Via Pre

Special thanks to Via Pre for extending this food review invitation.

Situated along Weld Quay and next to The Royale Bintang Penang, Via Pre is one of the few Italian-operated Italian restaurants in Penang. This eatery is at the ground level of a two-floor heritage plaza; Jammin Via Pre, a popular gastropub, is located just upstairs.
The warm Mediterranean climate allows Italy to develop a rich culture of culinary arts. Although relatively small, Italy boasts surprisingly diverse range of cuisine. Many dishes are attributable to certain regions of the Apennine Peninsula.
In pursuit for authenticity, Via Pre sources nearly all food ingredients from Italy. This includes cured meat, cheese, pasta (except freshly-made ones), condiments, wines, coffee, sparkling water and many more. The only notable exception is fresh produce, which is sourced locally to maintain freshness.
Right after placing their orders, customers are served with a complimentary basket of assorted bread. To keep fresh flow of bread every day, dough is prepared the evening before and allowed to leaven overnight. The bread is then baked each morning before Via Pre opens its doors. Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil are provided as dipping sauces.
White bread and whole wheat bread are nearly always available. Originating in Florence, schiacciata is a flat crispy bread made from garlic, rosemary, extra virgin olive oil and salt, and is the precursor of pizzas. Meanwhile, focaccia is popular in Genoa and northern Italy, and enjoys the ideal texture between soft and fibrous. Grissini is an Italian breadstick which is flavored differently every day, such as rosemary.
Italians are known for their fondness for tagliere. The word "tagliere" refers to the wooden board on which cured meat and cheese are served. This is synonymous to "platter" in English. At Via Pre, Assorted Cured Hams & Grilled Sausages With Cheeses, Pickles & Sides are available in various sizes depending on number of people. Today's platter (RM65.00) is meant for 1-2 persons.
The choices for dry-cured meat and cheese varies daily, depending what's fresh in the kitchen. Customers can place specific requests and Via Pre will try to accommodate. By default, the platter is beef-free, but customers can also select beef cuts such as bresaola (air-dried beef). All items in the platter are imported directly from Italy and are available for take-out.
By European law, parma ham only refers to dry-cured ham from the Emilia-Romagna region. I particularly enjoy spicy salami for its saltiness upon first contact with the tongue, followed by cooling spiciness which gradually manifests itself as aftertaste. The slightly moist san daniele ham is made from pork trotter and is cured with sea salt. Meanwhile, mortadella is produced in Bologna and is lighter on the palate.
There are also regional variations for Italian cheese. Grana padano originates in Pianura Padana valley and is known for its distinctively grainy texture. Also produced in northern Italy, gorgonzola is made from unskimmed milk and the blue veins are caused by mold spores. The pungent fontina is derived from milk of cows raised at the foothills of the Alps. Most variants of Italian cheese are made from cow's milk, but there are also several types made from goat's milk. Apart from cheese, there are also condiments such as grilled zucchini, black olives and grilled capsicum.
As for pasta, Linguine Riviera (RM35.00) is tossed with green sauce called pesto alla genovese. Originating from Genoa, the sauce is made fresh from butter, basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil. Since no preservatives are used, pesto has to be made fresh and cannot be kept for more than 3 days. Several pieces of fresh tiger prawns, flambéed in olive oil and brandy spirit, serve to provide succulent juiciness.
Although linguine is the recommended type of pasta for this dish, Via Pre's kitchen has several dozen varieties to choose from. All imported from Italy, customer can try other types such as penne, fettuccine, fusilli or capellini. Alternatively, adventurous diners can also opt for more exquisite ones like conchiglie, cannelloni and farfalle. Those with dietary restrictions can also request for gluten-free pasta.
Tracing its origins in Naples, Calzone Classico (RM29.00) is a folded pizza crust that is filled with prosciutto (dry-cured ham), salami, mozzarella cheese, pomodoro (tomatoes), onions and eggs. As the ingredients are sealed within pastry crust, they retain most moisture and have distinctive taste compared to regular pizza. For example, the tomatoes in the calzone still appear juicy as though they were merely steamed.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. This saying cannot be more appropriate when it comes to baking pizzas. At Via Pre, the pizzas are cooked in a traditional stone oven to produce the right texture on the crust. The dough is made from refined flour and contain no eggs, and is hand-tossed so that it feels doughy instead of being crispy. Compared to most Italian restaurants, only 120 grams of flour is used in order not to make the crust too surfeiting.
Moving on to meats, Costolette Agnello (RM72.00) or "lamb chops" features three pieces of pan-fried Australian lamb ribs, which announce their presence with strong toasty aroma as soon as they arrive the dining table.
The lamb racks are gratinéed with special paste made from eggplant (brinjal) and goat cheese. Both of these ingredients work together to produce an assimilation of savory flavors.
I suggest that you start with the ribs first because their savoriness is best pronounced when they are still hot from the pan.
At the center of the dish is a small cup of lentil beans, a staple crop cultivated in the Apennines of central Italy.
Also included with this dish are roasted baby potatoes and sweet potatoes. I like the subtle sweetness provided by the latter. As for greens, steamed yardlong beans and broccoli are served on the side. Usually, French beans are used as they provide better juiciness, but the chef is given the liberty to substitute with a different ingredient if one is in short supply.
The lamb rack is best enjoyed when paired with white wine, such as Adesso Inzolia Sicilia IGT 2013 (RM26.00). This wine is derived from grapes grown in the Mediterranean island of Sicily, where the warmer climate allow the wine to carry sharper flavors. In addition, Via Pre has an extensive stock of red wines such as Merlot from Venice.
As for desserts, Panna Cotta (RM15.00) is the recommended choice. The pudding is made from Italian sweetened cream, cooked and thickened with gelatin, then aromatized with vanilla. The Panna Cotta is quite sweet, but fortunately in a pleasant way that is neither surfeiting nor overpowering on my palate.
This chilled dessert is plated with fresh blueberries and strawberries. Reduced balsamic vinegar and strawberry coulis are also used as part of the overall presentation.
Few cultures know coffee better than Italians. Once again, this fact is vividly resonated at Via Pre. The cup of Cappuccino (RM11.00) is brewed from coffee beans roasted by Buscaglione Caffè. Blended and packed in Rome, Buscaglione Caffè's beans are renowned for their bold flavor that coffee enthusiasts come to appreciate.
As for non-caffeinated drinks, Via Pre has several types of juices that take advantage of fresh produce in the kitchen. For instance, the glass of Mixed Celery, Apple & Ginger (RM18.00) is freshly squeezed to produce apple pulp's foaminess and refreshing aroma from celery.
Via Pre is managed by two brothers from northern Italy: Maury (right) and Max. Meanwhile, Chef Luca (left) from Florence takes the helm in the kitchen. Chef Luca is said to be a perfectionist, being very particular with every facet of food - ranging from baking pastry to preparing sauces.
Name: Via Pre
Address: 5, Pengkalan Weld, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-262-0560
Business hours: 11:00am-11:00pm
Coordinates: 5.41633 N, 100.34374 E
Directions: From the ferry terminal at George Town, turn right and drive along Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld). Via Pre is located shortly on the left, at the same block as The Royale Bintang Penang and Made in Penang Interactive 3D Museum. Street parking is available along Weld Quay and Church Street Ghaut (Gat Lebuh Gereja).

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