Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

YOU'RE THE TOP! Marini's On 57

Amazing view of the Twin Towers from Marini's
Lenglui and I always look forward to the Amante della Cucina Italiana dinners. This informal group of foodies focus on Italian cuisine in Kuala Lumpur and the evenings generally get quite rowdy and laughter filled. They look to fix dinners at KL's Italian Restaurants for members and generally succeed extremely well. 

We had been itching to try Marini's on 57 for almost a year but for some reason the timings weren't quite right. Lenglui had found that Chef Federico Michieletto (whom we had first encountered during his time at Pietro Restaurant) was head chef. So it was with delight that we received the email saying that the next Amante dinner would be hosted there July 9th. Naturally, we signed up pretty quickly. 

Named after owner and operator Marini Modesto who built his name in KL on a chain of tasty pizza restaurants, it is located on the 57th floor of the third Petronas Tower at KLCC. Unless you know how to get there, the entrance is a bit hidden. The store staff at the Suria all know where it is though, and you basically pass Chanel on your right and head for the corner to the left. There you will see curtains and a smiling bouncer type gentleman who escorts you to the elevator. In less than twenty seconds you are whisked to the 57th floor where Marini's is located. 

Marini's on 57 interior
Half of our Amante group were already seated and we welcomed Datuk and Datin back from seven weeks overseas travelling. A welcome and unexpected glass of Prosecco greeted us, which was found to be slighly unbalanced on the wrong side of sweet but pleasant nonetheless. We had brought our Italian house red Le Volte 2010 Chianti and a spicy Sicilian Barrua 2005 for the occasion. Normal corkage at Marini is RM100 per bottle but organiser Jing had used her massive charm to persuade the management to give us free corkage on the second bottle. Which meant we simply HAD to open it. Yes. Now I understand why buy one free one is so powerful a marketing tool. 

The restaurant itself is long and felt a bit dark, but on reflection necessarily so since too much light would take away from the incredible view we get of the north side of KL City. As we arrived the sun was in the final stages of setting and we sat down to the gloaming dusk to watch the night come to life. This is the premium that you pay to dine at Marini's. And for me it is worth most of the extra ringgit one pays for the privilege. I have been blessed to have sat in a few rooftop restaurants around the world and watched the sun set on those various cities with a glass of something. But when it's your own (or at least the one that has adopted you) there's more of a connection. It becomes personal; this is your town that you're seeing, and it's one heck of a town. Or at least it is when there's no haze or rain, as was the case on our visit. Couple that with no nose bleed or altitude ear pop sickness from our rapid ascent into the heavens and things were looking good.

Amante della Cucina Italiana
All duly arrived and photos were taken and Chef Federico came out to say hello and introduce the starters. Chef continues to be a fantastic supporter of our Amanti della Cucina Italiana group and a cursory look at the menu he had prepared for us showed he was yet again pulling out the stops. As said, we first experienced Chef at his preivous gig at Pietro's through the Amanti and were most impressed with his clean and refined home style of cooking yet with clear leanings toward the fine end of dining. Hopefully Marini's would clearly give him the licence and resources needed to take this to the next level. 

Our menu had been colour printed on frosted paper in the black and red master colours of the Marini's restaurant, nicely complementing the uniforms of all the staff. On reflection, perhaps this colour scheme was a shade too bold, but it melted into the dark ambiance of the restaurant and became a backdrop rather than an influence. 

The service was very good throughout the night. Only faults would be a dropped fork at the start and a slight mix up on the cutlery placing (out to in, I was wondering why I had a spoon to eat the Lobster when I figured it was for the following Pappardelle) but no one else seemed to notice or bother too much so I guess best to just let it pass. 

Ricotta, Zucchini e Vin cotto
The Ricotta was very good - nice and light creamy crumbly with the zucchini lending an acetic quality, I guess from being quickly sauteed in some balsamic reduction. Champion with a chunk of bread.

Goose, Duck Salami with Shallot 
The salami was brilliant, especially the goose - more delicate in taste and texture than its traditional porcine brother, it retained that unmistakeable salami combo of cured meat and fat that we in the West have loved since childhood. The pickled Shallots lent a nice onion crunch and zip and the pan toasted sweet brioche was genius, giving a sweet carbo undercurrent to the meat. Wonderfully filling, this is a perfect option for those in this nation who are not able to take the pork. Could happily have ate this all night, but then I am a salami monster - one of the most perfect foods on the planet. Whilst it went well with our Chianti, it would have been a good match with a nice glass of something bubbly to clean the fatty salt gunk from the tongue and throat. Bread and water had to do and well it did. Most of the plates got cleared, though I reluctantly felt a need to leave a few slices. There was a lot of food yet to come. 

And come it did and what a belter the Blue lobster and Burrata with Cream Form proved to be. Sweet crisp and crunchily good lobster blended masterfully with the creamy burrata, with the rind offering a slightly different texture to contrast the flesh. The sweet chew on the meat was delightfully endless, whilst a splash of olive oil on the plate lent a necessary and welcome cut to the cheese. Given its colour, I'm guessing that Chef added some pureed lobster to the Cream Form, so the colours on the plate had a harmony. The cream form was magnificent, giving the lobster and cheese that milky bite to bring the burrata to perfect texture and taste. Contender for dish of the night. 

Blue lobster and Burrata with Cream Form
Well, it was until the Pappardelle ai Piccione made its way to the table. It must be said that pigeon is not something that has loomed large in my gastronomic adventures. When it makes an appearance on a plate, my standard reaction is "why?" I've never got what pigeon is supposed to be about. Texturally snuzz, bland tasting and rarely much of it - well, it is a small bird, yes? Now thanks to Chef Federico, I think I understand it somewhat better. Tonight's pigeon felt as if it had been treated as a game bird and hung for a while to give it that hint of what can only be called "gamey". It's like fermented eggs and aged cheese - the hanging gives the meat an element of taste that makes it less of a bland experience. Which was what I got from this bird - a light taste that was not oppressive in the mouth and showing great balance. Presenting it Ragout style with simple mushroom gravy style sauce lightly seasoned let the gamey element come through beautifully. Close your eyes and you were transported to a countryside farm in the Veneto. Paired with a freshly made long flat papardelle pasta, this was a real authentic taste of Italian soul food at its best - filling, tasty and satisfying. I think there was a bit of Chef Federico's own soul in this one. I cleared the plate and sopped up the sauce with the bread remains. Perfecto and so, so good. 
Pigeon ragut, Papardelle and Barolo Wine

Our 2010 Le Volte had gone very nicely with the food to date - solid and workmanlike, smoother tannins than previous bottles but still bold and tasty with good fruit, pepper and spice. But in order to take advantage of the corkage deal we had to crack the 2005 Barrua. How could we not? Actually, if thought had been given, we could have shared corkage with others on the table who had also brought wines and saved the bottle. But we were not thinking clearly. Wine and great food will do that to you. As it was, the Barrua had a lovely balance of fruit, tannin, alcohol and acidity. Dried fruits on the nose with prunes and raisins, and a plum jammy sweet mouth with a clean lingering finish. We passed a glass to Chef who looked somewhat stressed and in need of a reviver. The restaurant is clearly doing well, with about 90% full on the night. 

Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Summer Truffle Puree and Roasted Tomatoes with Smoked Duck
And the food kept coming. Some of the table were flagging at this point, but a quick stand and walk up and down the restaurant helped clear a bit of space in the system. By way of introduction here, it should be said that Chef's Veal Tenderloin at the Pietro was legend. We had it one time with the Amanti and it was gorgeous - great texture, and milky meat that just evaporated in the mouth. Tonight's was even better. Done rare with a salt crust in a cream truffle sauce, it had that slight raw firmness that was textural heaven. Total wow. In contrast, the duck had been shredded and somehow packed into a poached tomato to create an amazing juicy sweet and slighly sour tomato bite with a salty crisp duck crunch. Most interesting combination of tongue tickling tastes with this one. Not quite total wow, but still wow. 

I might have a question as to pairing the tenderloin and the duck on the same plate, but possibly Chef was looking to showcase his talents to his Amante. In a fine dining context, they can clearly be separated for degustation and wine pairing purposes. The veal was absolutely stellar. 

And so were the cheeses that came out. We had three on the main plate - the hard Bagoss made from skimmed cow milk, the hard Pecorino made from ewe's milk and the soft goat milk Caprini, all of which seem to originate in the Langhe region in the Piedmonte. All of these were fabulous in their different ways, especially the milky sour Caprini with some toasted brioche. But the cheese star was the Barolo Cheese. This semi firm mixed milk cheese is aged like wine in oak barrels and then pressed with fresh Nebbiolo grape husks. As a result, the wine flavours seep into the cheese to produce an amazingly rich and brilliantly complex taste that went gangbusters with our Barrua. Seems the origin of this cheese was a happy accident as a result of hiding the cheese in a wine barrel to prevent it from being stolen and then forgetting about it until its discovery some months later. As a result, it became legend. It was an absolute stormer - a full rich sweetly chewy and sour salty assault on the back of the tongue and cheeks. A wonderful and totally new experience that gives a whole new meaning to a cheese and wine tasting. Brilliant. 

Cotton Candy
The desserts of a massively sugary Cotton Candy and a somewhat texturally heavy Chef's Grandma Cake (as he called it) were nice enough and we tasted out of courtesy for Chef. But we were all hugely full and it was very difficult to follow the cheese with these desserts. Either one or the other would have been enough but maybe not both. That aside, somehow the dessert didn't quite match up to the standard set by the preceding dishes. As said, the cake was a bit on the heavy side when something lighter might have been more palatable. Having said that, had our preceding dishes been lighter then a heavier dessert would have made sense. Will have to try the Grandma cake in a different context. 

Traditional Pie with Pine Nuts and Cream Pasticcera
And then came the chocolates. Oh my lord, the chocolates. Delightful looking little dainties being offered and suggested according to guest  preferences, these were a stunning end to the night. Chef suggested one of the soft dark brown plain creations should be tasted with a little olive oil and salt. Unbelievably, it totally worked with the salt freshening the tastebuds and the oil coating the throat to let the tongue taste the full chocolate without any gunky residue. Another totally new experience. Double brilliant. 

In sum, one of those totally amazing dining nights full of fantastic food and amazing new taste experiences. No complaints whatsoever about food quality, preparation, presentation or temperature - everything was excellent. Service was very good - clean, quietly efficient, unobtrusive. One staffer had even learnt my name - don't know how he found it. Everyone at our table was pretty quiet at the end of the night, probably too full to do anything else except sit replete with full belly and contemplate life above the streets of our twinkling city below. Chef certainly pulled out many stops for us on the night, yet was still able to manage a room full of paying guests. He remains hugely supportive of the society - a very special Amico dell' Amante - and should be commended as such.

Chef Federico's skills have clearly grown. Being in command of a restaurant with the clout and organisation of Modesto behind it, I guess he has been freed up to experiment with and command the best ingredients for his creations. He creates brilliantly tasting dishes that satisfy and excite.  All the other cities in the Pacific Rim seem to have a chef with a Michelin star and it's way about time that Kuala Lumpur joined that particualr fraternity. Is Chef Federico in that frame? From what I have seen of Michelin graded chefs, he is probably a little too paisano to satisfy the nobs. Michelin seems to require innovative refinement in preparation and presentation, chefs who take the culinary arts to other levels. But then what does Michelin know? Chef Federico has superb culinary chops and is already a star. It doesn't get much better. Just close your eyes to the prices and enjoy the food and the view. Totally the top.
View from Marini's on 57 overlooking Kuala Lumpur

Menu  per amanti della cucina  italiana

Ricotta , Zucchini e Vin cotto

Goose, Duck Salami with Shallot  Agro Dolce Pan Brioche

Blue lobster and Burrata with Cream Form

Pigeon ragut , Papardelle and Barolo Wine

Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Summer Truffle Puree and Roasted Tomatoes  with Smoked Duck

Langhe Cheese, BagosS DOP, Pecorino DOP, Caprini DOP

Cotton Candy

Traditional Pie with Pine Nuts and Cream Pasticcera

Fine Selection of home-made Chocolate

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