a'Roma dinings, Petaling Jaya: 2020 Menu

December 24, 2019

It's 8pm on a bustling Wednesday night, and plates of pasta are flying out of a'Roma Dinings' kitchen, as customers look forward to their orders of bucatini with slow-braised pork cheeks, tagliolini with potatoes and pine nuts, and ravioli with lamb ragu. Beside the counter, restaurant founder Ken Wong prepares a fresh batch of casarecce and curly pappardelle - two pastas not often seen in the Klang Valley - to be served for the next three days.

It's been exactly four years since a'Roma Dinings opened in Taman Paramount, but it still remains a relatively under-the-radar destination, even for lovers of Italian fare in KL and Selangor. Still, the restaurant continues to go from strength to strength, so if you're seeking a space that banishes bolognese cliches, choosing to craft distinctive recipes like curly pappardelle with duck leg confit, a'Roma might awaken your palate to new horizons of Rome, Palermo and beyond.

Fresh pasta has been a cornerstone of a'Roma since the beginning, so making it effortlessly has become second nature to Ken, who can spend half an hour explaining the intricacies of how heat, friction, flour content and other factors impact the pasta. a'Roma relies on a top-of-the-line machine by an Italian company that has been producing pasta equipment for nearly 150 years, to do justice to tradition - with bronze dies of different shapes and sizes, the machine is capable of spawning multiple types of pastas, from stracci to penne. If you're here while the pasta is being made, take some time to watch the fascinating process, which transforms traditional semolina flour and golden free-range eggs into beautiful pasta within minutes, out in the open for every patron to witness instead of being hidden in the kitchen.

If you've never had casarecce, a'Roma is where you can start: This Sicilian classic of short twists of pasta, curvy like rolled-up parchments, is terrific for supporting sauces - in a'Roma's case, prawns, mussels and other seafood, punched up with the brininess of olives in a house-made pomodoro tomato-based sauce that's subtly garlicky, rich but not cloying, smooth but still textured (RM48). It's a rustic recipe that certainly would be comfortably at home in a Catanian osteria.

This is our third visit to a'Roma, and there are new pastas to explore each time: Weaving Italian and Spanish ingredients, the squid ink spaghettini - al dente, naturally - surfaces with Mediterranean-caught octopus tentacles, firm to the bite, tender to the chew, brightened with cherry tomatoes to harmoniously bring together sea and land on one lovely plate (RM75).

Since our last trip to a'Roma, the restaurant has also enjoyed an extensive refurbishment that's visible both inside and out, accentuating the elegance of a rustic setting that's suitable for practically any occasion, whether you're here for a casual family dinner, romantic rendezvous or even a business meeting, with a mural of the Colosseum as a spectacular backdrop. The saxophone-loving lounge has also been spruced up, including with some of Ken's own repurposed furnishing, making it an intimate hall that can also be set up for special events and functions.

It's possible to construct a complete meal at a'Roma from the starters alone, with sensibilities not only from Italy but a sprinkling of France too. 

Produce from Parma and Puglia surge to the fore for prosciutto with burrata, buoyantly balancing the robustly savoury sultriness of dry-aged ham with the delicate, buttery-milky creaminess of cheese, with slices of zucchini for lively lightness. Even the zucchini isn't an afterthought, since it's grilled before before being pickled for subtly smoky nuances; ultimate, the one-two-three punch of quality prosciutto, burrata and zucchini makes this a bargain for RM35).

If foie gras is your irresistible indulgence, a'Roma's is more than alluring (RM65), a thick cut of pan-seared duck liver for full-bodied fulfillment, complemented by a'Roma's own-baked foccacia - the bread is baked with 80-year-old Italian mother dough, the living yeast strain yielding more flavour to hold up to the rich liver, with berry coulis to cut through vibrantly and vigorously.

Also recommended is the stuffed calamari with burnt eggplant and spicy cumin tomato sauce (RM30), the kind of modern antipasto that brings a sense of confident, 21st-century European flair to this part of Petaling Jaya. Remember not to have too much of a'Roma's complimentary crispy flatbread - even though it's addictive - so that you can fully relish the cooking here.

Our main courses were mighty with meat. Not many restaurants offer porchetta on a regular basis, so a'Roma's painstaking effort to do so should be rewarded. The boneless pork roast is a powerhouse of princely pleasure, carnivorously fleshy for sink-your-teeth-into-this satisfaction, complete with crackling for can't-fail crunch, moistened slightly with pork jus, made aromatic with a stuffing of dried fruits and rounded out with roast pumpkin with carrots for a Christmas-came-early platter that two can happily share (RM65).

Speaking of sharing, the iberico ribs are even more monumental, a one-kilogram portion for up to four persons (RM158). The Spanish-cultivated pork is cooked precisely right, keeping it luscious and not shrinking the meat, so customers can devour it with caveman-worthy gusto, lightly caramelised with an orange-balsamic glaze, plus deep-fried potato skins and truffled mashed potatoes for dual-textured carb components that everyone will enjoy.

Running a restaurant has turned Ken into a thoughtful eater, so he strives to serve only what he himself and his wife would want to consume, ensuring that a'Roma's fare is fresh and well-sourced, shunning preservatives and MSG. Over the years, he's also partnered with Italian chefs on collaborations and sought to offer interesting specials from time to time, with game meat like rabbit, venison and quail sometimes making an appearance.

a'Roma has also curated a very respectable wine list of dozens of vintages, with Italy well-represented, of course. From the hilly vineyards of Verona comes a fruit-forward house pour that'll match nicely with the meats, the Sartori l'Appassione at RM27 per glass or RM130 by the bottle. If you're longing for a genuine Italian classic with just enough intensity, Piedmont offers up its 2012 Prunotto Pian Romualdo Barbera a'Alba (RM260), a fine companion from before sunset to sometime nearing midnight.

Other wines and spirits include top-end choices from Barolos to Brunellos, Amarones to Super Tuscans.

Ken's family is also involved in the Degayo coffee roastery, so it's worth sampling some Aceh-cultivated beans, freshly roasted on demand, if you're a latte lover. Plus, a'Roma Dinings is a participating venue in Eat Drink KL's coffee pass subscription, so you can enjoy espresso-based coffee at a discounted rate here.

Many thanks to a'Roma Dinings for having us back.

a'Roma Dinings

1, Jalan 20/14, Taman Paramount, 46300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. 

Open Tuesday-Thursday, 4pm-1130pm; Friday-Saturday, 1145am-12am; Sunday, 1145am-1130pm. Tel: 03-7865-9829

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