Natalina Italian Kitchen, Avenue K

November 1, 2020

The name Natalina Garaventa might not sound familiar, but her presence and portraits loom large in KL's latest Italian restaurant. Born in northern Italy more than 120 years ago, Natalina was the mother of Frank Sinatra (fun fact: the singer learned to cook pasta sauce from her and even sold it in supermarkets) and is the inspiration for this charming space, as smooth and warmly polished as a crooner's classic.

Natalina Italian Kitchen's Roman-born head chef, Diego Reali, also owes a culinary debt to his his own mother, who ran a restaurant southeast of the Eternal City. So while carbonara might seem like a cliche to order, where better in KL to taste this Roman-origin recipe than at the hands of a true Roman?

Diego, who has worked in Southeast Asia for five years, makes some concessions to the preferences of local customers - not a problem, since chefs shouldn't have to be slaves to ruthless authenticity.

We ended up having two versions of the carbonara at Natalina - while both comprised no cream, the first had a wetter sauce that tasted nearly as cloying as a cream-based one, to prevent potential complaints from patrons who enjoy Malaysia's more widely offered interpretation.

It wasn't what we hoped for, so the chef then served a second version, his favoured preparation, the perfectly executed carbonara, pictured on top, with the slick richness reliant on the egg, free of a gloppy sauce, rounded out with Roman pecorino cheese and black pepper. Since Natalina serves no pork, the kitchen swaps guanciale for smoked duck bacon - a terrific substitute, thanks to duck that's fleshy and fatty, savoury and sumptuous (RM55).

Much of Natalina's menu is familiar, a safe harbour in uncertain times, instead of a ship seeking thrills in troubled waters. Tried-and-tested staples dominate - from ricotta-stuffed ravioli to seafood risotto, fettuccine with porcini to gnocchi with sage butter. 

Still, there's a twist or two to be found, including slow-cooked baby octopus, stewed in puttanesca sauce that's traditionally reserved for Neapolitan spaghetti (RM35). The sauce is mellow and relatively sweet, rather than deep and tangy like regular puttanesca, perhaps to better complement the mild-mannered octopus.

Pizzas will be available soon, with tempting toppings that span burrata with bresaola or artichokes with black olives.

We've been craving a satisfying steak for awhile - for tenderloin fans, the Josper charcoal oven-grilled Black Angus fillet doesn't disappoint, with 250 grams of primal pleasure, accompanied by a lovely truffled chickpea puree, portobello mushroom confit and grilled radicchio, worthy of a top-tier steakhouse (RM165).

A meal at Natalina dependably starts with complimentary house-baked foccacia, served with a trio of dips, including a reviving parsley-based salsa verde and pastes of black olives and tomatoes. It could end with a fuss-free, elegantly presented tiramisu (RM35); it should be accompanied all the way with Prosecco and Primitivo.

Service is assured and amiable, guided with a steady hand by Natalina's general manager Madhav Batra and his team.

Natalina Italian Kitchen

Lot 06, Level 03, Avenue K, Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 012-673-3860

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