European cooking is boiling over in Bangsar this month; for this entry, we return to Mercat Barcelona Gastrobar, which is now officially open, & reveal the first public peek into Portofino, a new Italian outlet that has spun off from the Porto Romano family.
Earlier preview of Mercat: September 21.
Don't skip Mercat's memorable rendition of 'patatas bravas' (RM22++) - petite pleasures that prove drop-dead delicious; these steaming-hot, bite-sized potato nuggets are melting-soft within & golden-crisp outside, luxuriously textured with layers of lightly spicy tomato sauce & Catalan-style creamy all i oli. Pop one whole into your mouth & enjoy.
Also worthwhile for whetting the appetite: Fuet (RM19++), described as pork sausages that have been cured in a pork gut. Savoury & a bit nutty, very smooth, sliced thinly & satisfyingly easy to eat.
Mercat's kitchen is all about comfort food; on a rainy evening, there's culinary consolation to be found in the ultra-addictive salmorejo (RM26++), the traditional Cordoban tomato puree topped with Spanish ham, conserved tuna & hard-boiled egg ...
... suquet pulpo (RM68++), seafood stew that's briny with octopus & mussels, richly flavoured with almonds, garlic & saffron ...
... wild mushroom rice with buttery smoked sheep's milk cheese (RM42++) ...
... & meatballs of minced Iberico pork & beef, partnered with cuttlefish & peas (RM39++), cementing Mercat's position as one of 2014's best new restaurants. Note though, prices are relatively high, so be prepared to spend north of RM100 per person.
Mercat hasn't secured its liquor license; bring your own bottle for now (no corkage fee yet) or try the Catalan & Galician beer.
Next up, moving on to the Lucky Garden section of Bangsar, where Portofino opened this week, helmed in a partnership that includes the folks behind the long-enduring Porto Romano group of restaurants.
Porto Romano casts a wide net across the Mediterranean for its menu, but Portofino sticks to the Italian classics; expect the likes of freshly made pappardelle with tangy-salty duck ragout (RM36+).
Portofino is blessed with a very good service team, but in terms of its food, some of the dishes might lack the nuances of truly terrific Italian cooking; the potato gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce & beef bacon (RM36++) errs on the side of uber-creaminess, making it too cloying after several bites. It's (rather one-dimensionally) tasty in flavour, but it evokes more guilt than pleasure.
Risotto with sweet curry spices, prawns, apple slices & parmesan (RM36++), also heavy-handed with the cream. Best shared.
Alcoholic affogato? Count us in; Portofino's features a kahlua kick (RM19++).
Decent wine list at Portofino; house pourings start at RM19.90+ by the glass & RM90+ by the bottle.
Mercat Barcelona Gastrobar
51, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur.
Closed Mondays; currently open for dinner Tues-Fri, all day from lunch on weekends.
Portofino Italian Restaurant
1 Persiaran Ara Kiri, Lucky Garden, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2094-8490. Open daily, lunch through late.
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