Due to a bumper crop of pupils and trainees this year, it was a huge group of us that went for lunch this month. So, we got the entire second floor of the small but quaint space all to ourselves. This allowed for a lot of gregarious laughter and uninterrupted boisterous chatter, without dirty looks from other diners trying to enjoy a quiet meal.
We started off with the ubiquitous Calamari Fritti ($22), deep fried squid with home made tartar sauce. The batter was light and crisp and the tartar sauce had a nuanced sweetness. The only letdown was the slightly rubbery squid, which would have benefited from a shorter bath in the deep fryer.
The star antipasti was the Portobello al Forno ($24), oven baked portobello mushroom with taleggio and baby spinach. Friends will know that I love love lurve mushrooms. The distinctive earthiness of the portobello was complemented by slightly wilted bittersweet spinach. We got second helpings of this.
The Insalata Caprese ($16) was an Italian mainstay salad of fresh buffalo mozzarella, sweet juicy tomatoes and mesclun greens drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and garnished with sweet basil strips.
The Insalata di Spinaci con Prosciutto Crudo e Melone ($20) was another commendable classic salad of premium Italian parma ham, refreshingly sweet rock melon and baby spinach.
The Carpaccio di Manzo ($24) was a wonderful marriage of paper-thin raw beef tenderloin, bitter rucola and salty shaved parmesan. It was hilarious when we had to "forcefully" feed this to one of my colleagues who thought that this was the grossest thing he'd ever seen.
The Insalata con Salmone Affumicato (starter only available on the set lunch menu) was a salad of wild rocket with mixed greens, smoked salmon, cherry tomatoes and drizzled with vinaigrette.
Da Paolo has only two soups on its menu (for this branch anyway), the first is the soup of the day, and the second is the Minestrone ($10), an Italian vegetable soup. This winter soup was a generous serving of root veggies which was so delicate and comforting. This was lighter than other versions I've tried, but I like my soups light anyway.
Onto the mains. Some of us decided to eat communally instead of having a dish all to ourselves, so we get to try everything! That's the thing about my colleagues, they love eating and sharing as much as I do, and they actually trust my taste in food. They are also wonderfully supportive of my food blogger habit of taking pictures. Most of the time, they are actually the ones that remind me to take the pictures before tucking into their grub. Where do you find amazing colleagues like them?
We started off with the Tagliaetelle al Granchio ($26), homemade egg pasta ribbons with crabmeat, tomatoes, cream and vodka. I love the tartness of the tomato and the soothing sweetness of the cream.
The Tagliolini Verdi alla Paolo ($25) was a fragrant and delicious spinach pasta with ham, mushrooms, cream and gratin with parmesan. Yummy.
The Fettuccine ai Funghi Porcini ($25), flat ribbons of egg pasta with porcini, cream and herbs, was a heady concoction of aromatic porcini mushrooms. Loved the generous serving of porcini.
The Linguine alla Vongole ($24) with fresh clams, garlic, chili and white wine was marred by the sandy clams. Otherwise, the combination of garlic, chili and white wine sauce was divinely delicious.
The Risotto ai Funghi ($27) was a rustic, creamy starch with the earthy, woodsy scent of a variety of mushrooms. This was good, definitely commendable, but wasn't the best I've tried.
Someone commented that the risotto looked like regurgitated crap, and I have to agree. It's really quite impossible for risotto to ever look appetizing, but trust me, the divine taste more than makes up for it. As the saying goes, don't knock it till you've tried it.
Tagliolini con Codine di Aragosta ($27), egg pasta with crayfish, cherry tomatoes and white wine.
Cartoccio ai Frutti di Mare ($25), spaghetti with tomatoes and seafood wrapped in parchment paper and baked. This was a hit, mostly because the seafood was incredibly fresh and succulent.
The non-parchment paper, non-baked version of the above was the Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare ($24 on the set menu which comes served with a choice of a starter, main, dessert of the day and coffee or tea).
Tagliolini con Gamberetti e Spinaci ($24 on the set menu), egg pasta with crunchy sweet prawns and spinach, sauteed in a rich prawn broth.
Linguine con Salmone e Asparagi ($24 on the set menu), satisfyingly rich tomato cream based pasta with salmon and asparagus.
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($24 on set menu) was a flavourful tomatoes and beef ragout flat ribbon pasta.
Fettuccini con Prosciutto e Funghi ($24 on set menu), creamy pasta with premium ham and mushrooms.
The meat eaters preferred the mains from the ala carte menu, the Ossobuco con Purea di Patate ($32), braised veal shank served with creamy mashed potatoes. This was decent but not spectacular.
Our colleague from Shanghai, also another meat-lover, got the Tagliata di Manzo alla Griglia ($34), a grilled sirloin steak served with rocket leaves and shaved parmesan.
Moving onto the desserts, the dessert of the day was a Raspberry Cheesecake.
Da Paolo Il Ristorante
80 Club Street
Tel: 6224 7081
Open from Mondays to Saturdays for lunch from 11.30am to 2.30pm, and dinner from 6.30pm to 10.30pm