Leaving no meat unturned on the grill, Coconuts KL has decided to review as many of Kuala Lumpur’s steakhouses as our pocketbook can handle. We dine anonymously. We pay our own way. We will eat minced onion, but we will not mince words. The only thing filtered here is the water. Enjoy.
Vantador is an Argentinian steakhouse in a sea of Japanese and Korean BBQs in Sri Hartamas. It’s a neighborhood that’s honestly always felt a bit on the sketchy side (if charmingly so), like you’re two doors down and three flights of stairs away from a happy ending. Half the time when you run into people you know in the ‘hood, they can’t look you in the eye.
However, Vantador has none of that feeling once you go inside. The ceilings are high, the windows bright and glossy. At the end of a row of tables is a crackling grill and butcher’s block. You can watch the chef trim your cut before you eat it. We did. It added a lot to the anticipation.
There’s a second floor if you fancy more privacy, or come in a large group.
If the setting was anything to go by, we were about to lose our shirts over this steak. It is a beautiful restaurant.
Full disclosure – we were here with our better half to celebrate their birthday. They were late, which gave us ample face time with the wine menu.
When in Rome, make like Bacchus; when in Argentina, find yourself a Malbec to keep you company. Look no further than the menu, it’s one of the two by-the-glass reds. Reasonably priced at less than RM40, we ordered a glass, and had a look at the menu.
How was the wine? Excellent. Fruity and rich without being heavy on the palate. If you like reds, go for it. And if you’re with another wine drinker, do yourself a favor and get the bottle.
Two small, crusty loaves of bread arrived about the same time our date did. Fashionably late, sure, but a couple sips of Malbec do wonder for one’s patience.
The bread was warm, the crust was flaky. They weren’t the glossy, slightly sweet variety you find in many steakhouses, more like mini country loaves. Yeasty, with an interior that told you they had been kneaded just long enough. Paired with an herbed butter that came out at room temperature — in the 20 degrees Celsius sense of the word, not the Kuala Lumpur iteration in which your butter has turned to soup.
Details like this are appreciated. Sure, it’s only bread and butter, but have you ever tried to scrape a frigid pat of butter for shavings only to find that there isn’t even flavor in your scraps? Heartbreak.
Back to the menu: Vantador offers two options: dry-aged or wet-aged steaks. All from Australia, with one Spanish-bred variety also available.
Dry-aging lets the beef aerate from anywhere between 21 days all the way up to 60 and beyond if you like your flavors funkier than George Clinton. The cut will lose more than 30 percent of its moisture, and it allows flavors to develop in ways your supermarket-to-frying pan steak just can’t. Long, chewy protein chains in the meat get broken down by enzymes into tastier amino acid-infused morsels. You release the umami (the ephemeral fifth flavor of savory je ne sais quoi). It’s science.
When the steak is ready to cook, the chef will trim the dried husks of meat and mold from its exterior. Unfortunately, this often happens after they’ve weighed it and charged you. It happened to us at Vantador. Cue our partner asking the chef if it was safe to eat the dried bits of moldy meat he was casting aside. It’s not.
Wet-aging is a new thing, brought to you by technological advances in vacuum packing and refrigeration. Meats are packed in their own juices, and the enzymes break down connective tissues without fluid loss or mold. The meat keeps its weight, and the steak is made more tender. The downside? We find steaks aged in this way a bit metallic-tasting, and nowhere near as flavorful as the dry-aged variety.
Dry-aged it is. Because it was someone’s birthday, we decided to go over the top and also order the tomahawk. Nothing says “I’m turning 33” like a Flintstone’s-sized, 1.3kg hunk of meat.
We also ordered the ceviche, spinach, fries, and the sauce sampler. There were half a dozen to choose from, and it was just easier and more fun to get a variety.
The world’s finest ceviche can be found in Peru, but we are a long way from Lima. Happily, we can tell you our mix of octopus, shrimp and snapper was without a doubt, the best ceviche we’ve had in KL to date, and this is a dish we have ordered dozens of times.
The octopus was trimmed perfectly, with nary a rubbery morsel in the bowl. The trio worked in tandem with each other, and were complemented by a traditional lemony brine that had an unusual creamy texture thanks to the addition of pureed avocado. Our date claimed they didn’t want any, but finished most of it. Order this. It’s so good that we forgot to take a photo. Sorry. Here is an empty bowl:
The evening we visited Vantador, the gentleman grilling was not the glamorous Argentinian man whose face graces the restaurant’s website. However, someone must have told him that a couple of ruffians just ordered the most expensive steak he had in the joint because he came out to eyeball us.
This is where Vantador began to dip on form: Upon seeing us, protocol would have him come out to meet the bozos who decided to drop rent-money on meat, and thank us for our frivolity. Perhaps explain to why this cut was so very necessary to order, and generally make us feel like we’ve made the right decision.
None of that happened. He came, he nodded, then returned to whatever hangar he was lurking in before. What’s the point in an open-concept kitchen if the face of the establishment would rather stay behind a closed door?
Despite that, the chef on duty did a wonderful job, and entertained our questions and queries, posing for photos when he saw us get excited over a bone. Thank you.
Our meat arrived in good time, with the waiter adding a second table to accommodate our gargantuan cut. It was beautiful.
The downside of the tomahawk is that with such a massive cut, it’s hard to get even cooking. For the most part, it was perfect throughout – medium rare. Only the very end piece was on the medium end of the spectrum. Not the end of the world.
We ordered the Iberian variety, and after all photos were taken, the first thing both of us did was pick a rich, red piece to try.
How was it? Good.
Not great? Well, it was exceptionally good, but here is the thing – for all of the wanton descriptions we just gave you of dry-aged beef, this tomahawk possessed none of those qualities. The rich funkiness, the umami, was simply not as in your face as RM75/100grams would have you think.
Was it worth it? Honestly, no. A cheaper, smaller cut would have been a better choice. Less pain on the pocketbook, and perhaps greater penetration of the flavors we were looking for in a dry-aged meat.
On to the sauces. In our less-than-humble opinion, the only ones you should ever order with the meat are the chimichurri or the beef jus. Chimichurri is an herby mix with a thousand variants. In its simplest form, it’s parsley, garlic, a bit of onion, acid, maybe oregano? It’s delish.
The crème fraiche sauce is confusing: why is this even here? The chili jam is great for fries but a saccharine insult to the cow that died for you. The parsley verde tasted like an off-brand chimichurri. The salsa verde, meanwhile, was alright – reminiscent of the mint chutney you get with thosai. But honestly, go with the chimichurri if you like it herby with a kick, or jus if you’re a classic man.
The spinach? Lovely. A riff on the steakhouse classic: Cooked with cream, but with finely chopped red onion to give it a bit of a kick and crunch.
The fries? Jesus, take the wheel. Crispy. Oh, so crispy. Fluffy inside, like a potato cloud I want to sleep on and eat at the same time. We dipped it into the aforementioned chili jam, and didn’t regret it one bit.
How would you rate it? The waiters were attentive, but the aloof chef de cuisine — the face of the restaurant — did the place no favors. Good steak, but honestly, it lacks the personal touch that makes you come back somewhere again and again. The greatest restaurants don’t just ace the food, but they make you feel like you’re at home. The friendliest faces turned out to be the table next to us, and this is something that even great ceviche and fries can’t fix.
Would you go again? Hmm. Yes, it warrants one more chance, but a hard NO to the tomahawk. Eye-wateringly expensive, and disappointing. Order a smaller steak, and maybe go on the weekend when they do the whole roasted goat.