October 2, 2018
Advantage, Vantador: This steakhouse has carved its reputation in the past year predominantly on meat sourced from the free-range pastures of Spain and Australia, dry-aged in German-constructed coolers. But its newly revamped menu proves that Vantador is a vanguard of vibrant creations that cruise remarkably far beyond beef, from fish prepared through Peruvian traditions to pastas that synthesise Italian and Japanese inspirations. While steaks remain the cornerstone of this restaurant, its foundations are now securely built on so much more.
Vantador's latest selection is a fount of surprises: Mackerel is typically one of our least favourite fishes, but it's terrific here, sliced tiradito-style, with the smoothly succulent fillet cold-smoked for several minutes, lending the fish a clean, lightly cured flavour that whets the appetite wonderfully, balanced and buoyed by pickled lemon, Japanese cucumber gazpacho and cilantro gel (RM58).
For a scintillating duet of seafood-based starters, order the mackerel together with the tiger prawn capellini - the delicately ambrosial sous-vide crustacean crowns a firm-to-the-bite twirl of chilled blanched pasta, made aromatic with nuances of truffles and briny with pearls of salmon roe, rounded out with the spice of pink peppercorns and umami of a dashi stock (RM35).
It takes a skilled sense of craftsmanship to come up with a compelling version of foie gras that makes the liver-loving experience feel fresh again: Encased in a blood orange dome for citrus overtones, the torchon-soft foie parfait is lusciously laced with marsala wine and brandy, paired not with mere toast but cheese grissini, each crunchy breadstick spiked with Spanish pimenton (RM45).
The wagyu beef tataki would be noteworthy purely on its own, oozing full-bodied suppleness from each slice of the marble-score-seven striploin, but what makes it extra-memorable are its accompaniments - panko-crumbed sweetbread (so few restaurants in KL serve sweetbread, it's almost a miracle when one does), Spanish padron peppers and saffron mayonnaise - contemporary tapas at their most satisfyingly sophisticated (RM52).
Even vegetables secure special treatment, taking them to further heights. Fennel - often only a supporting player on other plates - is hurled whole into the charcoal-fuelled fire, blackened on its exterior for nearly half an hour. What remains for consumption is a smoky-sweet sensation, partnered with the buttery-milky creaminess of burrata cheese and earthy uplift of extra virgin olive oil (RM55).
For a deep dose of decadence, dive in for more seafood as your main event. The uni pasta relies on top-flight Japanese sea urchin not merely for the linguine's topping but for its luxurious sauce too (RM120), while the Pacific scallops surface in full-fleshed, sink-your-teeth-into-this glory, resting on textured polenta cakes laden with truffle bearnaise and micro greens, the ideal coupling of produce from ocean and land (RM138).
The most head-turning stunner, however, is probably the Boston lobster pasta, cooked alluringly in beurre monte melted butter and laid seductively whole over spinach tagliatelle, sauteed indulgently with morsels of bone marrow, imbued with the subtle tang of lemon butter sauce for the ultimate manifestation of marine cuisine fantasies (RM190).
Though seafood is clearly a bright spot, Vantador's meat courses might be the shining stars for most customers. From poultry to sheep, the kitchen pumps plenty of pleasure into the protein - cured duck breast is cooked medium-rare, yielding crisp skin and sumptuous flesh, completed with an exceptional ensemble of gingerbread crumbs, piquillo pepper coulis and compressed heirloom tomato (RM60), while the lamb loin confiture, first sous-vide cooked before being pan-seared, is rendered marvellously complex with a medley of pumpkin puree, roasted fennel bulb, scallions, apricot, raisin and walnuts, bound together by a velvety chocolate sauce (RM95).
Speaking of lamb, Vantador is also that rare destination in the Klang Valley for Spanish-origin suckling lamb, showcasing 500 grams of grilled ribs, done justice with a perfect char that complements the primal richness of the meat, which we enthusiastically ripped off the bone with our fingers like carnivorous cavemen (RM150). Come between Thursdays to Saturdays if you want to watch these temptations and more being prepared in full public view at Vantador's open grill.
When we first visited Vantador in December 2017, the restaurant had not begun serving the Galician-bred Rubia Gallega beef that is now its pride. The meat is distinctive, originating from cattle that are at least eight years old, left to graze throughout their lifetime on lush Spanish hills. The result is meat with mature marbling and a creamy coat of fat, promising a pronounced depth of savouriness that's accentuated through at least a full month of dry-aging at Vantador, a painstaking process that also helps ensure a tender but robust chew. The rib eye chimes in at RM85 per 100 grams; tomahawks are available at RM75 for 100 grams - as far as steaks go, Vantador's Rubia Gallega ranks among our favourites for 2018.
Cavernously spread out over multiple levels, Vantador works well for a long night of lingering over potent potions.
The bar boasts several of its own original concoctions that cocktail enthusiasts should consider - true to its name, the Burnt is strikingly lit up with flaming sambuca in the skin of a passion fruit, bringing the heat up on a blend of blue curacao and rum (RM46).
Also imaginatively intriguing, the Siamese-inflected Pad Thai brings lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to vodka, mingled with Thai spices, topped with air-dried beef in an homage to the bovine specialities of this space (RM45).
Asian influences also steal the limelight for gin-based cocktails with flowery and fruity flourishes - the Gin N' Roses (RM38; gin and tonic with Japanese cucumber slices and fresh red roses) and the Screwpine (RM40; gin, pandan-infused syrup and half-cut passion fruit). With these, Vantador is the venue for cocktails in Desa Sri Hartamas.
Of course, the wine selection meets the mark too, with a roll call that rumbles from Chile to Portugal, South Africa to New Zealand. With a meal that's heavy on meat, an Argentine choice seemed like our safest bet - the Familia Zuccardi winery of Mendoza's Santa Julia Malbec (RM176) is the sort of berry-lush bottle that'll be easily finished before dessert.
Many thanks to Vantador for having us back.
38, Jalan 25/70a, Desa Sri Hartamas, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. Daily, 6pm-1230am. Tel: Tel: 03-6211-5588
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