Owned and managed by two true-blue Italians, Portofino has been quietly delighting lovers of authentic Italian fares in Bangsar. Named after a popular seaside town in Italy, Portofino occupies a corner lot (which used to be Pizza Hut for 15 years) in the quieter side of Bangsar – Lucky Garden. Italian Chef Keli rules the kitchen while Luca ensures the front of house runs smoothly.
It had always been Chef Keli’s dream to own and run a restaurant in a tropical country and Malaysia was a natural choice once he experienced this country. Both Keli and Luca love living in the tropics and they have been very happy doing this since setting up Portofino almost two years ago.
With huge letterings emblazoning its name on the building, it’s hard to miss Portofino. It is both welcoming as a family restaurant as well as a hip place to chill out as the bar is pretty well stocked. The restaurant occupies two floors – the upper level is very spacious and perfect for private functions with a capacity for 80 diners there.
While we sat down and chatted with Keli and Luca, an appetizer – Bruschetta al Salmone (RM20) was served. Slices of Norwegian smoked salmon curling enticingly on homemade bread make a good appetizer any day.
Chef Keli believes that house-made pasta is the best and for this reason, all pasta (except for penne which requires a machine to churn out) in Portofino are made fresh in the restaurant. There is a vast difference of course in the texture and taste of freshly-made pasta compared to the commercially-produced dry pastas. The fresh pastas, made from special imported flour, have a soft bouncy texture that’s deliciously yielding to the bite.
Most of Chef Keli’s dishes are cooked with his own specially concocted fish stock which is made from boiling for hours prawn heads and red snapper with vegetables like carrots, tomatoes and celery.
We liked their house special, Spaghetti Portofino (RM38) – house-made spaghetti saute’ed with prawns, squids, mussels, clams, scallops seasoned with garlic, chilli, basil, olive oil and simmered with house-made fish stock. The local seafood used here were all selected and bought by Keli and Luca at the wet market in Taman Tun Dr Ismail every other day. These guys are so meticulous about their ingredients that they personally buy them from the wet market.
For the Seafood Ravioli (RM36), we enjoyed the house-made ravioli filled with fresh lobster meat and fish served in a rich lobster bisque. There’s so much umami sweetness in this dish that we almost wanted to order a second helping.
We took the pasta party further with Chef Keli’s Tagliatelle Bolognese Sauce (RM30) with minced beef. It’s hearty comforting food for sure – a plate of this will make the world right in many ways!
As Chef Keli wanted me to taste his house-made pesto, we had the Penne al Pesto Capesante (RM34) which was served with fresh local scallops. The penne was store-bought but its nondescript state was boosted by Keli’s pesto – a traditional sauce made with fresh basil, walnuts, garlic, parmesan and extra virgin olive oil. The aroma was intoxicating.
Although I’m not a fan of risotto, Chef Keli’s Risotto with Prawns & Curry Spices (RM36) had me enjoying this unabashedly. It must be the fresh prawn curry spices and apples which lifted this risotto dish out of the ordinary.
From pastas and risotto, we moved on to sample Chef Keli’s handmade pizzas. Spotting calzone on the menu, we had to have the Half Moon Calzone Pizza (RM36). A huge puffy calzone made its way to our table and when it’s sliced, hot creamy cheesy tomato sauce, turkey ham and mushrooms spilled out tangling with stringy mozzarella. It was something that had to be devoured immediately, with great gusto too!
Then we had a regular pizza – Pizza Boscaiola (RM36) topped with tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, rocket salad, parmigiano reggiano and mozzarella. This is one pizza you can have at any time of the day and it would be satisfying no matter what.
We tried a meat item too, the Roasted Lamb (RM48) – marinated with fresh herbs, slow-roasted, served with olives and mashed potato. The thick hearty sauce gave it a warm rustic feel – it felt and tasted like a traditional family dish.
Although not an Italian dessert by origin, Portofino’s Chocolate Salami (RM12) – made with biscuits, cocoa powder and served with Ingles cream is immensely popular. Painstakingly executed, this photogenic dessert was very good and addictive.
On the other hand, I found the Tiramisu (RM16) – made with coffee, almond liquer combined with mascarpone cheese was rather tame. Personally, I prefer tiramisu with more vigour (read: boozy)!
Portofino is a good venue to head to if you are looking for some authentic home-style Italian fares. In a saturated frenetic dining scene like Bangsar, this place is a refreshing change from the madness of the central commercial areas.
No.1 Persiaran Ara Kiri
59100 Kuala Lumpur
Operating hours: 11am to 11pm daily