Its neighbours are eclectic, to say the least. Up along one end of Jalan Kemuja, at number eight, is Lisette’s Cafe & Bakery, whose famous flower wall is now coated with thousands of pretty pink petals, evoking the “Makura” or “Malaysian sakura” blossom fever that has all of Kuala Lumpur in a tecoma tizzy. Then there’s Taman Hati by Planter Chin, a cafe and plant studio with free-roaming cats, and popular Singhalese seafood joint, The Lankan Crabs. Further down are Apollo Dining, a magnet for the beautiful crowd, Southern Rock, a seafood restaurant cum fishmonger, and Fierce Curry House, which made its name peddling delicious variations on biryani rice, including its luxe lobster version.
A.zeta Kitchen is undoubtedly one of the newer but no less cool kids on the block, having opened one year ago — exactly a week before the first Movement Control Order kicked in. Its proprietors, however, were unfazed, both being veterans of the local F&B scene. The kitchen is presided over by Andrea Zanella, whose culinary CV reads like a historical summary of the city’s well-known Italian restaurants, beginning with the monumental Scalini’s along Jalan Sultan Ismail to, more recently, Il Lido downtown.
A native of Vicenza (bling enthusiasts will know it as the birthplace of Fope fine jewellery), Zanella brings decades of experience to the table and is, happily, now joined in this new venture by Carol Lim, his lovely, leggy wife who is also well-known among foodies, having run the front of house for establishments like Changkat Bukit Bintang’s legendary Frangipani and Bistro à Table in Petaling Jaya. Those with a love of lexicography might notice how A.zeta’s name is also a play on the start and end of the alphabet as well as the chef’s initials.
A.zeta Kitchen’s approach to dining is simple: excellent contemporary Italian food served up with enough care to ensure the diner pays a fair rate for a good meal and that food wastage (such a nasty problem still) is kept to a minimum. Here, a build-your-own-menu style is adopted, where you may choose from a starter and middle course (that is, carbs or pasta) for RM72; starter and main for RM90; middle and main for RM100; starter, middle and main for RM132 or the whole shebang, which includes three courses and dessert, for RM148. This formula works particularly well for a group of diverse diners that will invariably include: the perennial dieter (“No middle course or dessert, please”), the forever ravenous (“I’ll take all four courses, please, and then some”), the sweet tooth (additional desserts are priced at just RM24 each) or even the carbo-loader who is planning to run or cycle miles the next morning (“Starter and middle, please. Maybe make that two middles.”).
Whichever meal plan you opt for, chances are you will leave the minimalist trattoria with maximum satisfaction. The menu changes every quarter or so, with the latest change occurring end of March. New choices of starter include a beguiling-sounding 62C Duck Egg with Green Asparagus Stew, Crab Flan with Tomato and Black Tea Infusion, Parma Ham Consomme with Pork Quenelles, Cabbage and Black Truffle or, our collective favourite, the Soft Truffle Mozzarella served with a vibrant Watermelon Carpaccio that has been prepared so cleverly, we had to do a double take to ensure it was not, in fact, beef.
Despite hailing from the Veneto region, Zanella pays tribute once again to the quintessentially Roman dish of Cacio e Pepe. In his previous menu, the pasta dish took on a traditional form. But for 2021, Zanella’s Cacio e Pepe 2.0 can be best described as “Let’s cook pasta but make it fashion”. Cute little dumplings of cappellacci, twisted and folded to resemble a hat, are stuffed with melting, tangy pecorino cheese before being adorned with little rounds of baby zucchini, bacon bits and the most amazing dehydrated fiori di zucca that could resemble a Dale Chihuly sculpture. Unorthodox, assuredly. But the presentation and, more importantly, taste win this dish high marks.
The mains, a mixed bag of potato-crusted pomfret, Iberian pork cutlet, truffle sausage or Tuscan-style Black Angus stew, all sound tempting but your selection should ideally commensurate with your appetite as A.zeta’s portions, particularly for its pasta course, are generous.
Desserts, however, must not be missed. There is tiramisu, whose recipe is based on the original from Le Beccherie in Treviso, the very restaurant where the famous coffee-soaked dessert of savoiardi and mascarpone was invented in the 1960s, or even the simple but sublime pairing of espresso and vanilla ice cream, better known as an affogato. But if you yearn for something sweet and fruity, the soft-core lemon flan is a refreshing option, accompanied by dollops of basil sauce and peach sorbet — a heady combination. For those who like a bit of jiggle and wobble, the Panna Cotta here is more elongated, served like a long tube of Blackpool rock, but with elegant accompaniments of poached pears, pear sorbet and chocolate pearls.
A.zeta’s wine list is also thoughtfully put together, with an emphasis on labels from the Tuscan and Veneto regions. There is also a small selection of cocktails (try the Bicicletta, RM30, made using Campari, white wine and soda) but if it is a digestif you are after, do as the Italians do and end the evening with grappa (you may wish to add a splash of it to your espresso to create a caffè corretto). Or, better yet, wind down the night sweetly with a peg of almond-scented Amaretto, served neat or on the rocks.
A.zeta Kitchen (Non-halal), 14, Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar, KL. Mon-Sat, 6-11pm. 03 2302 1510.
This article first appeared on Apr 5, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.