Where: Tutto Bene in Southgate, Southbank
What: Not a good enough reason to stop avoiding Southbank
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
I equate Southbank to New York’s Times Square, sans the associated glitz and glamour and with the main attraction of a waterway of human sewage. It’s a tourist trap best avoided unless you want overpriced, under-seasoned food for the price of enjoying said sewage views.
But I had heard that Tutto Bene serves up Melbourne’s best risotto, and although passionately avoiding Southbank is a prerequisite to being a Melburnian, I seized the chance to enjoy two courses and a glass of wine there for $40 – as part of Tutto Bene’s participation in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Restaurant Express event.
I roped in a few friends, which is how I found myself sitting in Southgate on a dreary Sunday afternoon, questioning my life choices and ogling a couple whom I’m pretty sure were on their first Tinder date.
Having dragged myself out of the house chiefly for the promise of good risotto, I was tempted to order the entrée of risotto-filled baby calamari with garlic, chilli and rocket, but was scared off by the mention of ‘garlic’ as one of the main ingredients. Playing it safe (meaning I just ordered something else that breached my intolerances), I got the baked swiss brown mushrooms with taleggio and hazelnuts.
Six nondescript swiss brown mushrooms heaped with melted cheese, slivers of hazelnuts and a balsamic drizzle soon arrived. The mushrooms were meaty and rich, and although they were small, I found myself tiring of their flavours after having just a few of them – a burst of greenery or perhaps a sharper cheese would have broken up the flavours a bit more.
My friend ordered the aforementioned risotto-filled baby calamari and after availing myself of just a mouthful, I was glad I stuck with my decision not to order them. The taste of garlic was palpable in the sauce as well as in the rice filling. The baby calamari was tender, however, and the rice was well seasoned – it was a tasty dish.
Another friend ordered the ‘caprese’ – rosemary-smoked cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, compressed cucumber (whatever that means), beetroot, asparagus and raspberry vinegar. Beetroot was very much the star of this dish, which is why I didn’t dare try any of it – as with nearly half of all vegetables, beetroot is death to FODMAP-intolerant people.
There was a long wait time between the entrees and the mains, so much so I’d finished my glass of Pinot Grigio and was considering getting a second one, which I realise now must have been Tutto Bene’s tactic all along. Sadly for them, I was too much of a tightass and satisfied myself with sipping my (tap, thank you very much) water and staring balefully in the direction of the kitchen.
Just as my stomach was about to start eating itself, our dishes arrived. I’d ordered the spanner crab risotto with San Marzano tomato and chilli, which I was somewhat disappointed by. There were no discernible pieces of spanner crab, which I was expecting, and the risotto lacked depth and breadth of flavour. The spanner crab was demonstrably fresh, however, and the risotto was cooked to the perfect consistency – neither too gluggy nor too watery.
My friends fared better. One who ordered the risotto caprese with San Marzano sugo, buffalo mozzarella and basil had by far the prettiest dish, and it tasted as good as it looked – melted down buffalo mozzarella had been stirred through the al dente grains of rice, and the same raspberry vinegar that featured in the caprese entrée made an appearance in the risotto main, its gentle acidity perfectly cutting through the richness of the dish.
My friends who ordered the gnocchi with porcini mushrooms, truffle, walnut and whipped stracciatella cheese as well as the fish of the day respectively were similarly impressed by their choices, although the latter noted that the usual menu price of $49 was a disproportionately hefty price for her dish.
Which kind of sums up our whole experience at Tutto Bene. The food was fine, but I didn’t fork out the $53 that I would have had to were I to visit at any other time of the year ($11 for the baked swiss brown mushrooms, $30 for the spanner crab risotto and $12 for the glass of Pinot Grigio). Based on what I tried, I won’t be overturning my self-imposed Southbank ban anytime soon.
Tutto Bene is open everyday from 8.30am to 11am, from 12pm to 3pm, and from 5.30pm to late.