Over the past decade, a deluge of Italian restaurants have all but inundated KL’s dining scene, from simple pizzerias and casual trattorias to the upper echelons of the fine dining elite. At the head of this pack for a number of years has been the highly acclaimed Nero Group – purveyors of only the most authentic Italian fare, with a raft of renowned restaurants under its name.
It is at one of these – Neroteca – that the most recent MIGF Publicity dinner took place, bringing together a group of 20 gourmands who made their way to a quiet suburb of Bukit Damansara to sample Head Chef Buck Stanlie’s rustic Festival Menu.
A sleek and smooth interior that offers cosy, semi-private booths swathed in fine leather. Regional Italian speciliaties adorn the menu
Before stepping inside the trendy restaurant, however, guests made their way to the ultra-cool Blue Elephant bar – a speakeasy accessed through a secret entrance above the restaurant. Up a stairway lined with Hollywood blockbuster posters and through a hidden doorway that slid into the wall, Blue Elephant oozes Tinseltown cool and served as the ideal spot for pre-dinner drinks and bite-sized Italian morsels.
The hidden doorway leading to the Blue Elephant Bar. A surprised Vivan Wong and Paul Ow stepping over the threshold
While prosecco, wine and cocktails were imbibed, guests whet their appetite with a selection of mouthwatering canapés from Chef Buck. Neroteca takes pride in its wide selection of pork dishes, offering everything from the finest smoked Italian ham and specialty sausages to juicy roasts and cured bacon. With this in mind, Chef Buck prepared pleasing platters of bruschetta, tomato and air-dried Serrano ham; toma cheese and half-dried cherry tomato skewers; and deep-fried lentil bean balls. The anti-pasto spread was a delectable pre-cursor to the feast ahead and was quickly devoured as guests mingled in the bar.
Skewers of Toma Cheese and Cherry Tomatoes; Brushetta, Tomato and Air-Dried Serrano Ham
Mea Fatt Leong, Dato’ Raymond Liew, Vivian Wan, Paul Ow and Shirley Tay
Jay Lee, Dato’ Steve Day, Cherry Lee Lee Ho, Miza and Abethan Kanthasamy
The Blue Elephant Bar in full swing
Ana Baranano, HE Jose R Baranano and Pat Liew
Dato Steve Day, Datin Sylvia Koh and Abethan Kanthasamy
Deep-Fried Lentil Bean Balls
As the bar’s deep house vibes pulsed away, keeping the atmosphere upbeat and lively, and the last of the diners walked through the magic concealed doorway, MIGF Organising Chairman Dato’ Steve Day called for the restaurant team before giving his customary introductions.
“This is one of the coolest restaurants in town, with, undoubtedly, one of the coolest hosts,” said Dato’ Steve of the eatery and the man stood beside him – Managing Director of the Nero-Group, Abethan Kanthasamy, who made a rare appearance at an MIGF dinner. His restaurants have for many years been part of the Festival, including Nerovivo, Aliyaa Island Restaurant & Bar and for the first time this year, Vineria.IT and Neroteca.
Dato’ Steve introducing Chef Buck while Mr Kanthasamy looks on
Freshly flown in from Canada, Mr Kanthasamy was joined by Festival Advisory Committee member and revered gastronome Dato’ Kok Wee Kiat; McMillian Woods Managing Partner Dato’ Raymond Liew; Jubilant Prestige Director Dato’ Winnie Lim; Lifestyle & Health Care Services Director and former Spanish Ambassador to Malaysia HE Jose R Baranano; BTC Clothier Group Chief Executive Officer Pat Liew and Macau Government Tourist Office Malaysia, Executive Director Cherry Lee Lee Ho among others.
Dato’ Steve Day, Dato’ Kok Wee Kiat, Datin Poh Thiam, Dato’ Winnie Lim and Shirley Tay
Cherry Lee Lee Ho and Kerry Tam Jay Lee and Pat Liew
Following the traditional group shot for posterity, the diners made their way back downstairs to the slick and smooth interior of Neroteca. A magnificent classic electra coffee machine in rose gold – one of only two in Malaysia – greeted guests at the restaurant entrance, who made their way passed the bar and wood-fired oven and into the sleek main dining room.
The wood-fire oven is a hallmark of all Nero restaurants
Contrasting black, white and mirrored tiles line one length of the restaurant while the other holds shelves boasting an enticing selection of homegrown Italian produce. Cosy booths and fine leather chairs complete the look of the uber chic interior.
It was time for Chef Buck to shine and with all guests seated, the first of his Festival dishes appeared from the busy kitchen – a lightly smoked Petunia trout carpaccio skewered with orange and raison crispy bites. Light and airy, the wafer thin fish cuts were a perfect counterpoint to the citric orange and sweet raison. Chef Buck’s menu offers a twist on regional Italian specialties, incorporating seafood, meat, pasta and soups. His Festival menu this year showcases the whole range.
Trota Marinata: Lightly Smoked Petunia Trout Carpaccio Skewered with Orange and Raison Crispy Bites
A glimpse into the two glass panels opposite the table showed the blue-capped Chef Buck and his crew preparing the next dish – a celery and cepes mushroom soup with rosemary dumplings. The highlight here was the tender dumpling, which gave a pine-like fragrance to the classic soup.
Chef Buck plating up the soup course. Note the impressive hunk of Serano ham to the left of the picture
Zuppa de Porcini e Serano Garlic: Celery and Cepes Mushroom Soup with Rosemary Dumpling
The first of Chef Buck’s main courses came next – homemade egg ravioli stuffed with ricotta and baby spinach on truffle fondue. The parcels of freshly made pocket pasta held a lush and creamy mixture that coated the palate in a rich flavourable film. The added truffle fondue was a decadent addition, lending inimitable earthy undertones to the dish.
Ravioli di Ricotta e Spinaci: Homemade Pasta stuffed with Ricotta and Baby Spinach on Truffle Fondue
Next came what was considered by many as the star of the show – a savoury, moist porchetta. The roasted piglet is one of the establishment’s signature dishes and comes stuffed with artichokes and sausages, on a bed of mustard and spring onion coulis.
Fire in the hole! Check Buck in action
Porchetta: Roasted Piglet Stuffed with Artichokes and Sausages on Mustard and Spring Onion Coulis
The combination of artichoke and sausage won over the heart of Ana Baranano, who noted that: “the ingredients – all traditional ones very commonly used in Italian cooking – were prepared in a new refreshing way and this was very surprising to me. I adored this dish.”
The wife of the former Spanish Ambassador has been a regular at MIGF dinners for the past five years, and also said of the Festival: “MIGF is a time when restaurants go the extra mile, some even reinventing themselves as they create fresh menus to lure in new guests and stun regulars…we knew Neroteca before, but what was served tonight was really a very positive surprise. It’s great to get something different from a restaurant you’ve known for so long and MIGF helps draw this out.”
Nercoteca Tiramisu: A Southern Interpretation with Sicilian Muscat Grappa, Roasted Pistachio and Caramelised Macadamia Nut
The final dish of the night emerged to round out the menu – tiramisu, a mainstay of any respectable Italian kitchen. Translated from Italian as ‘lift me up’ the dessert did just, with many diners praising the lush dish beyond words.
Eminent food critic and foremost bon vivant Dato’ Kok, who gave a detailed review of the menu in his closing remarks, waxed lyrical on the dish: “The crackling of the macadamia nuts, the semi-soft crunch of the pistachio, the silkiness of the mascarpone cheese and the sharp edge of the grappa made this tiramisu the best I have eaten at any restaurant,” which received a round of applause from the group.
Dato’ Kok giving a detailed review of the five course Festival Menu, noting also that the flight of wines with each course were paired perfectly
HE Jose R Baranano also took to the mic, congratulating the team on a fantastic evening in all aspects. He went on to echo the thoughts of all the diners: “These dinners are about much more than the food. They are about companionship and building lasting friendships between people that share a love for great dining. This is what I have taken away from MIGF over the years.”
HE Baranano wrapping up the evening in fine fashion
This brought to a close what was considered by many as one of the top Italian feasts they had eaten in some time. Before leaving, Mr Kanthasamy reminded guests that a full a la carte menu featuring pork in a stunning array of varieties is available, with the specialty at Christmas being the much-loved cotechino sausage. If you have a penchant for pork, then don’t miss this exceptional offering over the holidays.
Last but not least, Mr Kanthasamy bidding guests a fine farewell