A’Roma Dinings is an unexpected find in Taman Paramount. The area seems to be slowly gentrifying, but in a very languid, organic way – so a restaurant that combines homely neighbourhood charm with large culinary ambitions, an everything-from-scratch approach and great produce is a nice surprise.
That community spirit that lends much laid-back charm in this old area of Petaling Jaya is heavily imbued in a’Roma itself – metal railings fence in the cul-de-sac outside the corner lot restaurant, and the owners have built a wheelchair ramp for easy access to the restaurant.
The restaurant was founded by director Ken Wong and partners. Wong runs a’Roma with an operations team headed by general manager and head chef Silverster Marcus. One of the first things you’ll see on entering the restaurant is a concrete coffee bar, offering DeGayo coffee from the highlands of Aceh. The main dining area is overlooked by a huge mural of the Roman Colosseum at night by graffiti artist and muralist The Sliz, and his friends.
Separated by sliding glass, the lounge area sees live music performances on Friday nights; Wong is looking to add more entertainment options on other nights too.
Right in the front, an elevated dining space can be curtained off to create a private chef’s table – with a bespoke menu – for between 10 and 12 people. Prices start at RM300 per head for this one, and bookings are necessary.
The menu is a combination of progressive flavours – often with a Mediterranean slant – and Italian tradition. The latter is especially seen in the restaurant’s pastas, all of which are hand-made with a Bottene pasta maker brought in form Italy (you can see the machine in a corner of the dining room itself, where fresh pasta is often made for the benefit of customers who want to explore the origins of their plates).
“We are trying to do everything from scratch, as far as we can – about 95% of what we send out of the kitchen is house-made,” said Wong.
The complimentary crispbread that starts the meal is no afterthought. The thin, crunchy bread shatters wonderfully, and comes with a rich dip spiked with tomato, garlic and chilli. But don’t fill up on bread, because what is about to come is worth saving yourself for.
These include starters like the Brasato di Lingua di Manzo (RM47 for a portion to be shared by two), a really moreish appetiser and a very different take on a dish of beef tongue.
Tender, melting Angus beef tongue is braised, then roughly shredded, and served with tangy pickled beetroot and pearl onions, baby potatoes and over-sized croutons. It’s a plateful of contrasts, and the combination of unctuous tongue and zingy beetroot and onions, in particular, is pretty masterful.
If you’re a fan of cold cuts, the Prosciutto e Melone (RM35) is a nice manageable portion of classic, clean flavours – juicy cantaloupe and the delicate sweet-salty balance of Parma ham with a pleasantly bitter note from arugula and a drizzle of pomegranate reduction. You can opt to add whole buffalo mozzarella for RM15.
But if you have extra stomach space, or a crew of two or three, the Tagliere di Salumi (RM60) is the way to go. On our visit, the charcuterie board featured Mortadella Bologna, Milano salami, Prosciutto and the unusual Cotechino, richly-marbled with fat; each cured meat is distinctive, and full of its own character. It’s accompanied by bread, olives and pickles, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Freshly-made pastas are more tender than the dried kind, with a more delicate texture. A’Roma’s have bounce and bite, are perfectly-cooked to a nice al dente, and there are quite a few unusual types on offer – the bucatini is like thick spaghetti but with a hollow centre to hold sauce. Try the Casarecce alla Puttanesca (RM38), twisted and rolled tubes of pasta with a chunky Puttanesca sauce, chunks of tender pork cheek braised for three hours, and sauteed bacon and mushrooms – a hearty, satisfying dish.
The Pappardelle al Ragu di Foie Gras con Coscia D’anatra (RM45) is made with unusual curly pappardelle for a more rustic feel, and served with a whole slow-braised duck leg. Cubes of foie gras and mushrooms lend a very light flavour to the ragu – in this case, the foie gras was eclipsed, and didn’t really add much to an already tasty dish.
We tried three mains, and each was extremely likeable. The Filleto di Halibut (RM59) was a thick cut of Atlantic halibut served with chunky balsamic caper butter. I like how much thought is put into the elements on the plate – oozy, mellow confit garlic, perfectly caramelised seared scallops and tender roast potatoes.
The Costolette D’agnello (RM78) provides an unexpectedly spicy edge to the medium-done lamb, with a herbed crumb topping generously laced with harissa, the North African chilli pepper paste. It’s served with mashed potato and grilled vegetables.
But the piece de resistance has got to be the Puntine di Maiale Pancetta (RM79), a board of sticky Spanish pork ribs with a chipotle mesquite glaze and the unmistakably rich flavour of brown sugar, as well as melting pork belly with honey – along with cherry compote, roast potatoes and curls of house-made pork crackling on the side. Both cuts are full of flavour and chew, meaty juices bursting in the mouth and fat marbling sensuously on the tongue.
If you still have space – and you should save some – move on to dessert. The Tiramisu (RM23) has the house special DeGayo espresso soaking fluffy sponge fingers layered with mascarpone and dark chocolate fudge – with a twist in the form of a crunchy nut crumble base. Even richer is the Semifreddo di Cioccolato (RM23), a sort of semi-frozen mousse made with 75% dark chocolate.
A cosy and comfortable Italian restaurant full of home-spun charm and value-for-money plates is a welcome find indeed. Just make sure that when you visit, you bring your appetite – or a few friends.
1 Jalan 20/14
Tel: 03-7865 9829
Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 11.30am to midnight (last call for the kitchen is 10.30pm). Closed on Mondays.