Friday, 24 May 2013

Via Pre Restaurant: Weld Quay, Georgetown, Penang (Top Pick)

I finally got round to trying this restaurant, having heard about it from numerous people.  I'm quite fond of Italian food and, while I have found eateries in Penang that serve reasonable enough Italian fayre, I'd not found anywhere that really encompassed the Italian experience, great food, fresh ingredients, good prices and, above all, that great taverna atmosphere.  With Via Pre I think I might have.

Via Pre is in Georgetown and is situated on Pengkalan Weld.  There are numerous maps showing its location but it pays to be a bit sceptical of the accuracy of some of the mapping programs I find!  The best way to describe the location IMO is that Via Pre is almost directly opposite the entrance to the Church Street Pier, the pier on which the QEII bar and Chin's Stylish Restaurant are based.

The first thing that strikes you about Via Pre, both from outside and inside, is that they have got the ambience just right.  It just looks and feels like an up-market Italian taverna, spacious and tastefully appointed and decorated.  As soon as you walk in it sets the scene for an evening of relaxing and good food.

The menu is extensive with a wide range of classic Italian starters and main courses, including of course the ever popular pastas and pizzas, all of which seemed to evidence a Via Pre exclusive take on the dish.  There is also a good range of daily specials displayed within the menu and on the chalk boards.  For me the restaurant would benefit from having at least one soup on the menu, even the often d'rigeur Minestrone, but look as I might I couldn't see one.  The menu was very reasonably priced with many of the starters being around RM 12-15 and the mains (pastas and pizzas) around the RM 25-40.  Some of the specials get more pricey, often reflecting the more extravagant ingredients involved.  There is also a very good wine list.

One thing that did concern me was the slightly pushy approach of the waiter in trying to steer you towards the the more (if not most) expensive dishes of the day (lobster etc.).  This time I put it down as a 'one-off', if it happens again I will tell them in no uncertain terms that I consider it is for the customer to scan the menu and make selections, not for a tacky and somewhat pushy hard-sell of 'specials', not in a restaurant of this calibre.  I'm quite happy to have the specials pointed out but having the waiter turning menu pages and all but selecting the options for you, merely waiting for a 'yes' is pushing it too far.

That slight hiccough aside, on to the dishes we sampled.  We started with an excellent salad (simply titled Cinque) on the menu which combined lettuce, rocket, prosciutto and slithers of parmesan with a superb dressing.

This was accompanied by two bruschettas, the 'Classico' (with a blend of fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil and garlic) and.........

.......a new one on me, the 'Crostone Rustico', cured salmon topped with cheese.  Both were excellent and exuded freshness and flavour, the slight saltiness of the cured salmon blending perfectly with the strength and sharpness of the cheese.

On to the mains and we opted for a pork steak at RM 39 which was served with lemon and a good salad accompaniment and.....

.........the excellent suckling pig special, again served with a well-dressed salad and vegetables.  The most expensive of the two was the Braciola di Miale (suckling pig) at RM 62, but even this was reasonable IMO.

Although we struggled to find room for a dessert we battled through and opted for the Creme Brûlée (RM 12), which was a little on the sweet side for my taste, and the Apple and Walnut cake (RM 15) which was superb, moist and tasty and served with cream and a light chocolate sauce.

The meal was accompanied by a bottle of Chianti Cesari Principe at RM 149, bottled water (a little pricey at RM 19 but you can opt for the jug/filter iced water) and rounded off with an excellent cappuccino coffee at RM 8.  The whole bill came to around RM 400.  It would obviously be considerably less if sticking to the pasta/pizza mains and omitting the wine but, for what we had, I thought the price was reasonable.

Overall I was very impressed by Via Pre and will certainly visit more often.  I'm told they also do a very good lunch menu at RM 38 per person.  Via Pre has everything I would look for in a quality Italian restaurant and the food certainly delivers.  The only things I would look to change would be adding a soup to the menu and toning back on the hard sell of specials, it's tacky and cheap.  Those minor points aside Via Pre is definitely worth a vista IMO and gets a 'Top Pick' from me.  Their website is at the link above and you can also visit their Facebook Page.

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