It is hard to find authentic Italian places outside of Europe and some might argue, America, but there is an authentic cucina italiana right under our noses here in Bangsar.
We visited Portofino in Bangsar's Lucky Garden last week. We were invited by Chef Keli and Luca, the Italian owners of the simple, casual family dining establishment. Starting his training at the tender age of 14, Chef Keli had already been a chef for 9 years at reputable Michelin-star restaurants and four-star hotels back in Italy before moving to Malaysia to open Portofino.
His dream of opening his own restaurant was realised when Portofino opened in October 2014.
The only thing that *may* make it less Italian, if just a smidgen, would be its lack of pork in the menu. That's right, Portofino is pork-free. Also, all their meats are halal slaughtered, a good news for the Muslims who might be interested but wary to try out the restaurant. There are alcoholic beverages in the menu, and a couple of alcohol-infused dishes, but they are clearly stated and if you’re still unsure, you can always ask the friendly staff! :)
We started off the meal with some starters. The first that came was a Bruschetta with Black Olive Paté (RM12), which caught me absolutely off guard. The olive paté fused so well with the anchovies, without carrying any overpowering tastes of the sea. We also got to try a really fresh smoked salmon bruschetta that is house-smoked and tasted great.
Then came the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio (RM28) which was extremely fresh and tender. Combined with the strong-tasting arugula and Parmesan, the overall taste was surprisingly not overwhelming, but very wholesome and fulfilling.
The Mixed Grilled Vegetables (RM26) were perfectly seasoned, – not too salty or oily – and they got the texture just right. We were also offered Portofino's homemade Tabasco sauce, made with chilli padi to suit Malaysian palette, to enjoy with the vegetables. Known as the resident fire eater of Foodievstheworld, I drenched my zucchinis and peppers with the sauce and gobbled them up merrily.
The Portofino Spaghetti (RM38) is their prided bestseller, and I can see why. The quality of the ingredients is top notch, – the prawns, squid and scallops succulent and sweet, the mussels and clams fresh and tender, all generously thrown into the pasta. The pasta is also made in-house. This dish packs a whole lot of flavours and guarantees to sate your appetite.
The Seafood Ravioli (RM36) is a pleasant delight drenched in a lovely lobster bisque sauce. As pleasant as it looked the taste turned out to be even more delightful. The homemade ravioli is filled with fresh lobster and fish, a promising combo for seafood lovers (including myself).
Apart from acing it with the seafood, Portofino also knows how to handle their chicks well, because the Devil’s Chicken Leg (RM36) had the juiciest, plumpest, and most succulent texture. Chicken juices were practically dripping as I bit into the meat. Marinated with only basic ingredients like paprika, black pepper, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce, this dish is the perfect representation of less is more.
The Four Season Pizza (RM36) is sized at 12 inches. Its thin and crispy crust is made with Italian flour, and is slathered in their homemade tomato sauce then topped four different main ingredients – grilled chicken, turkey ham, mushrooms and black olives. The others favoured the grilled chicken and turkey ham but my personal favourites were mushrooms and black olives. The huge cuts sealed the juicy texture in, and I am a vegetarian pizza convert after having tried this.
Our round of main courses ended with Risotto with Prawns and Curry Spices (RM36), a unique recipe created by Chef Keli himself. The subtle hint of curry fused seamlessly with the overall creamy taste of the dish, and accented the sweetness of the fresh prawns and apples present. In my opinion, this is a successful attempt to marry the Asian palette with a typically Western dish. While the risotto is still very much Italian, there is an unmistakable hint of Malaysia in it.
Finally, it was time for dessert. While everyone else seemed to be enjoying the Tiramisu (RM16), and Crunchy Almond Semifreddo (RM18), I had to resist gobbling the entire Panna Cotta (RM14) by myself. I found the Panna Cotta really soothing after a whole variety of flavours and spices on my tongue. It’s almost like a massage therapy after a fun, exhilarating game.
I highly recommend Portofino to anyone who is looking for authentic Italian food, or simply just a good place to eat. Portofino made me fall in love in more ways than one. The food was really good The atmosphere there is very laidback and casual, well-suited for family and friends, with extremely warm service from the staff. Prices here are reasonable for good quality and generous serving sizes.
And since Portofino serves halal meats, I can bring my Muslim good friend to eat here next time!
Portofino No. 1, Persiaran Ara Kiri, Lucky Garden, Bangsar Open Daily from 11AM to 11:30PM