Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Reborn Italian joint a smarter operation

Reborn Italian joint a smarter operation

The ravioli was sprinkled with parmesan and served with sage butter.
The ravioli was sprinkled with parmesan and served with sage butter. Charlotte Pert

Reborn Italian joint a smarter operation

Dolce Italia was once a great spot. The first floor pizzeria had Mediterranean orange walls and a balcony wide open to Wat Botum park. The sounds of early evening aerobics drifted from the lawn. The place was charming, but often empty. The Italian owner was usually alone at a table, smoking. The troupe of waitresses tended to hover awkwardly. But the calzones, oozing with tomato and pepperoni, with ricotta baked into the crust, were to die for.

That has all come to an end now, as good things tend to do. The replacement, Aperitivo, which brands itself as a winery and eatery, had its soft opening this week. The old skeleton remains but the balcony that was open to the street has been glassed off and with it the soft, tropical feeling that Dolce Italia had has gone.

Aperitivo is far more polished. There’s a shiny new bar on the ground floor, by the entrance. The tables are set with napkins emblazoned with the restaurant’s new logo, a modern and smart alternative to Dolce’s dated neon sign.

The only thing unchanged is the wait staff’s lingering habits.

And, for now at least, the quiet. On a recent evening, only one table was filled. But the long and inviting new menu promises plenty of Italy’s best crowd pleasers.

The tables were well-set but empty.
The tables were well-set but empty. Charlotte Pert

The preparation pays attention to detail. An appetiser of bruschetta was rich and colourful, with three butter-soaked and crispy bites topped with creamy pesto, yellow and red peppers, pine nuts and garlic butter.

Similar care has been put into the wine list, where the history of various Italian grapes is related in detail. On Sangiovese used in the cheapest red – a $19 bottle of Rivo Al Poggio Rosso: “Sanguis Javis, the Latin origin for the varietal name, literally means ‘blood of Jove’ and it is likely that Sangiovese (aka Sangioveto or San Viaveta) was known by Etruscan winemakers, although the first literary reference to it was in 1722.”

Sadly a misprint on the menu implied that the ravioli ($10.50) would be served with Australian veal and boiled potatoes. Instead, the six squares were served alone, but smothered in sage butter and stuffed with creamy homemade pesto, spinach and ricotta.

Quattro fromaggio gnocchi ($9.50) was even better, served piping hot and a little burnt on the top. With taleggio, gorgonzola, provolone and parmiagiana combined in the sauce, it was a gloriously cheesy dish.

While Dolce hardly skimped on quantity, the new calzone aperitivo ($10.50) was a beast, puffed up like a large carp on dry land. Strips of parma ham were laid on top.

If you like pizzas the Italian way, with minimal tomato but plenty of cheese, this is the ticket: light and salty with spinach and a smidgeon of tomato sauce to complement the flavourful taleggio. As with the other dishes, it was filling but not to excess.

It was a shame, then, that dessert was little more than an afterthought. The tiramisu was hopelessly dry, with parched cream and sprinkles of cocoa powder that made everybody cough.

While you won’t choke too much on the bill, it’s not a cheap place to eat. Neither was Dolce Italia, which by the end had become rather a sad place as well as an expensive one. Despite the teething problems, Aperitivo, with smart food and perky management, will fix that.

Aperitivo, #96 Sothearos Boulevard.