Mouthwatering Italian Cuisine with Asian Flavours
By Jacqueline Benita Paul
Just when I thought the food scene at Old Malaya was due for an upgrade, Mari Ristorante swooped in. At the helm of the kitchen is Italian purist, Chef Cristian Grandi, who began his culinary journey at 15, when he made his first pizza. Having spent the last three years in Malaysia – once helming a beloved Italian restaurant, Luce Osteria, Chef Christian brings together his love for Italian cuisine and Asian flavours to Mari Ristorante’s menu. Now, is it a matrimony we approve of?
We were seated in a bijou space exuding the comforting nature of an Italian home with exposed bricks, large windows to wash the room with natural lighting and the calling card of any Italian kitchen – hanging wooden utensils on the wall. Asian elements are in the choice of furniture – emblazoned floral floor tiles, rattan chairs and faux banana tree. Every nook and cranny involved thoughtful consideration. Customers seated at the upstairs bar are treated to a grandeur view of the iconic KL Tower. Our dinner began with the Brushetta Malese, where one might discern that the inspiration was derived from Malaysia’s national dish, Nasi Lemak. Slathered sambal cream on the toasted slices of bruschetta topped with salted egg, cubes of fried chicken and sliced cucumber offered a tantalising effect to our taste buds. Equally remarkable was the piping hot Zuppetta Di Cozze – a light and robust Tom Yam soup, carrying generous portions of fresh black mussels and squid served with roasted bread.
Crafty libations concocted by Vanya, a Belarusian, stunned us with his ability to work with Asian ingredients despite being a newcomer to the Asian scene. Convivialists with a deep appreciation for medium-bodied cocktails would deeply enjoy the Gensek – made from banana ginseng-spiced rum, lemon and egg white. Melodious classics filled the room as we made our way down, with the whiff of our mains hastening our pace.
It goes without saying, the specialties here are the pizzas that come in 20 varieties. On our table was the thin-crusted Mustaffa, a creamy oceanic odyssey in each bite. No doubt the result of using whipping cream and mozzarella cheese as the base, topped with smoked salmon and green zucchini with pops of umami and salty flavours, courtesy of the salmon roe. The star of our visit was the Gnocchi Alla Thailandese, perfect handmade potato gnocchi bursting with red Thai curry flavour and a comforting layer of mushroom ragout to balance the heat. Here we conceded that the marriage of Italian cuisine and Asian flavours gave a ne lease of life to the Old Malaya food scene.
The Filleto di Barrammundi was no less a crowd pleaser than the rest. Cooked in the a la plancha style, doused in olive oil, with carefully placed caper berries and idyllic composition achieved with a red capsicum flower garnish and linear asparagus. This is a remarkable dish that goes beyond visual admiration. At Mari Ristorante, we were also taught to appreciate simplicity in the form of the Pannacotta Al Cocco. The beautiful homemade coconut panna cotta beckoned us to ravage it and with the help of the utterly divine gula Melaka syrup, we did.
Mari Ristorante doesn’t just breathe new life into Old Malaya, their rule-bending approach to Italian-Asian spinoffs, remarkable vintage- meets-modern contemporary interior, and a fiercely passionate team have brought a whole new, fun dining experience to the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Address: Mari Ristorante *Italian *Asian (pork-free)
No 2, Lorong Raja Chulan, 50250 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2022 0968