Just based on looks, Passione is an instant head-turner. Incongruously positioned amid a slew of cafes and Chinese restaurants in the thriving Sri Petaling, Kuala Lumpur area, the eatery is incredibly pretty and occupies a sprawling two-floor space that feels conversely cavernous as well as cosy, with gorgeous light fixtures, pockets of foliage and picture windows taking centre stage.
The restaurant is helmed by charming Italian head chef Stefano Criber, whose youthful mannerisms and enthusiasm will have you believing he is fresh out of school (in reality, he is 35!). Criber originates from Abruzzo in Italy and said he was inspired to become a chef as a result of his mother and grandmother.
“I decided I wanted to go to culinary school when I was 12, because my grandmother and mother are the best chefs I know. I think in Italy, this culinary thing is in our DNA,” he says, laughing.
Having spent time working in Italy, Luxembourg, England, South Korea and Indonesia (where he met and married his Indonesian wife), Criber now calls Malaysia “home” and is enthusiastic about sharing his culinary roots with locals.
“I cook more traditional Italian food – not modern or fine-dining. Because I think people like to eat original Italian food, especially in KL,” he says.
Criber is adamant that things are made from scratch in his restaurant, which means you will find house-made Italian pastas ranging the gamut from tagliatelle to spaghetti (made using a traditional pasta-cutting tool called chitarra).
Start your meal here with the Passione board (RM79) which is essentially four types of cold cuts (imported from Italy) and three types of cheese. The cold cuts are all the usual suspects – from parma ham to salami – each one intensely satisfying and packed with flavour.
Sample the house-made wild boar tagliatelle (RM35) which features wild boar that has been marinated for 24 hours before being slow-cooked in tomatoes and red wine for four hours to ensure complete and total submission (read: no chewy bits). The recipe is inspired by Criber’s childhood in Abruzzo, where wild boar is aplenty.
This is a meal that yields maximum pleasure points – the wild boar is tender and coated in a rich, sumptuous tomato-laden sauce that delivers flavour in every mouthful. The tagliatelle itself is also cooked remarkably well and still has a firm bite.
The seafood linguine (RM35) meanwhile offers something a little lighter, with correspondingly fewer endearing qualities. Although the seafood (mussels, squid and prawns) is fresh and fairly generous, the overall meal is unremarkable and consequently, quite forgettable.
The same cannot be said about the grilled pluma Iberico pork (RM89) which features slightly charred, malleable Iberico slices that are still pink in the middle and so succulent and tender, you’ll easily (and quite happily) polish off the whole plate. Because Iberico pigs are fed on a diet of acorns (as opposed to animal scraps fed to common pigs), it is relatively safe to consume the pork pink.
Pork is a recurring feature at Passione and you’ll discover this yet again with the stinco di maiale arrosto (RM68) a recipe that Criber inherited from his grandmother, which features a large hunk of pork knuckle marinated in white wine and oven-roasted. The pork knuckle has been cooked really well and is fall-off-the-bone tender. The sauce that coats it is light and perfect for diners looking to really enjoy the natural attributes of the meat.
Passione also has a large wood-fired pizza oven, where all the pizzas are cooked, so you’d do well to order the pizza 3 salumi (RM35), made up of spicy salami, honey ham, salsiccia, onions, mozzarella and tomato sauce. The crust has a lovely crunch on the outside that yields to a doughy soft inside and the meats juxtapose delightfully with the rich tomato base. This is a pizza that is so unapologetically good, you’ll want to inscribe it in your internal catalogue of memorable meals.
End your meal on a joyful note with the tiramisu (RM24). Criber adds crunchy chocolate bits to his concoction to give it more texture and this addition proves inspired, elevating the tiramisu into a coffee-laced odyssey of textures.
Now that he has got a handle on things at Passione, Criber is enthusiastic about the possibility of potentially opening more restaurants. “It was hard at the beginning, but now I think ‘Why not?’” he says.
Passione Ristorante Italiano
19, Jalan Radin Bagus 9
57000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-9055 3833
Open Wednesday to Monday: 11am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 11pm