The long-drawn-out Movement Control Order and indefinite WFH (work from home) state of affairs may have given rise to a whole new generation of Jamies and Nigellas, but there are a few things that are beyond the reach of even the most culinary-inclined clever clogs: sushi and pizza; that is, unless you can profess to having studied the art of slicing seafood under a sensei or are in possession of a wood-fired brick oven in your vast backyard. The recent relaxation of rules has, once again, allowed dining-in and I must confess to making a positive bee-line for restaurants of both cuisines upon hearing the news.
Despite the pandemic-induced pallor of the overall economic climate, there have been several exciting new F&B openings of late, and one that has been much whispered-about, particularly by those who do not fear carbs, is Natalina Italian Kitchen. But first, a bit of background. The name Natalina Maria Vittoria Garaventa might not ring a bell initially, but that of her one and only child will: Frank Sinatra. Born in Lumarzo, Italy, Natalina was a petite, pretty thing, famously standing at five feet and weighing no more than 90lbs as an adult, which earned her the affectionate nickname “Dolly”. Today, you can see black and white photographs of her adorning the restaurant named in her honour, together with other famous snaps of Ol’ Blue Eyes and his Rat Pack friends.
The restaurant is almost hidden away on the uppermost floors of Avenue K, and many foodies have understandably yet to make their way there; but try not to put it off any longer, particularly if toothsome pastas and generously topped pizza sound good to you. Rest assured you (and your palate) are in good hands as the establishment is headed by Diego Reali, a veteran of the city’s dining scene for seven years already, having done tours of duty at well-known names like Vineria, Neroteca and BLVD House. And just as Natalina’s pays tribute to an Italian-New Yorker mamma, Reali also boasts his own culinary provenance courtesy of his mother, Stefania Cristofari, who owns the celebrated 63-year-old Hosteria Amedeo, set in the picturesque hillside village of Monte Porzio Catone near Rome.
But back to Kuala Lumpur. Natalina’s Soma Architecture & Design-crafted décor is smart but simple — think exposed brick meets dark metalwork and blue timber veneer — which allows Diego’s delicious food to take centrestage. Frittura di Mare (RM52) is a no-brainer crowd favourite as fried food somehow tastes so much more delicious when it is not your kitchen that gets greasy as a result. We were hoping to have the Burrata (RM48) which, alas, was not available but the on-the-ball wait staff immediately suggested replacing it with Treccia (RM48 as well), a hand-braided mozzarella, which proved equally pleasing. For those who like Polpette (RM35), do try Natalina’s version, made with wagyu and served on a bed of provolone-spiked arrabbiata sauce.
Natalina’s offers a generous selection of lovely pizza and pasta, so it is advisable to come hungry. As Diego is a proud Roman, you will be pleased to know that authentic Cacio e Pepe (RM55) is on the menu. Those who like wandering in the garden of earthy delights should opt for the Porcini Mushroom Fettuccine (RM55), the Tartufo Pizza (RM65) or the Gnocchi with Truffles (RM52) while lovers of the flesh would appreciate the Josper-grilled meats, which range from Angus T-bone steaks to whopping Tomahawks. The only grouse with the entire meal was the portion size of Polpo Grigliato or grilled octopus (RM120), which was tiny and steeply priced. So, if you had heeded our advice and come hungry, it is best to save your dollars and order something a little more filling with better value for money.
Since Italians espouse the art of living la dolce vita, there are of course a selection of sweets, including the ubiquitous tiramisu or semifreddo. But for those of you who like to end your dinners with something smoky, be it a dram or a stogie, here is a tip: Head towards the end of the dining room and look for a small hat symbol — a fedora, to be precise — which conceals a sliding door that will lead you into Frank’s Bar, a speakeasy-style lounge where chesterfield sofas and a glowing arched-back bar make pre- or post-prandial drinks and conversation extra inviting.
This article first appeared on Mar 1, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.