Dining in the sky

In the clouds: A sophisticated ambience with stunning views from Petronas Tower 3 make this space a cuisine hot spot. — Photos from Marini’s On 57

In the clouds: A sophisticated ambience with stunning views from Petronas Tower 3 make this space a cuisine hot spot. — Photos from Marini’s On 57

One of the Kuala Lumpur’s most stylish restaurants offers meals with a view.

A SMALL corridor just off the branded retail outlets at Suria KLCC leads to a private lift that swiftly whisks us to the 57th floor of Petronas Tower 3. Uniformed staff greet us the moment the doors open into Marini’s On 57.

Right on cue comes the gasp or a “wow” no matter how well prepared we may be.

Offering a spectacular panaromic view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline, the restaurant-bar-cigar lounge has been packing in the crowds since it opened last June.

Floor to ceiling glass walls allow for unhindered 360-degree views of the city. As dusk comes on, a carpet of lights slowly unfolds below. It is mesmerising. And adding to the dramatic view is the fact that the Petronas Twin Towers appear close enough to be touched.

MUST USE: Modesto Marini tried to give up the F&B business but he just could not turn down this amazing space for a new restaurant.
Modesto Marini tried to give up the F&B business but he just could not turn down this amazing space for a new restaurant.

It was this view that captured chef-restaurateur Modesto Marini’s imagination from the first moment he visited the site early last year. Marini had already sold off his share of his popular Modesto’s chain of restaurants and bars in Malaysia and Singapore and was skiing back in Italy when he received a call to view the site.

“I saw its potential immediately,” recalls Marini, 43.

“The Twin Towers is an iconic building and Tower 3 was just completed in 2011. I’ve always loved its modern, futuristic design and had expectations. And when I laid my eyes on the empty space, I immediately started mentally dividing it up into a restaurant, a bar and a cigar lounge.

“I had given up the food and beverage business to take a breather, but I simply could not walk away from the site,” he confesses during a recent interview.

But the offer came with a challenge. Marini had to open within two months in time to host delegates attending the 25th World Gas Conference held in KL last year.

PLEASE USE: One of the artistically presented dishes served at Marini's on 57, the Carpaccio di Servo Con Bagoss.
One of the artistically presented dishes served at Marini’s On 57, the Carpaccio di Servo Con Bagoss.

Marini quickly assembled a team to overhaul the space. The bar opened in time for the conference in June followed by the restaurant in July. Today, Marini’s On 57 requires at least a week’s advance reservation for a table and nearly a fortnight on weekends.

Exuding a sophisticated ambience with artwork by Italian artist Rosalba Mangione, the place has become a must-visit for out-of-town visitors and a spot for special occasions. Everyone from golfer Tiger Woods and Formula 1 drivers to Lamborghini Club members have visited for drinks or dinner.

Customers usually linger for hours, starting at the bar and outdoor terrace that commands that awesome view of the Twin Towers before settling down for dinner and ending the evening at the cigar bar.

The gloriously romantic sunset views have also inevitably sparked a number of marriage proposals — and, happily, they have all ended in a happy “yes” so far!

“I am delighted with the positive responses and feedback so far, as we have given it our best,” says Marini. “I wanted from the start to make it a place people will talk about.

“We wanted different moods for the place. The bar is trendy to complement the architecture of glass and steel; the restaurant suits fine dining and choices from our extensive wine cellar while the cigar lounge has a very warm ambience. I like it that a single place caters to three different occasions and moods.”

The menu offers modern Italian cuisine; examples include Venison Carpaccio with Bagos Cheese, Grilled Cucumber with Squid Ink Dressing, and Beef Tartar and Gobi Fish with Pan-fried Duck Liver.

“Our menu changes every few weeks as it is based on seasonal produce imported from Italy,” explains Marini.

Marini’s On 57 sets the chef-restaurateur on a different plateau than what he had achieved with Modesto’s chain of restaurants and bars which he had opened with “disco king” Bob Wong in the 1990s. Modesto’s was the hip place to be seen in those days.

“The dining scene in Malaysia has evolved tremendously,” says Marini. “In the 1990s, there were only a handful of standalone restaurants, most were in hotels. Nowadays, there is a fantastic selection of cafés and restaurants.

“What’s more important is that people appreciate good food and are willing to pay more. While Malaysia is renowned for its street food, the demand for fine dining has also increase.”

The tropical heat and humidity that send us scurrying for shelter is to Marini, paradise. The warm Malaysian weather is a prime reason why the Italian chef has stayed on for 19 years. Marini first arrived here in 1995 as an impressionable young man expecting to stay for three months before heading to Jakarta. He never left.

Born in northern Italy near beautiful Lake Garda, Marini started cooking in his teenage years and worked as a sous chef at Cecconi’s, an upscale restaurant in London that catered to royalty and celebrities.

At 21, he came to Singapore and quickly managed to get a job as a sous chef with the Da Paolo restaurant. He stayed for four years before heading to KL and making his name here.

“We started the trend for Italian food in Malaysia,” he claims. “Every chef dreams of opening their own restaurant. I have been very fortunate. I gave up Modesto’s to try my hand at something else, but I can’t seem to leave the F&B business!

“When I took on Marini’s On 57, I promised my wife Elizabeth I would be here only two days a week. But it has ended up as seven days a week around the clock! But I love it, it is my passion.

“People are talking about this place and they write about it in blogs and the press – that’s the promise to my landlord, to put this space on the culinary map of the world.”