rest of the year, selected to give guests the best value.
For our first starter, we had the Burrata cheese with a Truffle heart ($40, serves 2 persons), which came with a side of mesclun salad, cherry tomatoes and a touch of balsamic. Alex informed us that the burrata is flown in from Tuscany every Tuesday and Friday. Lucky us as we were here on Saturday and we could certainly see and taste the freshness of the mozzarella as the creamy insides oozed out. This was a very good start to dinner we thought. On hindsight, we were gushing so much over the cheese we forgot about the Truffle heart – what or where was it?!
Our second starter was Scrambled Eggs, Wild Mushrooms and Truffle ($20) served with mesclun salad and garnished with cherry tomatoes. The creaminess of the eggs peppered with bits of black truffle was comforting but not phenomenal.
We are huge HUGE fans of sea urchin. As far as we were concerned, the Risotto Sea-urchin and Truffle ($38) was a no-brainer – we wanted it full-stop. In fact, the reason we had been keen to pay Casa Tartufo a visit was the very knowledge of this dish on the menu. The verdict – the risotto had a rich flavour of sea urchin mostly masking any hint of truffle. It was over-salted and slightly undercooked (and we do like our risotto al dente!). The death blow was that the pasta was not served warm enough. We were disappointed.
For our other pasta, we stuck to the basics – the Classic Tajarin with Truffle sauce ($22). Tajarin is fresh egg-yolk-rich pasta customarily served with white truffles in the Piedmont region of Italy, the heart of white truffle country. Here, the home-made pasta was tossed in a subtle house truffle sauce with chives. Simple and light on the palate, it was refreshing in a very “purist” sense. Our only gripe was that the portion could have been more generous.
Now all the above dishes we ordered could be supplemented with shavings of seasonal truffles (market price of $8/ gram). Surprisingly, no one offered us that option that night. We ended up not ordering any.
Next, we had the Beef Battuta, Aglio Olio Peperoncino and Vegetable Pinzimonio ($38) as a shared main. The dish comprised 3 thin slices of beef served with what we believed was a take on the classic Pinzimonio (which is olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper in which various vegetables of your choice can be dipped). Here, the Pinzimonio was a celery, carrot, cucumber and the ubiquitous mesclun salad mix. The Aglio Olio Peperoncino was a relish-like celery and capsicum sauce. Tangy and crunchy, we thought it was the sole redeeming factor of this over-priced dish.
While we were tucking into our mains, we spied wait staff carrying platters of what looked like fresh baked golden brown apple strudel loaves. It was difficult not to be seduced. When our serve of Apple Millefoglie ($18) arrived, we were a little taken aback by the size of the slice served (after having seen the loaves go by). It was slightly under an inch thick and was toppling due to its narrow width. The crust was hard to the bite and the inner layers were dense and doughy (quite like overnight roti prata), instead of light and flaky as we were expecting. It didn’t live up to its initial hype, what a let-down.
For our other dessert, we chose the Banana Crêpe ($16), flambéed at the table by the ever-so-charming Alex and served with a scoop of Madagascar vanilla ice-cream and Triple Sec-chocolate sauce. Sweet and rich, it was a tasty dessert, though we all agreed it was not as memorable as the ones we have had at the street stalls in Phuket.
Perhaps Alex sensed our dismay over our desserts as he promptly asked for our feedback and offered us some truffle gelato to try. Our eyes lit up and our dessert misses were quickly forgotten. The truffle lent a wonderfully full-bodied flavour and aroma to the ice cream. Is there anything that doesn’t marry well with truffle? It was a good save for the night.
Overall, the ambience and our host were charming. While dinner was pleasant, we felt various elements still require fine-tuning and could be, given more time for the restaurant to mature. For the price we paid, quality and consistency need to be commensurate. For 2 starters, 2 pastas, 1 main, 2 desserts, 3 glasses of Prosecco ($16 each), a bottle of Chianti ($110), our table of 3 raked up about $420. Lunch sets are available at $28 to $36 and might have been a better bet for value.Casa Tartufo
Forum The Shopping Mall, #01-17 583 Orchard Rd | +65 6836 4647