Perched at the edge of a row of shop lots along a residential street in Damansara Heights in Kuala Lumpur is Via Pre. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, a corner table in this tiny little eatery will bag you some peace and quiet and an unfettered view of the serene, tree-lined parking lot beyond.
It’s the sort of charming place that just screams “neighbourhood restaurant” – a sort of secret spot that only denizens of the area could possibly know about and presumably would love to keep to themselves.
Interestingly, the KL edition of Via Pre (which opened in 2016) is an outpost of the popular eponymous eatery in Penang, which was launched in 2012 by Italian brothers Maurizio Ranauro and Massimiliano Ranauro.
“I started missing KL and my wife is local and has lots of friends and family here, so we thought ‘Why not open an outlet in KL?’ So we found a small place, which is a nice change after the huge restaurant in Penang, which can be more tiring to run,” says the bubbly Maurizio.
Maurizio and Massimiliano both have extensive experience with Italian restaurants as the brothers were once partners at popular Bangsar dining haunt Vineria.It. In 2016, the two decided to shift their attentions to their own baby – Via Pre – and haven’t looked back since.
These days, Maurizio does the day-to-day running of the business as Massimiliano (who serves as the executive chef) is now based in Europe, although he returns once or twice a year to revamp the menu and monitor the quality of the food.
The food at Via Pre features mostly produce imported from Italy with a menu designed around Massimiliano’s travels and experiences as well as recipes gleaned from the brothers’ mother and grandmother in Piedmont, Italy.
There is also a strong health-centric spin on the meals. “My brother likes everything healthier, so less oil, less sugar and less salt. That’s why we use the air-fryer when we can and only cook with extra virgin olive oil,” says Maurizio.
Start your meal here with the Bruschetta Bisunta (RM28) which is a cross between a caprese salad and traditional iterations of bruschetta. Garlic bread is topped with fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and large wedges of buffalo mozzarella. It is surprisingly filling and offers a far more rewarding experience than classic renditions of bruschetta.
The Duck Polpette (RM29) is essentially duck breast, pecorino cheese and ground pistachio moulded into balls, breaded and air-fried. The resulting concoction is light, juicy and devoid of that greasy aftertaste so common in deep-fried offerings. As a result, each mouthful offers easy, unencumbered safe passage down your gullet.
Next up, set sail down aquatic channels with the Cozze Della Casa (RM56) which features fresh Australian mussels in a spicy tomato broth.
The advertised spiciness is perhaps not quite spicy enough for the average Malaysian, but the mussels are plump and tender and the broth is pleasant with undulating tomato flavours. The schiacciata (Tuscan flatbread) served on the side works as a fantastic sponge for soaking up the flavours of the broth.
Maurizio says that most people who come to Via Pre come for the pasta, so you would do well to try a few here. Like the Aglio Olio Pecorino & Pistachio (RM28), which has become a huge hit since it was introduced a few years ago.
“The pasta aglio olio is a classic dish, but my brother wanted to add pistachios – at first it started as a joke when he was in the kitchen but it’s so good that we kept it on the menu,” says Maurizio.
The aglio olio is really yummy – sumptuous yet not heavy at all. The pasta has a good, firm bite while the pistachios offer an understated crunch and the peperoncino (hot chilli pepper) adds a layer of fire and heat. Perhaps what is most surprising about this aglio olio is how un-oily it is, as typical versions tend to be slick and shiny with oil.
Then there is the Linguine Gamberi & Pesto (RM46) which features house-made pesto and fat prawns. The pesto here is sort of like that wallflower in your school who grew up to become rich, powerful and confident. Because at first, the pesto’s presence seems timid, almost indiscernible even, but the more you eat, the bolder and more pronounced it gets until it becomes a tour de force in your palate.
Perhaps the euphoric highlight at Via Pre is the risotto wild mushroom (RM56). Cooked with three kinds of mushrooms and toma cheese (a northern Italian cow’s milk cheese), this hedonistically creamy offering is sensationally good. The mushrooms punctuate the dish with woody notes while the cheese offers a rich, voluptuously full-bodied quality that proves instantly seductive. If you eat only one thing here, eat this.
From the mains, you could opt for the Saltimbocca (RM56). Here, veal tenderloin slices have been pan-fried before being popped in the oven to finish the cooking process. The meat is succulent and tender while the sauce that coats the meat and the base of the plate is tomato-rich and enhanced with marsala wine, which has seeped into every last pore of the sauce and given it a rich decadence.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll probably want to end your meal here with the Panna Cotta Frutta (RM21). The creamy, low-sugar panna cotta has all the requisite wobbliness indicative of a good panna cotta and is silken smooth with a texture like tau foo fah. The berries on top offer a touch of acidity and fruitiness that meld well with the star offering.
Via Pre has been doing well since it opened – the restaurant sees as many diners in its tiny space as it does in the two floors it takes up in its Penang sister restaurant – which is why Maurizio doesn’t want to rock the boat just yet with a new outlet.
“It’s always nice to expand but we are not sure when and if we are going to have another restaurant. Because honestly now, competition is quite stiff because there are so many Italian restaurants around, so people have a lot of options,” says Maurizio.
Via Pre KL
Address: 25 Lorong Setiabistari 2, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2011 2003
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11.30am-3.30pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm (closes 11pm Friday & Saturday, 10pm Sunday)