Accompanied by STAR's communications manager Samantha and her assistant Iris, digital consultant/blogger Jackie and her assistant, a reporter from the Borneo Post and another from Utusan Borneo, my Hub and I had an enjoyable evening at Peppino, Shangri La Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa last Friday evening.
As you know, I am an old schooler when it comes to reviewing restaurants: I like to pay my own meals so that I don't have to be nice. No, I don't have to go incognito because I am incognito, unlike Francois Simon or those powerful food critics who wear a sauce pot to restaurants so that they aren't recognized. On the few occasions that I was invited to taste new products and menu, if I have not blogged about them, it's because I didn't want to. So when Samantha asked for a sincere review of the latest promotion in their award-winning Italian restaurant, Peppino, I accepted her invitation. Besides, Peppino is among the top 3 fine dining restaurants in KK and STAR, well, it's consistently voted as the best resort hotel every year. Or so. STAR was where Hub and I had our wedding reception, among the few first couples to do so because the hotel had just opened, so it has a very special place in my heart.
Chef Coco Salvatore is Sicilian and has worked in 5-star hotels around the world so what a great idea it is to create some dishes that can literally live up to his name. Chef Coco's latest creation, Cocoa & Co, consists of a soup, two starters, four pasta dishes and three main dishes, all of which feature cocoa, tea and coffee.
My starter was unusual, a little cake flavored with porcini:
Porcini mushroom cake with white chocolate sauce, RM48/USD16.
The cake was warm, soft, fine and delicious and the porcini flavor was subtle which was perfect for a cake. The white chocolate sauce went well with it but also made it seemed more like a savory dessert, which kind of confused me. I enjoyed it but it was only the size of a small cupcake--I can easily scarf 3 of these in one or two mouthfuls. I think that this cake would be better as part of a main or maybe paired with something so that the tiny cake is not so lonely looking and tasting.
Cocoa pasta roll filled with ricotta cheese and eggplant mousse with pecorino sauce, RM38/UDS13.
Hub's starter. This was seriously good, with all my favorite ingredients. The pasta was faintly flavored with cocoa and all the ingredients had an equal chance to shine.
Fine dining requires patience and good company because the courses are prepared individually and that means a long wait. I misunderstood the menu and thought that we were to order either a pasta or a main so Hub and I ended up eating a lot of bread (which were not outstanding) while the others ate their pasta dishes before the main.
Not exactly pretty as all brown food are except chocolate cakes but this risotto was creamy and tasty (based on a spoonful I took from Jackie), flavored by the cheese and the dark chocolate, RM58/USD19.
Cocoa ribbons with porcini and pumpkin got the thumbs up from other diners, RM59/USD19.
Sea bass with coffee powder & ginger enhanced bread, RM58/USD19.
My main was not impressive. The two medallions of sea bass were fresh but overdone and the flavor was rather insipid. I didn't quite taste the coffee powder or the ginger either but I liked the tangy sauce, what little bit there was, and the mung beans paired beautifully with the fish.
Baked duck croiset with Kenyan beans& orange tea enhanced lasagna, RM48/USD16.
Now I have no idea what a croiset is but this quarter of a duck was terrific: full of flavor and aroma and the leg was so tender ("Like 8-jewelled duck" Hub said) that the meat could be flaked off the bone yet was not dry. The breast though would've been better slightly less done. I forgot to taste the orange-flavored lasagna but this is a dish I wish I can cook.
Chocolate fondue and ice cream.
For such a fine dinner, the chocolate fondue was a let-down because really, even my Hub can pull that off. However, it's complimentary during this promotion period for diners spending RM100 and above per table.
Unlike top food critics who detest the presence of chefs when they dine (so as not to cloud their judgement), I love to chat with chefs so when Chef Coco appeared at our table, we talked about truffles and the sourcing of western food ingredients in China (his previous posting was a hotel in Qingtao, China). Did you know that Yunnan province in China produces tons of exotic wild mushrooms and truffles? And that they have porcini mushrooms in China too? Instead of dried porcini from Italy, Chef Coco uses fresh frozen porcini from France. That could explain why the flavor is not so pronounced, we agreed.
Chef Coco's dishes are cooked with real skills, creativity and attention to ingredients and presentation. The inventive idea of using coffee and cocoa gave the pasta an interesting and fun element but the flavorings were too subtle to make a big difference to food that's already good. Although the portions for fine dining is always 'less is more' and all that but if I was paying, I'd think less is still less. Unless I'm paying in Aussie dollars but in ringgit, ouch.
Peppino is a chic and swanky restaurant that serves modern Italian fare. I haven't been there for quite a while and forgot to look at their regular menu but I assume that you can get classic Italian dishes, with a strong touch of Italian nouvelle. I like that the tables are not too near each other and the music is not intrusive. The service is excellent, a bit slow on busy days. If Donovan is attending to you, his affable attention and efficiency will make make your dinner even more enjoyable.
Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa,
20 Jalan Aru, Tanjung Aru
Tel: (6088) 327 888
Fax: (6088) 327 878
Cocoa & Co promotion menu is available from 15th August to 15th September 2011.