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  • Press Release


by The Prestige (Malaysia) Magazine "Indulgence"

December, 2019 Issue


Name a dish Malaysia is famous for, chances are that the steak isn’t the first to ring out between the ears. Yet for a country whose diverse culinary tradition can’t be summed up simply by a fork and a knife, we now boast one of the top steakhouses in the world. Vantador, which prides itself on dry ageing, has been named by international travel portal Big 7 Travel as one of Asia’s best steakhouses.

There is no tiresome-looking diner or an opulent hotel restaurant here. On the contrary, waltzing into Vantador, or the dry-aged steak boutique as it is called, is an organically stratified experience much like the steak it serves. A dry ageing fridge sits on the left of the entrance, wherein primal cuts of beef are hung to dry. If one still doubts Vantador’s credential as an expert of steaks, look no further than the custom-made Asado grill that engenders heat and irresistible aroma while functioning akin to a centre piece on the ground floor and bewitching patrons at the same time. Tracing its invention to the Argentinian Pampas where cattle roam freely, the Asado grill is the marrow of local culture and social events where ranchers converge and the barbeque is a staple. Vantador was the first steakhouse in Kuala Lumpur to own an Asado grill.

Gaze upwards from the ground floor dining hall, one may realise Vantador is a cavern for meat lovers in the most literal sense. The central part of the three-storey steakhouse has been remodelled and transformed into an atrium. The added breadth to the walls of the steakhouse results in the walls becoming a private oeuvre to Vantador founder and serial restaurateur Leon Gee’s quirky collectibles. A flight of stairs leads to a bar with casual seating on the first floor, while the top floor houses private dining rooms which have gained popularity in becoming a refuge for VIP patrons who value privacy while tucking into a hearty plate of dry-aged Rubia Gallega – Vantador’s signature but also a serendipitous discovery.

As the only steakhouse in Kuala Lumpur that offers the prized beef on its menu, it was a time of crisis when wagyu was in short supply a couple of years ago that prompted Leon’s meat supplier to offer him a taste of Rubia Gallega. “In the first year, a lot of customers demanded the steak to be cut in a certain weight, instead of a required thickness as the way it was meant to be done,” Leon opens up on the initial struggle of the steakhouse in instilling the right way to cook a steak among diners.

Considered by many to be the best beef for steaks, the Rubia Gallega breed is often raised for at least eight years before it is deemed suitable for consumption. Due to its ripe age, to achieve a palatable texture, the meat has to undergo the dry-ageing process in order to break down the tough connective tissue. It isn’t the melt-in-the mouth wagyu and it is unapologetic for its rich texture and intense flavour. These days, patrons of Vantador are cognizant of the stark differences between the meats and one could opine that the steakhouse has succeeded in educating and elevating the steak scene locally.

Started from the bottom, Leon’s entrepreneurial career was a tumultuous one. The mechanical engineering student had a failed restaurant venture early on in his career that only served to spur him to eventually right the wrong. He went back to work for others and educate himself on the ins and outs of business. “I was a bartender; I was in sales; I learned how to manage restaurants. I would go into the kitchen to learn how chefs do their things when I had no business to be there,” he reminisces, adding that his interest in F&B started in college when he had to work in restaurants as a means to support himself financially.

When it was time to give it another go, Leon went into operating an F&B kiosk in a shopping centre. It proved to be a success as one kiosk spawned another and then a few more. It paved the way for him to establish proper restaurants in Eatalia by Brava and Naughty Babe Dirty Duck, before the founding of Vantador. It was during that period of trying time for him that Leon and girlfriend-turned-wife Tessy Tai met and whose romance bloomed into a partnership at home and restaurants.

An epiphanic dinner at Peter Luger Steak House, an institution in New York City’s vibrant dining scene, led to them wanting to create something along the line in Kuala Lumpur. While part of Peter Luger Steak House’s charm lies in its old-school interiors, for Vantador, Leon puts his mechanical engineering background to good use. Antique photographic lighting equipment was rewired to function as heat lamps to keep the steak hot after it is removed from the Asado grill and the charbroiler. The audacious move to remove multiple floor plates in favour of an atrium was another idea of his.

“The bull you see is an interpretation of a ceramic bull I bought in Spain. I had it custom made in Bali,” he says with a laugh, adding in his mind, he already has an idea of what he wants. “When I go to Europe, I will just buy and buy, before dropping it off in my warehouse and sending it back home via containers.”

Leon is quick to point out that Vantador isn’t yet complete as there is always room for improvement whether it is aesthetics or the menu. For one, despite owning an Asado grill and offering a selection of Argentinian wine, a culinary trip to Argentina is still on his to-do list. He is also experimenting with various ways of ageing.

“We have never thought we would be serving so many VIPs here,” Leon says earnestly on the most rewarding moment for him. “In the beginning, we were not prepared for it. Vantador has exceeded our goal and the result is beyond our expectation. It feels really good to be recognized and acknowledged for our efforts.”

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