Authentic Italiana by the sea
GEORGE TOWN, July 13 — When brothers Maurizio and Massimiliano Ranauro from Biella, in the north-western Piemonte region of Italy, wanted to open another of their successful Italian outlets outside Kuala Lumpur, they looked all over Malaysia for the right location.
“There’s a street called Via Pre near a harbour in Genoa which looks exactly like Weld Quay,” Mauri explained, “so we decided to open it here.” Hence the name.
Housed in the huge former British Council building which was completely gutted out and refurbished, “Via Pre, Tavern on the Harbour”, shortened to Via Pre, only opened in February this year. Despite that, and the number of new outlets which have sprouted up all over the island, it has become one of the most “in” places to dine here.
There’s good reason; they are the genuine thing. The experienced restaurateurs — Max was the brainchild behind the successful Neroteca, Bar Italia and Vineria outlets in KL — dish up authentic Italiana, whether it’s ambience or taste. As soon as you enter the cavernous premises near the corner of Gat Lebuh Gereja and Pengkalan Weld, the sights, sounds and smells of Italy assail you — you could have walked into a taverna anywhere in Genoa or Florence.
Although the interior is furnished with simple wooden tables and chairs, it is decorated with Continental flair, exuding an aura which spells the word “trendy.” In the middle, an island serves as a bar cum workstation. The deli corner consists of several large refrigerated display cabinets filled with home-made cakes, large hocks of hams, sausages and other imported preserved meats, and enormous rounds of cheeses of every description. Artfully-positioned bottles of wines and unusual Italian liqueurs, glasses and breads cover every surface.
Low down lighting adds an intimate, cosy feel, although from the noise level it’s clearly anything but – large groups sit chattering away at practically every table, some squeezed into the banquettes which line one wall. Everyone is keen to try out one of the most talked-about food in Penang.
The menu, which is also listed on a large board behind the till, was put together by Max, a trained chef. He has also passed on his expertise to the local chefs who cook in his stead when he is away looking after their other outlet in KL; however, Mauri is here to ensure that standards stay high.
Specialist Italian breads like Piadina Classica and Porca (with anchovies), or Cocaccia Genovese (toasted with ham and cheese) are freshly baked on the premises, great on their own or with a tart olive oil and Balsamic vinegar dip, or with some antipastis, of which they have a good selection both hot or cold. The Gamberetti (prawns) with chilli and bacon was rather moreish.
There’s the usual Aglios, Bolognese or Carbonara — made the real way, with not a drop of cream — but if you want something more unique, then opt for their daily specials which are not on the menu: the Pappardelle (broad flat pasta) with Cream Sauce on offer that day, flavoured with porcini mushrooms and pork sausage, was really quite excellent. Mains consist of a selection of seafood, pork or beef cooked in a variety of ways.
Finish off with whatever Italian dessert is on offer that day, typically a tiramisu, panna cotta or lemon tarte, and wash it all down with something off their large wine list. It’s probably as authentic as they come.
Via Pre is open every day. Booking is advisable.Via Pre “Tavern on the Harbour”
5 Weld Quay
Tel: +604 2619 800
11.30am to 10.30pm Mondays to Fridays
10am (for breakfast only) to 10.30pm Weekends