Positano Risto, Publika

September 20, 2019

How does a restaurant soar atop TripAdvisor’s rankings in two separate cities, first trumping every other Italian eatery in Singapore, then similarly skyrocketing in KL within less than a year? Entrenched near the summit of customer ratings, with some 800 TripAdvisor reviews in Singapore and nearly 200 in Kuala Lumpur as of September 2019, Positano Risto strives to be the place where Malaysians can explore the breadth of contemporary Italian cuisine in a truly family-friendly setting.

The reasons for the brand's success are evident on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at Positano’s first Malaysian outpost in Publika. Imran Abdullah, who co-founded the brand with his brother-in-law Ishak Ahmad, is here today, personally welcoming each patron and thanking them when they’re finished, espousing the philosophy that "no customer should leave Positano hungry or unhappy." Food is served promptly, though it’s pleasant to linger in this space, with its leafy alfresco area that’s discreetly hidden from the rest of Solaris Dutamas and a casually stylish interior adorned with portraits of entertainers of Italian heritage, from Al Pacino to Jon Bon Jovi and Luciano Pavarotti, for a restaurant we can’t refuse. 

Pizzas, pastas and other essentials of Italian kitchens are vibrantly represented, plus a protein-packed range of grilled temptations. The star pizza is the calzone, looking unlike others in the city - its eight folded tips of hand-crafted pockets echo Positano’s logo, emblazoned on the entrance in the Italian flag’s colours, evoking toppings of basil, cheese and tomatoes. The Positano Super Supreme Calzone is built for sharing, packed with the savoury tang of tomato sauce, the protein punch of beef pepperoni and turkey ham, and the cheesiness of Parmesan, burrata and mozzarella (RM59.95); for extra dynamics, drizzle a few bites with Positano’s trio of olive oils (sweet, spicy and subtly sour).

Regular pizzas run the gamut from the classic Margherita to a six-cheese wonder, the earthy Wild Truffle Mushroom to the aromatic Garlic Herb Chicken, ensuring there’s a pie for every preference. The recipes took six months to initially perfect; Positano roped in a Verona-born chef to craft the right pizzas for Southeast Asia's climate, with crusts that offer a light, supple crunch.

Positano Risto scales the pinnacle of pasta pleasure with the help of a whole Boston lobster - the flagship fettuccine surfaces with a decadently large crustacean, claws and all, crammed with naturally sweet flesh amid fettuccine saturated with a gently briny lobster bisque sauce, plus plenty of tiger prawns, squid and clams for at least two or three people to thoroughly stuff themselves on - it’s the pasta for celebratory times, stirring up a straight-from-the-seas spectacle and a slurp-every-strand sensation (RM199.95).

For regular occasions, fan favourites include the carbonara, the indulgently creamy kind that children of all ages adore, crowned with a sous-vide egg for a runny boost of enjoyment, scattered with beef bacon and beef pastrami, proving that a pork-free carbonara can be a triumph for the taste buds too (RM38.95). Positano also serves no liquor, making it a reliable venue for anyone seeking an Italian eatery that caters without hesitation to their Muslim companions. 

A complete multi-course meal can be relished here. Start perhaps with the arancini, vegetarian-friendly, golden-crumbed rice balls that yield a crisp bite and a starchy chew laced with mozzarella (RM34.95), then sink your teeth into the primal meatiness of the honey-glazed braised beef short rib, a robustly seasoned slab on the bone, part of Positano’s Grills With Frills selection (RM78.95). 

The menu is made for multiple visits, so there’s much more to investigate, from the Tuscan-inspired panzanella salad to ricotta-spinach ravioli to a seafood soup that channels the spirit of the Amalfi coast where Positano Risto’s namesake cliffside village resides (fun fact: Positano - the inimitable image of which is the centrepiece mural in this restaurant - was chosen as the brand’s name partly in tribute to John Steinbeck’s 1953 Harper's Bazaar review; Imran and his wife also made their own memorable visit to Positano in 2014).

Save space for a sweet finish, since the Oreo Chocolate Lava Stack makes for a captivating dessert - Positano uniquely positions a molten dark chocolate cake atop a house-made Oreo mud pie with smooth ice cream; have a spoonful of everything simultaneously for a creamy-crisp, hot-and-cold interplay, ideal for the young at heart (RM34.95). We’re also smitten with the Positano Signature Torta, a chocolate cake buoyed by a blueberry reduction filling and mascarpone mousse (RM26.95).

Beat the heat with Positano Risto's reviving mocktails and shakes - Sky Walker (RM22.95; wild blueberries, blue lagoon, lemon-lime soda), Maroon 6 (RM19.95; red dragonfruit, coconut, lemon-lime soda - better than Maroon 5, Imran says), Lychee Di Menta (RM16.95; house-made lychee puree, lime juice, spearmint leaves) and Godfather (RM24.95; Ferrero Rocher, Nutella, premium vanilla ice cream).

All in all, Positano pours plenty of effort into everything from its food to its service, and even its eclectic, extensive playlist, curated by Imran to span everyone from ELO to INXS, Sinatra to the Beatles to Maher Zain. The brand’s purpose, to bring people of all stripes, creeds and religions together over food, reflects Imran’s own bid to make the world a bit of a better place after having sojourned with his wife through more than 75 nations within a quarter of a century.

Many thanks to the Positano Risto team for having us here.

Positano Risto

Block C1, Lot 2, Level 3, Publika Shopping Gallery, Solaris Dutamas, 50480 Kuala Lumpur.

Daily, 11am-10pm (till 11pm on Fri-Sat). Tel: 03-6411-3799

Link for online reservations: https://letsumai.com/widget/positano-risto

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