|Giovino, Greek and Italian Cuisine in Changkat Bukit Bintang|
Giovino Greek and Italian Restaurant, Changkat Bukit Bintang
Words by Kirsten Durward
Photos by The Yum List
The rustic, reddish browns of Giovino welcome us in on a wet and windy Wednesday. We’re glad to be served a recuperative Ouzo, the typical Greek aperitif. The aniseed drink warms the tonsils and opens up the senses. I’m excited to be here as I spent my teenage years in Greece and I absolutely love the flavours of Greek food.
Reflecting the dual heritage of owner Giovanni, the restaurant offers a range of home made Italian and Greek cuisine. I believe it may be the only true Greek restaurant in KL. Giovanni speaks passionately of the need for product quality, fresh ingredients, and good flavor combinations. ‘If you do something with passion it is the same like a painting it is an art’. We all love the art of cooking and right now we can’t wait to eat!
We start on the Italian side with a glistening ball of Burrata surfing layers of fresh rocket and plentiful pink prosciutto. Burrata is the premium buffalo cheese, taken from the first press of the milk, and this one is a totally melting experience for the mouth. Just tinged with a coat of oil, tiny grains of sea salt, it combines with the surprisingly moist prosciutto and the peppery rocket to call out appreciative murmurs around the table.
Turning to the Greek side, a plate of fresh warm dolmades – tiny hand wrapped verdant packages, just begging to be bitten into – so we dip into the thick and creamy tzatziki and… yum! The warmth of the parcels brings out the herby flavour of the al dente rice, and the garlic on the tzatziki adds an extra zing.
The first dishes are accompanied by a Retoina Retsina, from Crete. Retsina is a traditional Greek wine made from pine resin and has a very distinct taste. It’s clear golden yellow promises better than the rough wines I tried in my youth. On tasting it is dry and the piney flavor seeps through. Giovanni suggests trying it the way tourists do in Crete, and mixes it with Sprite, to make a light punch. This suits Caning’s sweet tooth, ‘Smooth,’ he says.
Toasted triangles of spanakopita appear for our delectation. The lightest of filo pastry encases dark green spinach threaded through with creamy feta. The moistness is unbelievable, and the flavour is enhanced delicately by fennel. One of the best vegetarian dishes I have tasted in KL.
A colourful salad features charcoal grilled duck breast, cherry tomatoes, grapes and pine nuts. It is the whole grain mustard salad that gives it a refreshing zing, then a pop of melty gorgonzola, ensuring every bite a different flavor.
Moussaka is next on the menu. Thick layers, oozing with orange tomato sauce, are cut into squares for us. Creamy Béchamel, layered with herby Bolognese and thick mashed potato looks mouthwateringly enticing. A forkful proves that it is smooth, hearty and particularly warming on a wet day. The superb flavours of the moussaka match well with a house pouring red. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a medium to full body wine.
Ah, one of my favourites – Stifatho Cunelli (rabbit stew). Tender chunks of rabbit lay in an oozingly caramelized red wine sauce atop a bed of mashed potato. A whiff of the flavour: very full and enticing. Forks dive in. ‘Wow!’ says Caning and I’m so glad I mentioned this dish. The depth of flavour is insane, with hints of cinnamon and the occasional hit of black pepper. The hours of braising in red wine are apparent from the divine texture of the meat. From my perspective; Greek cooking at it’s finest!
Be prepared to abandon all thought of healthy diet when trying a blissful Bistecca. Steak is cooked on a charcoal grill then filled with cheese and pork bacon, before being folded over and grilled again. It’s a huge dish with a smoky charcoal tinge on the outside and a melting centre of Emmental and pork that pours out as everyone groans with delight.
I’m sipping on a house pouring of a medium bodied Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon. The pepper and cinnamon notes in the full flavoured red wine cuts through the deliciously fatty textures in the dish and rounds off the eating experience delightfully.
We could easily finish now and rest satiated, but Giovanni has more treats in store. Home made sausages! People, you have no idea how wonderful those words are to an expatriate Brit who has been living in the Islamic world for many years. These sausages are fantastic. Pork and leek have a rustic country flavour, while the paprika spiced pork sausage has a delicious bite. The texture is firm and meaty. Giovanni uses only meat, herbs and spices; nothing else in these sizzlers. Non-pork eaters need not be disappointed either as the chicken ones are very tasty. Our favourites though, are the juicy wild boar, which are just bursting with gamey juiciness. I’m having take-out!
A stack of grilled souvlakia lined up like soldiers comes next. Oh goody more pork, for pork lovers. A hand squeeze of lemon and, oooooh, that memorable oregano taste, and a fatty burst of porky flavour. My taste buds are dancing. It ‘s the simple taste of Greece, and immediately the sun is shining – you need nothing else, the dish is perfect in its simplicity. ‘Fantastic!’ says Caning.
We raved so much over the wild boar, that we are pressed to try another some more. This time, thick chunks of boar, soaked in red wine, have been stewed slowly with vegetables and finally plunked on top of a heap of home made tagliatelli. What a treat! The slippery pasta is fantastically fine and the tender meat bounces with flavor and fills our mouths with joy. Flavours of rosemary and thyme triumph in this original dish. Mmmm! Nero D’Avola, a heavier red, it’s a great tipple with this hearty dish. Suitably, for a wine from Sicily, it has a dry, slightly volcanic flavor, with just a hint of honey on the front.
Giovanni refuses to let us leave without Baclava and I am only grateful that generous chef Giourgiou offers to share his precious Metaxa (Greek Brandy) with us as a digestif first. This proves to be a 12 year old grand Olympian Reserve Metaxa with a great body and a harmonious honey tinged flavour. ‘Efkaristo Giourgiou!’ I’m delighted to have tasted this delicious nectar, and now I feel ready for just a touch of dessert.
Baklava is layers and layers of the lightest, flakiest pastry interspersed with a dense toasted walnut and almond filling; the whole thing soaked for a day in sensuous cinnamon syrup. ‘It’s so moist,’ moans Monica as her spoon sneaks back for more. Despite pressings of seconds from our generous host we are replete. Giovanni has exemplified the hospitality and flavours of both Greece and Italy and it has been a delightful meal altogether.
The Italian dishes are delicious but I believe the Greek side of this menu is the only chance to eat real Greek flavours in the city. It’s certainly the best Greek restaurant in KL. So if you want a taste of this sun filled country through its food pop down for a souvlaki or a taste of that yummy special, Stifado.
Giovino also offers wine retail and a selection of cold cuts and cheeses imported from Italy, as well as superb sausages – all can be purchased to take home with you…
Reasons to visit: Traditional, fresh Greek and Italian food the way ‘mamma’ made it. Tasty, well cooked with bundles of flavour. Great value too.
Wine Shop and Greek and Italian Restaurant
Changkat Bukit Bintang
50200 Kuala Lumpur
+6 03 2141 1131