April 22, 2018
Andiamo! Showing KL the soulful side of Italian cuisine, Grano Pasta Bar reflects the timelessness of traditional pastas, spanning the hand-rolled malloreddus of Sardinia to the ruffle-edged mafaldine named in honour of a princess of Savoy. It's a compelling reminder of how pasta is a meditation on real, honest food, with a rustic simplicity at its heart.
Inspired by the mentorship of Italian chefs, Grano's show-runner Meg Lee is the nonna that our city never had, lovingly turning wheat flour into sustenance for both the stomach and the spirit - this is the perfect companion piece to Proof Pizza + Wine, linked side-by-side in APW Bangsar. The sister restaurants spell out yin-and-yang identities; Grano radiates a gentler charm, weaving together graceful arches that recall Italian cathedral interiors with abstract art that reinterprets pasta's distinct forms.
By banishing KL's carbonara cliches from its kitchen, Grano might not be the pasta bar that some of us want, but it's the pasta bar that we all need. Meg and her team work with a Piedmontese-made La Monferrina machine, complete with its own unique moulds and dies, to meticulously produce Grano's thoughtful selection of fresh pastas.
Start with the reginette - ribbon-shaped, wavy-frilled pasta cooked with white wine, coupled with braised free-range chicken and pancetta (RM36). The essence of comfort food, each forkful promises fulfilling proportions of starchy carbs and tender protein, rounded out with a steaming-hot broth steeped with flavour and fragrance. The pasta for nursing a wounded heart.
Our other top recommendation is the creste di gallo, short pasta curved as a rooster's comb, soaking up the savoury sauciness of spicy Calabrian nduja pork salumi and capers, sweetened with pearl onions and cherry tomatoes (RM37), for a crescendo of robust, full-bodied flavours that persist pleasurably on the palate. The pasta to reinvigorate a jaded spirit.
Grano is omnivorous when its comes to pasta, so you'll find a solid variety concentrated in a compact menu, from Abruzzo-inspired spaghetti alla chitarra, egg pasta presented here with cuttlefish roe, prawns, smoked salmon, fennel and timut peppercorns (RM40), to ravioli stuffed with cured duck breast, mixed mushrooms and ricotta in tomato saffron broth (RM40).
Meat-free recipes include gnocchetti sardi - shell-shaped, ridge-surfaced pastas that look like little gnocchi, mingling with broccoli and semi-dried tomatoes in a moreish herb pesto gravy (RM30). And since most venues that excel in the techniques of pasta serve equally terrific risotto, there's that here too, a rewarding rendition that'll resonate with beetroot devotees, ravishingly textured with roasted beet bits, their unmistakable brightness blending exquisitely with the earthiness of cheeses, Pecorino Romano, scamorza and herbed (RM30).
A clue to one of Grano's secret weapons rests in its name, Italian for 'wheat.'
Grano is likely KL's only restaurant that relies on durum wheat to produce its entire repertoire of pastas - the welcome consequence of this high-protein wheat, customary for pasta throughout Italy, is a discernible bounce in each bite that merits its premium.
As of May 2018, the restaurant now also offers several 'classics' founded on familiar recipes, but ensures that each one still succeeds in standing out and leaving an impression - the Malaysian fan favourite of carbonara, for example, is served with gnocchetti sardi instead of the more typical noodle-style pastas, rounded out with pork pancetta, egg yolk and Pecorino Romano (RM35), luscious without being heavy-handed, with the potential of placating a proper Roman.
Through it all, the strength of the cooking shines - the pastas remain a peerlessly clean, structured base for medleys of mouthwatering flavours with substance and character. There's a pasta for every preference, from the meat-free heat of spaghetti aglio olio e pepperoncino (RM28; with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, herbs and chilli flakes) to the comparatively intense reginette puttanesca (RM35; lip-smacking with anchovies, olives and capers), executed well enough to befit a reputable trattoria.
For fans of folksy risotto, try the the rendition with mixed mushrooms, black truffle paste, mascarpone and Pecorino Romano, the grainy version of a pizza with similar toppings at Proof (RM42) - it might be lust at first whiff.
Beyond pastas, Grano also offers appetisers and desserts for a thorough dining experience. Don't skip the fried polenta, deliciously accompanied by an aubergine spread, semi-dried tomato pesto and taleggio cheese (RM23), or the Parma ham, flavour bombs wrapped around mascarpone, mozzarella, scamorza and black truffle paste (RM38).
Earl Grey lavender panna cotta with berries makes for a satisfactory sweet conclusion, a bit more modernistic than the pastas (RM25). But Grano's most distinctive dessert might be the 'sourdoughnut,' made with a variation of the dough that's used for Proof's pizzas, supple with a fresh, pleasant texture, memorably complemented by aromatic dips of rosemary custard sauce and rose flower whipped cream (RM25).
Grano's wine list won't be found lacking, including some interesting Italian and easy-going French options that prove versatile enough to complement many courses.
Ultimately, the restaurant is a revelation in how the Bel Paese's pasta heritage is richly rooted in la cucina povera, evolving from humble countryside homes into a globally admired brand of cooking. We hope that Grano strikes a chord with customers, since it certainly earns a berth as one of KL's eateries to cherish.
Grano Pasta Bar
29, Jalan Riong, APW Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 12pm-3pm, 6pm-1030pm.
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