A great restaurant is like Elizabeth Gilbert’s soul searching journey in her book, Eat Pray Love. The answer may take a while to unfold, but when it does, it is life changing. Once found, you can Eat without guilt, Pray nobody notices the extra pounds and learn to Love a looser pair of jeans; just like how its movie adaptation starring Julia Roberts has thought many the pleasures of eating. Eating like an Italian to be exact.
Il lido, opened about half a year ago, has finally found itself in the company of the finest Italian restaurants in the city.
“The best in town?” asks a voice inside my head, which has been nagging me to review the dinner ever since we had it a month ago.
“I have never had a better dinner,” he says, dreamily recalling the ethereal rigatoni stuffed with suckling pig, porcini mushrooms and topped with the slender shaving of truffles. “If I concentrate,” he adds, “I can still smell the truffle and feel those noodles dissolving in my mouth like butter. Oh, what a meal!”
“Can’t we do this later?” I ask crossly. But he is busy remembering a plump tortelli stuffed with pumpkin. The voluptuous flavours were sweet and decadent, so that the hint of sage in the cream combined with the bracing taste of shaved cheese and aged balsamic delivers a gentle shock. A small shower of nutty amaretti crumbs completed its presentation. “It was perfect!” the voice insists. “Aren’t you going to give them a good review?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I have to think it through.”
“But was there anything wrong with the meal?” he wants to know. I pull the covers over my head and think for a moment. I hope he’ll shut up. No such luck.
“They were nice to me when I walked in the door,” he continues, “and it was abundantly clear that I was not one of their regular customers. I’ve only been there twice. The hostess could not have been more welcoming.”
“Didn’t you think it was awfully dark in restaurant?” I ask.
“O.K,” he admits, “it was dark. But they brightened the place up for the review so it wasn’t exactly a photographer’s hell in there. And they brought out that plate of lovely herbed bread.”
“They are called foccacia,” I can’t resist saying.
“Whatever,” he says. “They were delicious, both with balsamic dip or butter.”
“But didn’t you think the dining room was cold?” I persist grumpily.
He has to concede the point; the dining room was cold. “On the other hand,” he reminds me, “you said you thought the flowers were fabulous.” They were. The small yet brightly colored floral arrangements highlighted each table, transforming a rather stark black room into a place with personality and injected a much needed warmth.
“And you liked the service,” he prods. He is right about that, too: the service that night was smooth and sweet, more like that in a stately mansion than a large restaurant. It was formal, thoughtful and not at all stuffy. Fendi, the restaurant manager is very knowledgeable and effortlessly helped us with his recommendations. And even the very same Blur Waiter, that almost gave me a heart attack on the previous visit, was leaps and bounds better. He made all but one mistake of announcing dill instead of tarragon while he passed the palette teasing amuse bouche as if he was serving at a dinner party, urging us to eat the tiny orange smoked salmon with herbed yogurt and caviar. But then I thought dill looks just as green as tarragon. He shouldn’t need to apologize, but I’m happy he did.
“Remember the grilled jumbo sea tiger prawns?” the voice asks now. Who could forget it? Those beast-like fresh prawns were sweetly grilled and sat regally on a creamy and mushy bed of tuscan cannellini beans which contrasted its firm flesh. The linguine con gamberoni alla ‘nduja was its pasta cousin; al dante ribbons of pasta with jumbo sea prawns and spicy creamy pork sausages was exactly what I would call a tummy pleaser.
“And the porcini mushroom cream with truffle?” he asks. At that I sit up and sniff the air. I do remember the divinely rich puree of earthy goodness collaged with nothing much but three thin slices of truffles and a lonely piece of chervil garnish. As muddy as it looked, the soup was a masterpiece.
The sardinia roasted suckling pig with plum sauce is a tour de force. Each of the three small square pieces may not be very exciting to look at but if you close our eyes and take a bite, you are surprised to find your mouth salivate with excitement. Each slice comes in three layers: a crispy crackling top, a creamy middle section from an infusion of fats and tender meat, and a hunky piece of potato at the bottom. After those rich taste, if you want to continue with a less complicated course, you could order something as down-to-earth as prosciutto e melone, the classic combination of parma ham strips and sweet rock melon.
“And wasn’t that foie gras fantastic?” the voice asks, reminding me of the way the unctuous pan fried goose liver had been balanced by the austerity of saba wine must on a bed of sweet potato galette. Fully aware at last, I begin to revel in that evening’s dinner as the voice in my head and I start shouting the names of dishes, giddily recapturing a cornucopia of flavours.
“Parmigiana di melanzane!” he cries, and in my mind I can feel my teeth sinking into the soft eggplant cake layered with stringy melted mozzarella, tomato and basil, almost like a standing mousakka.
“Insalata di spinach e indiva!” I say, thinking about the visually appealing salad. Leaves of spinach and endive were topped with a golden egg and laced with sweet tarty julienne pieces of red onion compote
“And that crab salad!” the now friendly voice shouted, reminding me of Fendi’s wonderful suggestion of insalata di grandchio with creamy avocado and bisque jelly.
“Desserts,” he says, almost reverently. Together we recite the sweets of the evening, like children recalling Halloween treats. I liked the creme brule’ symphony with vanilla, coffee, pistachio and strawberry that came looking much bigger than the one I had previously. According to Lyla, the PR manager of the restaurant, the size has increased after multiple feedback from their customers that they would love to taste a little more of the colorful quartet. I can truly emphasize with them. He likes the slightly wobbly and creamy vanilla pannacotta in a crimson soup of fresh berries and covered under an overturned sugared basket. We both loved the lightly textured molten lava chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and were charmed by the finale, a plate of petits fours with its sweet amaretti (Italian macaron) and various hand made chocolates.
“So?” ask the voice. “The best Italian like how EatDrinkKL proclaimed?”
“It was a great meal,” I concede, pushing back the covers, “but I need to return a few more times before I can make up my mind.”
It is too early to tell, I have only dine here twice. There were the occasional disappointments; a rather fishy red snapper, an otherwise tender wagyu that was overpowered by celeriac and fava beans and a screwed up birthday surprise. But, even on an off day, the restaurant is still wonderful enough that you wake up in the morning after a meal at Il Lido eager to remember every bite.
It is enlightening and the restaurant is definitely high up on my list of best Italian restaurants in KL.
Thank you to Lyla for being a gracious and bubbly host. You are officially the friendliest Singaporean I know. And also the Makan Fairy Godmother for inviting.
This review is heavily based on restaurant critic, Ruth Reichl’s review of Daniel, first published in The New York Times and later in her 2005 best-seller, Garlic and Sapphires.
Il Lido Italian Dining + Lounge Bar
Lot 183 Jalan Mayang
Off Jalan Yap Kwan Seng
50450 Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: +603-2161 2291