Now open: Ozeki Italian Cuisine
It's difficult to think of an occasion when Italian and Japanese food have been more suitably married in KL. By Surekha Ragavan. Photography by Amir Rashid
Japanese-Italian hybrids are slowly but surely multiplying in the heart and surround of KL what with the wildly popular Pasta Zanmai chains and the unlikely F Concept Dining by Buffalo Kitchens. Oh look, there's even the recently reviewed Bistro Fiore. KL isn’t the first to witness this amalgamation as food-centric cities like New York and Hong Kong are already elevating the cuisine to fine dining standards. In about two years, we reckon Michelin stars will be common accolades tied to the chefs involved in the specialty.
Ozeki Italian Cuisine, a four-month old setup in Wisma Cosway, is proof that the cuisine is cautiously peeking out of the woods. An offshoot of Ozeki Tokyo Cuisine, the restaurant is owned by Yamaoka San, the elusive man behind some of KL’s lesser-known Japanese outlets such as Tosaya, Dontaku, Nippon Tei and Ikkyu. The first thing we noticed upon entering the restaurant is the lighting. Dim and moody, the lighting doesn’t enlarge the already small space of the restaurant. The romance, if intended, doesn’t come through but this might be due to the gray skies during our visit. While sitting at the wooden tables, we secretly hoped for Albus Dumbledore to saunter in to cast a ‘Lumos’ spell upon this otherwise charming little space.
Once the menu arrives, the lighting becomes irrelevant. Hosting one of the more exciting menus we’ve seen this year, we notice how the food leans towards Italian with dark, almost malicious tinges of Japan. One example is the Diavole-style grilled spring chicken with Japanese citron pepper, fried potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. The pepper here is an example of this quiet slipping in of Japanese influence which serves to excite and enhance. There’s no wonder this chicken dish is a consistent hit at Ozeki. But we’re only scratching the surface.
Diavole-style grilled spring chicken with Japanese citron pepper
For the bolder palates, the suckling pig marinated with Japanese fermented rice, Japanese mustard, served with pumpkin puree sipping sauce (RM98) is a sight difficult to forget. Mind you, only the pig head is served (snout and all) on a board so there’s no need for alarming ‘Waiter, there’s a pig’s head on my table’ calls during your meal. The pig is cooked in traditional Italian style; its skin is cooked to a soft, peeling pulp rather than to a thin crisp. The chef, a lovely Japanese man by the name of Ryuji Enomoto, tells us that many KL diners are surprised to have the skin cooked this way but will eventually learn that different mustn’t always mean distasteful. It must be noted that Chef Ryuji has spent 25 years of his life cooking traditional Italian food in both Italy and Japan so the man is deserving of a head chef title in a restaurant like this.
Whole sanma fish with tomatoes and olives
If you’d like an idea of what the other dishes sound like, think wasabi Caesar salad with raw salmon (RM24), parma ham with mango, Mozzarella and Japanese dressing (RM28), risotto with mushroom, Parmesan and steamed Japanese oyster (RM34), salmon carpaccio with Japanese sour soya jelly (RM29) and the lasagna with miso bean paste (RM29). Most of everything sounds thrilling enough to whip any diner into ‘oooh, ahhh’ mode when scanning the inventive menu. To quench all this food, sakes are available (phew) as are wines and cocktails.
We couldn’t be gladder for a restaurant as original as Ozeki, and it doesn’t take us much strength to say that this is one of the bravest, most exhilarating openings of the year.
For more info on location, see venue listing.