by The Star "EATING OUT"
Saturday, 02 Mar 2019, 6:09 AM MYT
In many ways, Vantador is a curious mix of modern sophistication and old-world charm.
Founded by serial restaurateurs Leon Gee and his wife Tessy Tai (the people behind popular eateries Naughty Babe Dirty Duck and Eatalia), the three-storey eatery in Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, is filled with curios and antiques ranging from a 1950s-era baby carriage, old-fashioned leather trunks, a beautiful rocking horse and a movie projection light from America dating back to the golden age of Hollywood.
“I like collecting antiques, it's my passion. When I travel and see an interesting antique, I will buy it. And then when I come up with new F&B concepts, I find suitable spots to display them,” says the affable Gee, who also collects classic cars and motorcycles.
Ultimately though, the antiques are sideshow attractions on their travels, because make no mistake about it – this couple travels for food. And it was on one of these trips that they discovered the joys of dry-aged steak.
“We travelled to New York, and one of my friends brought me to a steakhouse called Peter Luger. The steak there was fantastic and I learnt that it was called dry-aged steak. At the time, there were not many dry-aged steakhouses in Malaysia. So I did a lot of research and came up with the idea that I wanted to open a steakhouse,” says Gee.
The two opened Vantador over a year ago, specialising in the dry-aged steak they had so admired in the US. They imported a dry-ager from Germany that has pride of place at the entrance of the restaurant. Premium steaks like Rubia Gallega (a Spanish breed of cattle) are aged in the dry-ager for 30 days, in temperatures that are close to freezing point.
What is so special about dry-aged beef?
Dry-aging ekes out moisture from the meat, and this evaporation allows for more tender meat as well as more intense flavour development. The dry-ageing also contributes to weight loss, so after the ageing process, the meat can lose up to a third of its weight, which is why it is largely favoured by more bespoke steakhouses.
On the other hand, with wet-aged steak like wagyu, meat is typically vacuum packed to lock in all the moisture. This often results in that malleable, melt-in-the-mouth quality that people so love.
At Vantador, both an imported broiler as well as a South American asado grill are employed to execute a perfect char on the meat, ensuring a crunch on the outside that yields to medium rare meat inside.
“The benefit of the grill is that besides getting the char, we will also get the smoky flavours of the grill,” says Tai, who adds that the broiler is typically used for larger cuts as it yields more even results.
When ordering your steak, you can even choose the thickness that you're after, as the restaurant offers options ranging from one inch to two inch thickness.
To begin your steak-cation at Vantador, try the Rubia Gallega ribeye (RM85 for 100g). The Rubia Gallega is distinct from other cattle in that it is typically slaughtered only after it is between eight to 15 years old (by comparison, most cows are slaughtered at about two years). As a result, this old cow is massive, often tipping the scales at 500kg!
Vantador's dry-aged Rubia Gallega is superlative – the meat is done to medium rare perfection and each slice reveals a delicate pink blush in the middle and a charred exterior that has an almost crust-like consistency.
Flavour-wise, the steak is intensely bovine and tender with a captivating chew and a beguiling cheesy aftertaste, not unlike blue cheese. If you're after a memorable piece of meat, this one's a winner.
The dry-aged Red Gum porterhouse (RM50 for 100g) offers a different flavour odyssey, one that leans very heavily towards a more pronounced meaty experience, with a strong beefy quality taking centrestage.
Perhaps what will no doubt be a crowd favourite is the full-blood wagyu tomahawk MB5. The eatery is currently offering a 33% discount on a whole wagyu tomahawk (RM699 promotion price) which generally weighs between 1.3kg to 1.5kg.
The humongous steak is accentuated with an assortment of grilled vegetables like portobello mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and carrots.
The wagyu is a bewitching, velvety temptress designed to seduce and sate the senses. The meat is a vivid pink in the middle, with a char on the outside that lends itself to crackly, crunchy mouthfuls.
Texture-wise, the steak is almost like satin on the palate, with fat that has been rendered to an almost putty softness. The steak also comes with all sorts of sauces on the side, and although you don't really need it (the meat is that good), the truffle Bearnaise sauce offers a lovely opulent kick.
Don't be fooled into thinking Vantador is a one-trick pony though, as the restaurant has plenty of other menu offerings up its sleeves.
You could opt to sample some of the starters, like the sensationally good Rubia Gallega roasted bone marrow (RM65). The marrow is perfection – each fat-laced mouthful is so rich and sumptuous, that your head is likely to become cloudy from all that goodness.
Then there is the seafood ceviche (RM55) which features Spanish octopus, tiger prawns and fresh red snapper with coriander leaves, shallots and red chillies tossed with a lemon avocado dressing.
Here, every single seafood element is incredibly fresh and supple. The lemon avocado dressing ties everything together beautifully, adding a lightly undulating citrusy element to the meal.
Accolades can also be heaped on the burnt fennel burratina (RM55), where charcoal-grilled fennel plays a starring role. Here, the fennel is limber with blistered char spots and a natural sweetness, while the burrata cheese in the mixture adds a creamy, cheesy dimension to this well thought-out meal.
From the mains, you could opt for the lobster pasta (RM190). While the dish is beautiful to behold, it is incredibly light and the flavours of the spinach tagliatelle with lemon butter sauce are so muted, they are barely there, although the lobster itself is cooked beautifully.
For dessert, definitely, definitely choose to indulge in the beetroot, dark chocolate gateau (RM27).
The chocolate gateau offers an intense punch of chocolate-laced flavours while the beetroot candy serves up earthy pops of flavour that are countenanced by the dry milk chocolate mousse, which adds bite and crunch. If you only have time (and the stomach space) for one dessert at Vantador, try this!
Ultimately, Tai and Gee hope that Vantador will become synonymous with steaks, an aim they are hoping to cement into public consciousness with the birth of a second outlet sometime in the future.
“We want to have one outlet in central KL, but I think with this kind of restaurant, you can’t open too many outlets because it’s quite exclusive, so I think one or two would be more than enough,” says Gee.