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Marco Pacetta's Italian flair at Portofino in The Venetian Macao
Sands Style / Gourmet & Wellbeing

Marco Pacetta's Italian flair at Portofino in The Venetian Macao

Chef Marco's exquisite Italian fare is winning converts at The Venetian Macao's Portofino, writes Chris Dwyer

Marco Pacetta at Portofino in The Venetian Macao is obsessed with the quality and sustainability of his produce.

It’s often said that produce makes or breaks a chef. Chef Marco grew up in the food-obsessed Italian coastal city of Naples, which has given him valuable insights into ingredients.

That knowledge and experience is crucial when it comes to crafting his Italian cuisine with Mediterranean influences. The traditional trattoria features an elegant backdrop and decor, overlooking The Venetian Macao’s swimming pools and boasting a spacious outdoor patio for a taste of la dolce vita – the sweet life.

It’s where he translates his passion for the finest ingredients into stunning dishes that transport diners straight to Italy with a single mouthful. Nowhere is that clearer than in his latest items that celebrate some of Italy’s finest plates and produce. The menu flows beautifully and is perfectly balanced in terms of volume, flavour and techniques.

Mozerlla in corrozza stuffed with Sicillian Red Prawns, tomato coulis, pesto and caviar

It starts with focaccia, burrata and cold cuts. If it sounds a simple start, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Bread is the opener to any meal, and the quality and care with which it is made speak volumes about the rest of lunch or dinner. You can tell a chef’s passion by how much he invests his time in it. Chef Marco’s focaccia is rich in olive oil, herbs and seasoning, textured to the last crumb. It is to be enjoyed with impeccable salumi, Italy’s famous collection of hams, sausages and more. The final addition is the finest Italian burrata – a mix of mozzarella and cream – that money can buy.

Homemade Tajarin pasta, lobster with lobster sauce and seasonal fresh truffle

More mozzarella follows, this time in a famed fried sandwich known as carrozza that is generously filled with Sicilian red prawns, tomato coulis, pesto and caviar. The prawns — known in Italian as gamberi rossi — are among the world’s best, rich in flavour, large in size and sought after by chefs on every continent. The home-made tomato coulis and pesto contrast and compliment in flavour and colour, then the caviar adds its classic pops of maritime saltiness. We can safely say that it is one of the best sandwiches you will ever eat.

Saturday Brunch Extravaganza is one of the main attractions at Portofino

As a proud Italian, Chef Marco is serious about pasta. Witness the chef’s Ravioli Foie Gras with Pata Negra ham, green peas and a black truffle emulsion. Preparing it is a badge of honour for Italian chefs, so one of the first things he did at Portofino was to bring in new pasta makers, ensuring that every dish only uses freshly-made pasta – as well as the classic extra Italian ingredient of love.

Making ravioli is a time-consuming task that demands patience, a steady hand and perfectly timed cooking once they’ve been crimped and folded. When the filling is as decadent and delicate as foie gras, that hand is extra cautious. It makes for a sensational and silky smooth mouth feel, as the al dente pasta gives way to the rich, creamy foie gras inside.

Pata negra ham is made from free range given vast amounts of space to roam and eat. This gives the cured ham a delicious flavour as well as a gentle kick of salt to counteract the fresh green peas. A black truffle emulsion is the final element. It’s a subtle ingredient made from black truffle and oil, providing the exquisite aroma of the fungi that the composer Rossini once called "The Mozart of mushrooms".

Chef Marco Pacetta brings his ingredient infatuation to the kitchens of Portofino

After pursuing a degree in history, Chef Marco decided to focus on his passion and attended the prestigious ALMA culinary school, where the "father of modern Italian cuisine", Gualtiero Marchesi, is its rector. His career since then has included working with some of the greatest chefs of his generation including Guy Savoy and Alain Senderens in Paris, Gordon Ramsay in London and Accursio Craparo in Sicily.

It’s no surprise that his dishes continue to wow diners. Suckling pig is a favourite in cuisines around the world, from lechon in the Philippines to babi guling in Bali or spanferkel in Germany. At Portofino, Chef Marco slow roasts the rib and belly until perfectly tender, producing the contrast of crisp crackling skin and soft yielding meat. It’s served with a salad of aromatic herbs that cuts through the richness, as well as the classic accompaniments of apples and potatoes, before a delicious pork jus gravy is added at the last minute to maximise the flavour.

The menu is a fitting testament to Chef Marco, his passion for his country’s cuisine and his simple mission of making diners at Portofino as happy as possible.