Passione Ristorante Italiano, Sri Petaling

September 10, 2018

Passion burns bright in every facet of this fresh-faced Italian restaurant. It's emblazoned on the custom-built brick oven from which wood-fired pizzas emerge, scorched at up to 400 degrees Celsius. It's epitomised by the meticulous process of making pastas from scratch, by hand, every morning. It's exhibited in the Italian artisanal produce that lines the shelves - cured meats like guanciale and wild boar salami, cheeses, marinated mushrooms and olives, all of which can be purchased home.

And it's very much embodied by the man who steers the kitchen - Abruzzo-born chef Stefano Criber has been labouring in restaurants since he was 14, starting out as a dishwasher in the late 1990s. Life as a chef has taken him far from his southern Italian home region, known for its soaring mountains and sweeping coastlines, landing him finally in Kuala Lumpur. 

Dominated by dim sum eateries, beer joints and local dessert parlours, the neighbourhood of Sri Petaling may seem like a strange place to plant the colours of the Italian flag, in a space that ambitiously takes up two entire levels, but here, passion is promisingly partnered with pluck, poise and perseverance.

Bread and wine, the fundamental starting blocks for the Italian meal: On both counts, Passione shines, with a rustically baked welcome loaf that's warm to the touch, crusty to the bite, light and relatively airy to the chew, good to go with Passione's house-made olive tapenade. Break bread while examining the wine list - the selection is extensive, but what caught our attention were offerings from chef Stefano's region, specifically by Abruzzo's Cantina Zaccagnini, silky with subtle finishes. If you feel celebratory, spring for a sparkling - the Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene is ranked among Veneto's top Proseccos.

As far as antipasti is concerned, you won't be led astray by a platter of cold cuts that might comprise Parma ham to mortadella, completed with the chef's curation of cheeses. Beyond the basics, it's worth exploring specialities like a potato cake made beautifully textured with roasted octopus, shrimp and baby cuttlefish, supplemented with cherry tomato confit and fennel - the catch of the ocean harmoniously married with the harvest of the land, true to the heritage of Abruzzo's natural bounty.

At the heart of Passione, the pizzas and pastas are Stefano's pride: Behind the scenes, the effort begins with the pizza dough, washed with pure mineral water, activating inherent enzymes to bring flavours to life. The result is a nuanced base for the pleasures of a pie, gently crisp, simultaneously tender, holding up pleasantly to whatever the toppings might be. It's been a long time since we last saw pizza crowned with lardo in KL, so it's a happy surprise to find the fatback salumi spread across one here, lusciously slick, layered well with eggplant pulp, provolone cheese, potatoes, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes.

Stefano is also intimately involved in sourcing the ingredients for Passione's pastas, choosing the right wheat flour and eggs, striving to placate patrons who crave engaging variants that transcend KL's typical pasta tropes. 

Again, Abruzzo's traditions come into play - the signature is the spaghetti alla chitarra that's typical of Abruzzo, made with a tool nicknamed chitarra, literally translated into 'guitar' in Italian, capable of absorbing sauces beautifully; it's served here with a rich cherry tomato sauce, with the green of basil balancing out the vivid crimson hues. Also constructed in Passione's kitchen is the tube-shaped maccheroni, sauteed with an Italian sausage ragu, artichoke pate and smoked scarmoza cheese - the flavours and textures are kept simple and accessible, so these would be the ideal introduction for customers seeking to stretch their culinary horizons by sampling a few new types of pastas.

Primed for pork as well? Passione has plenty of iberico to sink your teeth into, spanning the succulence of neck to shoulder cuts, plus marinated ribs slow-cooked on the grill to greatness, bearing thick slabs of flesh you'll eagerly rip off the bone and devour lustily, rounded out by a red wine sauce, roasted potatoes and sauteed mixed capsicums.

Nearly half a century ago, The Godfather gave these clear instructions: Leave the gun, take the cannoli. That advice applies at Passione, where the crunchy Sicilian pastries come delectably stuffed with pistachio cream, paired with vanilla gelato. If you're craving other classic desserts, everything from tiramisu to sorbetto are accounted for too.

We like the intricacy of Passione's interior - there's a corner for every preference, whether you prefer cushy comfort indoors or the feeling of the breeze on your face outside. The restaurant is also expected to soon host events such as weekend markets for Italian products, so keep an eye out for that. Andiamo, indeed.

Many thanks to the Passione team for having us.

Passione Ristorante Italiano
19, Jalan Radin Bagus 9, Sri Petaling, 57000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Open Wednesday-Monday, 11am-230pm, 6pm-11pm (closed Tuesdays). Tel: 03-9055-3833

This feature first appeared on eatdrinkkl.com

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