On a recent trip to Europe, I found myself incredibly homesick for Malaysian food. All through my travels around France, Switzerland and England, a longing for something local tailed me, even though I was eating some really amazing food there.
Until I made it to Italy, that is. After platefuls of lobster marinara, hare ragout spaghetti and a velvety tiramisu, my homesickness dissipated, suspended at least temporarily by the marvellous, robust flavours I was enjoying.
And this love of Italian food is something most Malaysians can easily relate to. The flavours are rich, varied and easy to comprehend. It’s no wonder then that Italian restaurants are a common sight in the Klang Valley. But really good Italian restaurants? Now those are as prized as the Kohinoor diamond around here.
Enter Bello. The newest player in the Italian dining scene, Bello is a four-month-old eatery in the heavily trafficked Pavilion shopping mall. The restaurant is helmed by the wonderfully personable, seasoned Italian chef Federico Michieletto, who has been in Malaysia for over 20 years and is a familiar face in the restaurant scene, having led Marini’s culinary team as well as the Tai Thong Group’s Western restaurants.
With Bello, Michieletto is aiming to bring diners a combination of what’s trending in Italy right now, as well as meals that he grew up with and new dishes that have been forged based on his Malaysian experience.
“We are trying to implement casual dining with modern dining in a location that is accessible to everybody. I think Bello is unique, because this is the kind of food you normally cannot find in shopping centres,” says Michieletto.
At Bello, one of the star offerings on the menu is the wood-fired pizzas, made using a 600kg Italian pizza oven. Michieletto learnt how to make proper Italian pizzas from a friend in Italy, and says that knowing how to cook the pizza evenly is all about experience and learning how to gauge the heat in the oven.
The pizzas at Bello are made with a mother yeast, a natural yeast that is all the rage in Italy now as it makes the pizzas easier to digest. “It is something that is live and it is a natural yeast that acts on the sugar of the wheat. So when you eat the pizzas here, it is very, very easy to digest compared to pizzas with commercial yeast,” says Michiel-etto, who adds that the dough takes anywhere from 24 hours to 48 hours to proof, depending on the weather.
From the pizza selection, try the pizza vegetarian (RM18 for a medium pizza), which is filled with mozzarella, grilled vegetables, Japanese tomatoes and rosemary oil. The pizza base eschews traditional tomato paste in favour of a pumpkin puree and a little bit of mushroom puree. The final product is delicious – the pumpkin puree offers a natural sweetness that is rounded off by the earthy tones of the mushroom puree. And Michieletto is right about how easy these pizzas are to digest, because you can easily polish off the entire thing yourself!
The pizza pomelo (RM18 for a medium pizza), meanwhile, makes use of local pomelo fruits, with sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan and vincotto (a dark, thick paste made from non-fermented grape must) completing this ensemble cast of characters. The pomelo offers plump tufts of fresh, zesty fruity flavours which contrast delightfully with the tart sun-dried tomatoes. It’s an interesting pizza, but more importantly, one where the quirky ingredients actually meld fluidly together to create utter deliciousness.
Next up, try the classic carbonara (RM32) made in the Roma style where no cream is used. Instead, the beef bacon is fried in olive oil while the spaghetti is tossed in egg yolks and Pecorino cheese. This gives the carbonara a buttery richness, without it being overly cloying. When combined with the bacon, each mouthful is punctuated by crisp, salty bursts of flavour and an overwhelming sense that you are about to develop a potent addiction to this dish.
Bello also has a series of fresh pastas, made using flour sourced from Italy. Of these, the pappardelle rosse (RM32) is a standout. The pasta is coated in an earthy beetroot pesto, with feta cheese, olives and nuts adding texture to this rich amalgamation. The resultant flavours are awe-mazing – the beetroot pesto offers hearty mineral flavours which marry beautifully with the feta cheese and olives, while the nuts provide a satisfying crunch.
The mushroom risotto (RM38) is something that is extremely close to Michieletto’s heart as it stems from his childhood in Italy. “My father and mother had a farm, so we had a lot of land. So in autumn, we used to pick mushrooms, bring them home and my mother would cook them for me,” he says.
As a result, Michieletto’s tribute to his childhood features lots of mushrooms and a generous serving of truffle oil, which adds a luxe feel to the plate. The risotto is made using the superior Carnaroli rice, also known as the king of Italian rice. The rice has a higher starch content and as a result, the mushroom risotto is silken soft, creamy and rich. This is one of those magnificent offerings that you’ll yearn for after you leave the eatery, with your breath still redolent of truffle oil and all the opulence that it implies.
If you’re visiting Bello with a group of friends, definitely, definitely try the giant T-bone steak (RM358) which is meant to be shared between three to four people.
“In Tuscany, the steak is king, they call it Florentine steak. It is prepared with olive oil and rosemary and is a good dish to be eaten by the family,” says Michieletto.
This steak is superlative – generous, supple and soft to the touch. Each piece is perfectly seasoned, pink in the middle and tender on the tongue. The bovine flavours really come through and because the meat is excellent, you’ll require little to accentuate your experience, although sides like mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, Bearnaise sauce and mustard are on offer.
For dessert, indulge (please indulge) in the tiramisu (RM28). If you can, opt for the version with marsala wine, which is light and creamy, and seductively tinged with traces of the alcohol. This smooth, soft operator is a true delight for the senses and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better version anywhere else.
Finally, go all out and tuck into the Valrhona chocolate cake (RM28) with homemade vanilla ice cream. Made with 70% Valrhona chocolate, this dark temptress is spectacularly good, with lava cascading out as soon as you dig your spoon in. The chocolate is rich and sumptuous, with the delicious vanilla ice cream providing a chilly burst in between warm mouthfuls.
Although you’re likely to be full to bursting point after a meal here, such is Bello’s allure that you’ll soon hear your tummy whisper – like a siren – notes of enticement that ring along the lines of “Encore, Encore”! And if you enjoy Italian food, you’ll listen to your belly and ply it with more of Michieletto’s incredible Italian fare.
Bello Pizza & Pasta
Lot 6.01.03, Level 6
Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
168, Jalan Bukit Bintang
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2148 8108
Open daily: 10am to 10pm