Monday, 17 August 2015

A Pasta House Called Basil

Long story short: I'd been frazzled by developments in my life and it's been eating into my writing. So I over-edited this, according to an acquaintance who has seen multiple versions of this review until she begged, "No more! Send!"

And out it went, with more typos than my usual.

I received queries from the editor of The Malay Mail Online, probably for the first time in years.

Not my finest hour.

Think the major ones have been fixed.

A pasta house called Basil

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 17 August 2015

Weeks after I’d discovered the path to al dente pasta, I learnt about a restaurant that serves mostly pasta. I thought, a bit arrogantly, let’s see how it measures up.

It measured up quite well.

Basil looks a little out of place in the row of shophouses but
has remained a popular neighbourhood joint

I dined in the first time, opting to take out another dish along with leftovers from my meal for the benefit of makan kaki Melody. I think it was a spaghetti bolognese to go, with what remained of an Oriental-styled mac and cheese. The chefs separate the sauce from the pasta — a nice touch.

I came back, several times, with Melody, Wendy and Sam in tow on one or two occasions. But the novelty wore off as the prices — and my repertoire of home-cooked pastas — grew. And I’d come to be satisfied with what I cooked myself.

But I do keep Basil Pasta House at the back of my mind, for special occasions.

Lamb Leg and White Ragù Sauce with Elicoidali (a tube-shaped pasta with
a rough texture): Lamb cubes, cream ragù sauce, white wine, button
mushroom, root vegetables and toasted cashews. Probably enough for two.

This little shop looks out of place among the row of nightspots, car washes, boutiques and other Chinese-themed restaurants along Jalan Kuchai Maju 6. Chef Alven Tan and his brothers opened the place, naming it after a favourite herb. The restaurant is a homey place, not at all intimidating.

At a corner done up to look like a living room is a bookshelf, where you’ll find cookbooks from the likes of Thomas Keller (Bouchon), Rene Redzepi (Noma), Joël Robuchon (can’t remember), Gordon Ramsay (various) and Anthony Bourdain (The Les Halles Cookbook, which I can’t seem to find).

Besides the basic aglio olio, bolognese and genovese (pesto) varieties of pasta, expect other far-out creations such as Hand-made Orecchiette (“little ears”) and Smoked Duck Breast; “Wafu”-style capellini with tuna tataki (tuna, seared medium-rare), served with yuzu shoyu dressing and lumpfish caviar, among other things; and Cheese Bucatini with crispy squid (golden egg-yolk sauce, curry leaf and chilli flakes). For some pasta dishes, you can choose from several types of pasta other than the usual spaghetti or fettuccine.

Nope, not your average “Western” pasta place. The chefs work in black chefs’ togs that seem more at home in a Michelin-starred establishment than a Chinese neighbourhood eatery. And it’s pretty good stuff, judging from the packed dining room almost every evening.

Gnocchi and Spicy Bacon Tomato: Potato gnocchi in amatriciana sauce, tomato
concasse, pork pancetta, chilli flakes, Italian parsley and shavings of Parmesan.
Portions look small but surprisingly filling.

The first few months of its opening, according to the hostess, people complained about the portion-price ratio. Bistro-level dining at less than RM25 (for some dishes) and people still kvetch?

So they revamped the menu, upped the portions a bit and, inevitably, raised the prices. One of my favourites, a fettucine with Japanese lamb curry, is no more.

They also renovated the kitchen. Even so, the inadequate ventilation and long waiting times while each dish is made to order (they go by table) mean diners will end up smelling of each other’s meals by the time they walk out the door — satisfied, a little fragrant and, perhaps, planning a return trip.

Generally, it’s worth the wait. If you’re a-horde-of-gremlins-clawing-at-your-gut hungry, however, I suggest you fill your stomach with something. Perhaps an appetiser from the menu — and chew slowly, please. Maybe read a book or two. Smartphone-toting diners might want to surf their menu (available on their Facebook page) and decide before going there in person.

Orecchiette and Smoked Duck Breast, from way back when. Doubt they've
tweaked the recipe much since this picture was taken.

Calling ahead for reservations, especially for a family outing, is also a good idea.

Just about everything my makan kakis and I tried there were good. Great-tasting and interesting flavour combinations. What I wasn’t enthusiastic about was the Oriental-styled mac & cheese. I think it was the slightly brown bits on the crispy squid. Also, the taste of a wild mushroom risotto was on the delicate side.

And I never seem to want to order the desserts. Well, when each meal stuffs you to the gills...

To this day, Basil Pasta House still draws a good crowd; some days you can see people standing around outside, waiting for their turn. So while I don’t think it needs any more publicity, maybe they can work on improving service and cooking time.

Ah yes, and the ventilation, lest diners have to fight the impulse to gnaw on their sleeves on the way home.

Basil Pasta House
No. 21, Jalan Kuchai Maju 6
Kuchai Entrepreneurs Park
58200 Kuala Lumpur


Wed-Mon: 12pm-2:30pm (last order), 5pm-9:30pm (last order); closes at 10pm

Closed on Tuesdays

+603-7972 8884

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