MARI Ristorante, Lorong Raja Chulan
July 7, 2019
What happens when an Italian chef lives in KL for three years and falls in love with Asian flavours? Chef Cristian Grandi's menu at KL's new MARI Ristorante is the result, showcasing Italian classics imbued with ingredients that span sambal to soy, galangal to garam masala, jackfruit to yuzu, curry to kaffir lime leaves, tofu to tom yum soup, Chinese broccoli to Filipino adobo sauce. Grandi hails from Emilia-Romagna's Ferrara, the City of the Renaissance, so it seems fitting for him to spearhead this reinvigoration of his homeland's cuisine in his adopted country.
MARI beckons with a broad selection of staples; start with the Burrata Alla Mari, brilliantly spotlighting Puglia's prized cheese, compellingly molten-milky in texture and taste, enlivened with ikura spheres that bring bursts of unmistakable salmon-roe umami to the burrata, buoyed by a yuzu-dressed rocket salad for a harmonious coupling of Tuscany and Tokyo (RM68).
Even the complimentary bread platter is memorably distinctive, featuring not only the typical focaccia with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar but naan and a creamy, curry-spiced dip.
MARI's most intriguing pasta might be its house-made tonarelli, coated in a true West-meets-East combination of cured eggs - Sardinia's bottarga fish roe, mingling with the salted egg yolk that's beloved across East Asia, both balancing each other out for briny-savoury, gritty-silky comfort - crowned with a soft-shell crab claw (RM62).
Soft-shell crab also surfaces for the Al Granchio pizza, layered with coconut cream instead of tomato sauce for more tropical nuances (RM56) - chef Grandi also helms the Zenzero Group's Luce pizza-focused venue, one of MARI's neighbouring eateries in the Old Malaya restaurant enclave, so it's no surprise that MARI promises no fewer than two dozen pizzas in its repertoire.
The border-leaping, boundary-smashing hits keep coming, from risotto laced with garam masala for aromatic depth, bolstered by braised lamb and broccolini (RM50), to potato gnocchi fired up with red Thai curry for a fragrant richness, rounded out with the earthiness of a mushroom ragout (RM40). Cocktails convey more subtle nuances from this region, from ginseng to pandan, while wines by the glass remain steadfastly Italian.
2, Old Malaya, Off Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur. Open Tues-Sun, 5pm-1am. Tel: 012-320-7500
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