Tucked away in the serene neighbourhood of Jalan Bangkung in Bangsar, Leonardo’s Dining Room & Wine Loft sits on the second floor of the mass of eateries simply known as the “Bangkung Row Restaurants” by the Maxim Image Group. Together with Cava, Lucky Bo, Opus and newly revamped sister restaurant BGR, each restaurant has its own unique style and cuisine, but none take the Spanish pork as seriously as Leonardo’s does.
Leonardo’s is situated on the second floor of the building, and at first glance exudes a somewhat mysterious aura. Just as you walk up the dimly lit steel stairs, the excitement of slowly unveiling a present is foreshadowed. Dim yellow ceiling lights give Leonardo’s a mystical yet cosy ambience but were adjusted just well for the dining room. The square tables were laid with white pristine tablecloths, that were filled with glistening dishes of Iberian pork.
Leonardo’s: An Extensive Experience with the Iberian Black Pork
Leonardo’s Dining Room is helmed by Le Cordon Bleu, London head chef Jason Tee Zhi Yuan and strives to make best use of the precious Iberico pork by using each and every part of the pig. As Tee explained: –
“We focus on respecting the ingredients. The reason why I said this is because a lot of out ingredients are imported and expensive, with most of them we can’t even find in the supermarkets here in Malaysia. For us to achieve this, we take great care of our produce once we received it to bring out the flavours without doing too much to it. Another way in which we “Respect the Ingredients” is by understanding the ingredient. By understanding the ingredient are able to combine different kinds of flavour to reach the maximum potential of the ingredients. At Leonardo’s I would recommend to try the cold cuts which is made out of 100% Bellota acorn-fed Iberian pigs. It’s so different from normal pork. You should also try the Iberico Bikini is pretty interesting; our Cheese Board, since we get most of the cheese from small farmers all over Europe which mostly can’t be found in Malaysia; and our Iberico Suckling Pig, which is a must try, as for the reason, well, you have to try to know what we mean.” — Jason Tee Zhi Yuan, Head Chef of Leonardo’s Dining Room & Wine Loft
What Is Jamón Ibérico?
Ibérico ham or jamón ibérico is the Spanish translation for Iberian ham, taking its name from the Iberian Peninsula, encompassing Spain and Portugal, and are essentially dry-cured ham. Ham made from pata negra (black foot), a reference to the colour of its hooves, not the colour of the pig, is known as jamón ibérico de bellota, or known more commonly as jamón de bellota. The same happens with jamón serrano, named after the Serrano mountain range, which are mostly made from Spanish white pigs, cerdo blanco, is also called blanco because of the colouration of the hooves, a white colour. However, only jamón de bellota is considered jamón ibérico, not jamón serrano. When mentioning jamón ibérico, people almost always exclusively refer to the 100% jamón de bellota commonly. There are 4 grades of jamón de bellota.
Black Label 100% Jamón Ibérico de Bellota
The jamón de Bellota is the champion among the four, which are made with 100% pure-breed Ibérico pata negra pigs and feed on acorns (“Bellota” in Spanish), which it takes its name from. These jamón are labelled with a Black Label tag to exhibit the status of their eminent pedigree. The pata negra are left to roam in the dehesa, the Spanish meadows, which gives the Iberian black pigs an intense flavour that allows for the development of thin legs and strong thighs. It is with this exercise that the acorn flavours permeate the meat, fat and muscle of the pig. Out of the total production of Ibérico hams, only 6% comes with a black label.
Red Label Jamón Ibérico de Bellota
These are Iberian pigs that have only been fed on acorns and are raised on the pastures of the Iberian Peninsula. They must come from a stock of 75% or 50% Iberian black pigs.
Green Label Jamón Ibérico Cebo de Campo
These are Iberian pigs that have only been fed on acorns and grain and are raised on the pastures of the Iberian Peninsula. They do not have to exclusively come from Iberian black pigs, but must be fed acorns.
White Label Jamón Ibérico de Cebo
These are Iberian pigs that have only been fed grain and are raised on the pastures of the Iberian Peninsula.
Leonardo’s Dining Menu
Bearing the aim to showcase the extensive use of the parts of the black Ibérico pork, Leonardo’s offers an array of dishes that will feed the widest spectrum of every pork eater’s taste palette.
IBÉRICO COLD CUTS
100% Ibérico Ham Señorío de Montanera
As its name indicates, this cut of jamón ibérico is a 100% Ibérico de Bellota. It’s source of origin comes from the dehesa of the Montanera between October and February which gives the black pig a substantial weight gain for a sumptuous jamón experience. The acorn’s nuttiness and earthiness from the terroir is reflected in the wafer-thin ruby red marbled jamón cut, giving it a lingering flavour and fragrant oily mouthfeel. The small white spots of fats on the ruby back thigh of the ham are evident of the natural, traditional and artisanal curing process, which indicates that the meat has been curing for at least 36 months.
JAMÓN IBÉRICO TRIO IN A PLATTER
The Lomo Ibérico is a cured loin of the Ibérico pig. It is salted and dried for over a period of 12 months, of which the length of curing ensures a full development of flavour from the salt absorption, as well as temperature changes leading to well-developed chemical reactions through the cyclical heating and cooling from the natural air of the Spanish mountains where curing factories are situated. The lomo has an even profile of meatiness. It leaned towards the leaner side, which fitted the characteristic of a pork loin being the tenderest and leanest part of the animal. It is spiced throughout with pimiento, that is, a variety of Spanish smoked paprika, leaving a unique aroma.
The Salchichón, Spanish for sausage, has a higher fat content and is seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. This lets the pork’s natural and pure flavours permeate the palette. An even distribution of meat and fat in the salchichón coupled with the simplicity in seasoning of rustic peppercorns had made it one of the world’s favourite cuts.
The chorizo are predictably seasoned with smoked paprika, and tastes stronger than its premium sister, the lomo. Heavy undertones of fermentation flavours were detected, which are somewhat reminiscent of soybean-rich local bean sauce.
Spanish Ibérico pork cured Italian style sausage bearing origins from Bologna, the sausage has a bright pink colouration and distinct small cubes of cream-coloured fat polka dots speckle across the silky and springy cold cut. The reason people love the mortadella is because of its generally sweeter, springer meat, that is perfectly delectable. No sign of olives nor pistachio found in the mortadella, as that is how the Italians do it, not the Spanish.
Pan Con Tomate
Spanish Executive Chef of the Bangkung Row Restaurants Toni Valero shared about his childhood of having jamón ibérico and pan con tomate (bread with tomato) as breakfast before school. A much lavish and refined version of a continental bread and ham breakfast experience, which is now found in Leonardo’s kitchen. Different from Italian bruschetta, Catalan coca bread is sliced into flat oval discs and are rubbed with juice pressed out of Roman tomato skins, as opposed to diced tomato salsa. This gives the finger snack a lighter and more refreshing texture to a bread course. The multitude of savouriness by a finishing dash of olive oil and pungent fresh pressed garlic, paired with crispy and mild saltiness of the coca readily gave an instant inducement of appetite.
Torres Gran Coronas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Directly imported from Spain, this Spanish Cabernet Sauvignon leans towards a full body with velvety tannins. It is sweet with strong ripe berry flavours and had a woody aftertaste of oak, complementing the earthiness and nuttiness of the jamón ibérico.
Deep fried croquettes with creamy Iberico pork filling
These golden bread-crumbed balls were crispy and flaky, and were clean on the palate, which was followed by a warm and creamy béchamel sauce after the outer crust crumbles in the mouth. The incorporation of Ibérico ham bits into the French white sauce is a twist on the original French croquette, which gave it an extra chewy texture amidst the smooth and milky sauce, quite akin to the texture of candied bacon.
Barcelona styled Iberico ham and cheese sandwich
Named after a nightclub in Spain called the Bikini Concert Hall, the bikini sandwich was first invented as a hangover food that has the embodiment and structure of a French croque-monsieur. In which case, it is a ham and cheese sandwich by Catalonian execution. The bikini is not just any basic grilled cheese and ham sandwich, as it is stuffed generously with Iberian wafer thin jamón, soft and semi-melted Camembert cheese and truffle pâté. Pocketed between butter toasts that tasted denser than store bought sliced white bread, it was delicately seared with an even surface. This bikini sandwich makes a perfect comfort food for the stomach.
Ibérico Suckling Pig
Spanish Iberico suckling pig, roast potatoes, roast broccoli and sala
Leonardo’s house specialty is its suckling pig, roasted Spanish style. The meat is roasted to perfect tenderness – succulent, and then finished off with a brown crispy skin. This signature dish of Leonardo’s rings many bells of the Chinese roast suckling pig, but with lesser crackling on the surface. The simplicity in salt seasoning accentuates the natural flavour of the Ibérico pork, leading to a full appreciation of flesh and fat. The accompanying brown sauce, a demi-glace, is thin in texture and tasted not overly rich, which adds just the right amount of umami, which also plays the role of adding moisture to the meat, which balances the greasiness of the suckling pig.
The vegetable sides were equally sporting. Roasted potatoes were packed full with flavour as a result of being cooked with Ibérico pork fat. Meanwhile, a handful of dried herb and fresh parsley further enhanced the side’s earthiness. The broccoli seemed to be water sautéed, as it retained its moisture yet had a pleasant char on the florets. Complemented with pine nuts, this broccoli was given an extra crunch. The best complement to the suckling pig was ultimately the raw salad, dressed with vinegar and pickled turnips, with high levels of acidity and freshness from the iceberg lettuce balance out the greasiness of the suckling pig.
Ibérico Bak Kut Teh
Klang pork rib bak kut teh, rice and yau char kway
This is essentially Iberian pork brought into the domestic realms of Klang town, where the Ibérico Bak Kut Teh tasted like an authentic claypot Bak Kut Teh, except it came with cleaner flavours. The inclusion of Ibérico ribs into the medicinal broth allowed a different experience of the meat as it tastes firmer in structure, which is normally owed to the uneven accumulation of fats of commercially reared pigs. The meat also maintained a level of juiciness and bounce as a result of not overcooking inside the broth for too long, which resulted in the Ibérico pork meat flaking off easily – in near uniform shreds, upon each chew.
Hercule Vieux, San Simon, Fourme, Persille and Napoléon
Leonardo’s has one of the more interesting choices of cheese as they were handpicked by Chef Jonathan from different regions of the world, sourced from small artisanal farmers.
Semi-hard goat’s milk cheese
The Hercule Vieux, which was a semi-hard goat’s cheese with coarse salt embedded within which gave the cheese a grainy and crumbly texture. The cheese was enhanced when it was paired with membrillo, orange-coloured jelly cubes made from quince which that tasted like honeyed pears. The fructose in the quince complemented the dry grainy cheese a tinge of moisture and offered good closure to the cheese’s saltiness. Though eventually upon more helpings of it, one may enjoy the Hercule Vieux on its own for the mind-occupying chewiness from the grainy salt bits.
Smoked semi-hard cow’s milk cheese
The San Simon was the only Spanish specialty on that day’s cheeseboard, is made from cow’s milk and is semi-hard / semi-soft in texture. It is rich, luscious and buttery, and bore smoky undertones.
Semi-hard cow’s milk blue cheese
The Fourme was a semi-hard French blue cheese which had mildly pungent flavours. Its brie-like creaminess and spreadability made it pair well with saltine crackers and dried fruit, figs and raisins.
Semi-hard goat’s milk blue cheese
The Persille was less salty than the Fourme, but sharper with more pungency, and thus paired well with the red wine.
Semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese
The rectangular cheese with a brown hat tucked in the middle is the Napoléon, a sheep’s milk cheese originating from the basque region of Southern France. It had gamey smokiness, and is gummy in texture.
The Leonardo’s Experience
Dining at Leonardo’s is quite a simple, yet hearty experience. They have certainly practised their philosophy in bringing out the best flavours of their ingredients – the idea that ‘less is more’ is present throughout the dinner. Meanwhile, their effort in using Spanish and other regional ingredients from different cuisines such as Italian, French and Malaysian is indisputably worth applauding. Not only because of creativity, it was also certainly well-thought in accommodating the diversity of palette preferences by different types of people, all in all, making dinner possible for people with different dietary preferences.
For more on Spanish cuisine, see Spanish Cuisine.
Leonardo’s Dining Room and Wine Loft
61-1, Jalan Bangkung,
Bangsar, 59100 Kuala Lumpur,
Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
+603 2096 2226
Daily, 5.00 pm to 12.00 am
| PHOTOGRAPHY: CHLOEE LEE |WEBSITE: LEONARDO’S DINING ROOM & WINE LOFT |