Authentic Italian food at this Klang Valley eatery


The grilled eggplant topped with fresh ingredients proves to be a pretty meal that tastes as good as it looks. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG/The Star

As a child growing up in Rome, Italy, Daniele Ponzani’s fondest memories revolved around his grandmother’s kitchen.

“I was with my grandmother at her house every weekend and she would always make pasta. Because I went there so often, she would ask me to help her make it too, so that is how I developed a love for homemade pasta,” says Ponzani.

As he grew older, Ponzani worked part-time at different restaurants and eventually enrolled in an Italian chef academy. When he graduated, he spent time doing an internship at one of Italy’s largest catering companies and also worked at a series of Italian restaurants in the country.

At 24 and thirsting for new experiences, he packed his bags and left for Australia.

Ponzani is passionate about Italian food and has brought this passion to Osteria Gamberoni, where he focuses on homemade regional Italian dishes.Ponzani is passionate about Italian food and has brought this passion to Osteria Gamberoni, where he focuses on homemade regional Italian dishes.

“I love to travel so I thought I would use my skill and passion – because Italian food is a passion for me – to travel around the world,” he explains.

In Australia, Ponzani worked at a few Italian restaurants, but soon he longed to live and work somewhere else. So he moved to Malaysia and worked at popular Italian restaurant Neroteca for a few years before meeting Sasya Ahmad Sebi, a great lover of Italian cuisine.

The two connected over their fondness for Italian cuisine and that is how Ponzani became the executive chef of Osteria Gamberoni, an eatery in central Kuala Lumpur that focuses on regional Italian food and shines a spotlight on handmade Italian pastas and pizzas.

“My brother, Anton, and I love travelling and food. Over the past decade or so we spent many periods travelling across Europe and Italy, enjoying the food and culture there. We were particularly struck by the simplicity and freshness of dishes from coastal Italian towns. Being avid pasta and seafood lovers, we wanted to bring these authentic Italian heritage meals we had loved with a focus on handmade fresh pastas and seafood from various regions of Italy.

“When we met Daniele a couple years back, we found we had the same desire to showcase the regional dishes from Italy and knew we had the makings of a great concept and the culinary expertise to bring it to fruition. Hence, Osteria Gamberoni was born!” explains Sasya, who is the director of Osteria Gamberoni.

At Osteria Gamberoni, Ponzani draws from his grandmother’s pasta recipes and utilises an Italian pasta machine to make 14 different kinds of handmade – fresh pastas – from potato-based gnocchi to pastas made using just flour and eggs, and semolina-based pastas. This range includes everything from spaghetti to linguine, fettuccine and so much more.

(Right) Turkey ham, mozzarella cheese and truffle paste might sound odd in theory, but on a pizza, this trio works spectacularly well.(Right) Turkey ham, mozzarella cheese and truffle paste might sound odd in theory, but on a pizza, this trio works spectacularly well.

He says the idea behind the restaurant is to incorporate authentic regional Italian meals imbued with modern visions.

“We wanted a real replica of Italy, like the closest you can get to food in Italy. So the plan is to keep the restaurant like an osteria where we serve real Italian food in a modern way, so maybe the plating is nicer or more Instagram-able,” says Ponzani.

Start your meal here with the Melanzana A Modo Mio (RM38). Basically an updated, stripped-down version of eggplant parmigiana, you will find grilled eggplant topped with buffalo mozzarella, figs, heirloom cherry tomatoes, shallots and fresh basil.

This is a simple, unvarnished meal that highlights the soft lusciousness of the eggplant alongside the fresh plumpness of the cheese and the burst of acidity from the tomatoes. It’s essentially a sort of salad, but devised in an entirely new configuration.

The garlic soup is a rustic, hearty beauty that is perfect for cold, chilly days.The garlic soup is a rustic, hearty beauty that is perfect for cold, chilly days.

Next, definitely try the Vellutata D’Aglio E Pepperoncino (RM32). According to Ponzani, vellutata is a potato-based concoction that is a little thicker than a soup in terms of consistency and is very popular in northern Italy, where winters can get particularly cold. In this iteration, the soup is a roasted garlic variant that is buoyed by potatoes, onions, chilli oil and garlic crumble.

This is a soothing, sating concoction just bursting with the richness of roasted garlic. Texturally, it is slightly thick, but also very reminiscent of home-spun goodness, which instantly gives it the allure of the best sort of comfort food.

There is also plenty on offer on the pasta front, which is Ponzani’s specialty.

“Everybody in Malaysia knows carbonara and Bolognese, but I try to avoid these kinds of pasta, because people can always do a comparison. So the pasta here is rarer, because I went region by region and tried to put real regional recipes on the menu to add a variety of Italian food that is not the typical famous ones,” he says.

Spaghetti, broccoli and anchovies form a wonderful partnership in this delightful dish.Spaghetti, broccoli and anchovies form a wonderful partnership in this delightful dish.

To begin with, try the Spaghetti Broccoli E Alici (RM42) which features house-made spaghetti sauteed with broccoli, anchovies, chilli and breadcrumbs. This is a simple pasta that focuses on very basic flavours and textures done exceptionally well. The spaghetti is outstanding here – each strand limber, supple and firm to the bite. This is accentuated by the perky broccoli florets and the anchovies in the mixture, which add briny, aquatic nuances to the meal.

Then there is the Reginette Allo Stufato D’Agnello (RM58) which makes uses of a rarer type of pasta called reginette.

“Reginette means queen in Italy, so this is the queen pasta. We have a particular machine here to make it. Even in Italy, it is very rare that you can find it in the market or in any place, because the shape is very long and zig-zag,” explains Ponzani.

In this dish, the reginette is enforced and enhanced with a lamb stew similar to Bolognese that is cooked for six hours. The result is a tour de force of a dish that highlights the reginette, which is so good, it can be enjoyed even on its own. Each strand is extremely long and has a frilly, curly bounce to it that gives off the vibe of sea anemones waving to and fro under the sea.

The lamb stew that surrounds the pasta is understated but good, with meat that is tender and perfectly cooked.

The charms of the battered, deep-fried squid, prawns, crabs and cod fish lie in the fact that each element has been executed to perfection. — SAMUEL ONG/The StarThe charms of the battered, deep-fried squid, prawns, crabs and cod fish lie in the fact that each element has been executed to perfection. — SAMUEL ONG/The Star

Next, try the house-made pizza, which is a cross between a thicker Napoli-style pizza and a thinner Roman-style version. Of what’s on offer, have a go at the Prosciutto E Tartufo (RM56) which is made up of turkey ham, mozzarella cheese and truffle paste.

The pizza is very, very good. A thin, slightly crispy crust provides the canvas upon which the ingredients layered atop are allowed to shine. The turkey ham is subtle but the truffle paste is not and together they form a dynamic duo that is further accentuated by the cheese.

For something from the seafood family, opt for the Frittura De Pesce (RM128) which is filled with deep-fried, battered cod fish, baby crabs, prawns and squid. This is a coastal delight in Italy that has found a new home at Osteria Gamberoni.

The meal is hugely addictive – each aquatic treasure is battered in semolina, seasoned and fried to perfection and its charms are simple: very few can resist the pull of fried food and this particular version is delightful from the very first bite.

One of the 14 homemade pastas at the eatery includes reginette which is a long, frilly pasta that is quite rare.One of the 14 homemade pastas at the eatery includes reginette which is a long, frilly pasta that is quite rare.

Moving forward, Ponzani says he hopes to keep doing what he is doing and continue to introduce more regional Italian homemade favourites at the restaurant.

“It was a challenge to bet on this concept, but we knew it was only a matter of time before people understood what we were trying to do. So in the future, the plan is to change the menu twice a year and constantly bring in new ideas while maintaining consistency,” says Ponzani.

Osteria Gamberoni

17, Jalan Yap Ah Shak

50300 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 03-2602 9727

Open daily: 11am to 11pm

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Osteria Gamberoni

   

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