Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Warung Leko – Indonesia’s saving grace

The Curve, Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.

 Quick! What comes to mind when you hear the name Bill Clinton?

The more informed among us may say he’s one of the most competent presidents the USA has ever had. He won a Rhodes Scholarship, widely regarded as the most prestigious in the world. He presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in US history. He was the first Democrat since the great Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second full presidential term. His government recorded a budget surplus in the last 3 years of his presidency. He has the highest end-of-office approval rating of any president since World War II. He is a highly sought-after public speaker and an accomplished musician who plays the sax (perhaps indicating a bit of an oral fixation there?).

But too many people, far more than any of us would be proud to admit, will immediately identify him as the President who served up protein shakes (straight from the tap, mind you) to a White House intern right in the Oval Office. Some (me, for one) might add that the intern in question was extremely – to put it charitably – ordinary-looking. And that, if he was going to do something high-risk like that, he should have at least gotten a hot girl to do it with.

It’s unfortunate but true: no matter what you’ve accomplished… most people will latch on to one thing, or two, or three – the things that affect them the most, or that have been sensationalised the most – and that’s all you are to them.

What I’m trying to say – having taken a trip round the world to finally come to the point – is that I am fully capable of having woefully uninformed, totally prejudiced opinions. Such as my opinion of our longtime neighbour, Indonesia.

So what do I think of Indonesia?

Well, their construction workers build your house; their domestic helpers clean your house; then in their spare time, they break in and clean out your house. They regularly export tons of choking smoke that poisons entire countries and shortens lifespans by years. And if you visit there you better be very, very careful; or have a bodyguard handy – especially if you look a little too well-off, or are the wrong colour, or believe in the wrong god.

Do ya semmelllllllllalalalalalalalalalala.... what the Indons, are, cookin'?!?!?!?! 
In case I wasn’t being clear: I really do not like Indonesia. Not one bit.

Until recently.

On a whim, for variety’s sake, we went for dinner at Warung Leko one weekend and I was delighted by what I found.

Heavenly beef ribs resting on a bed of hellishly hot sambal that hurts sooooo good.
They proclaimed themselves ‘Spesialis iga sapi penyet’ – specialists in flattened beef ribs. And boy, did they deliver. Let me describe this amazing dish. The ribs came in three meaty chunks, still on the bone. The meat was perfectly marinated, fragrant, flavourful and tender enough that they didn’t need to provide a knife like most restaurants normally do when they serve you beef. They also had a tiny amount of fat left on them that was so melty and delicious, it made me want to ask for a whole plateful of just the fat alone. The crispy, deep-fried garlic slices were more than mere a garnish, adding a garlicky fragrance and just the perfect hint of bitterness. The actual garnish of raw cabbage leaves and cucumber slices were crunchy and fresh, and great for cooling off the burn from the other star of the dish: the sambal.

The sambal was so good, I finished every last bit of it. By sheer coincidence, I happened to be wearing a T-shirt that warns those with low tolerance for spicy food to stay away unless they want their digestive systems set on fire... both ends of it.
Ah, yes, the sambal. I read somewhere that it’s made fresh to order, and only one person is tasked with making it to ensure consistency. A thin layer of it covered the whole surface of the earthenware platter the dish was served on, and everything else rested on top of it. You get to choose from 3 levels of lethality: non-spicy, spicy and very spicy. Being Malaysian, I naturally scoffed at the non-spicy version. The first time I ate there, because I knew Indonesian chillies are no joke, I decided to err on the side of caution and picked Level 2: spicy. The heat was just nice, assertive enough to cut through the richness of the beef, but not so overpowering that it blocks out other flavours. Since then, I’ve been back a few times but have yet to pluck up the courage to go all the way up to Level 3.

On a subsequent visit, I tried a variation of the ribs cooked on a hot plate and covered in a special sauce. It was just as good. The sauce – which I have come to think of as a sort of Indonesian barbecue sauce – added a nice layer of sweet-and-sour flavour to the beef. This dish also came with some sliced shallots, diced tomatoes, some sambal (of a different variety) and a wedge of lime. I didn’t think these added much to the flavour of the ribs, which were already perfect, and I rather missed the killer sambal they use on the regular ribs.

Some of the special sauce has caramelised on the hot plate and got slightly burnt. It tastes great, too - so be sure to scrape it off and add it to your rice... don't waste any! 
Now, as I’m allergic to being stabbed, I have not visited Indonesia to try out the beef ribs there, but I really can’t imagine it being much better than what we can find here at Warung Leko.

Besides ribs, they also do a pretty good ayam penyet that’s almost on par with Ayam Penyet Ria in Sunway Mentari (which will be the subject of a future post). Crispy, tender, tasty chicken; nice accompanying sambal; you know how it goes. If you don’t eat beef this is a good choice.

Ayam penyet - fried and flattened to tender, juicy, tasty perfection.
Or if you’re allergic to chicken like a (very unfortunate) friend of mine is, you might want to go for the fried tilapia. It’s marinated in soy sauce and deep fried till it’s so crunchy, you can eat the smaller bones like crackers. In spite of this, they’ve somehow managed to keep the flesh juicy and moist. It comes with a mild sambal that very nicely complements its more subtle flavour.

Fried fish with a very literal twist.
Need to fulfill your veggie quota for the day? The stir-fried kangkung is pretty good. It has a soy sauce-based flavour that’s a refreshing departure from the sambal kangkung we commonly find in Malaysia. It’s different, but good.

Stir-fried kangkung - not too big on presentation, but certainly big on taste.
I can’t say the same for the drinks, however. They had interesting names like Soda Gembira (sort of a carbonated ais bandung), Es Jeruk Degan (orange and coconut that tasted like an overly sweet orange juice with some slices of coconut flesh in it), and Teh Botol (which also comes in a box, and which I personally do not like). Most of them weren’t bad, just… different. Not different in a way that makes you go ‘Mother of God, that’s BRILLIANT!’ Just different in a way that makes you go ‘Oh, that’s different. Right. Well. Moving on.’
Es Jeruk Degan - this was supposed to be orange and coconut, but tasted like orange and sugar syrup.
Finally, I have to say something about the service. Normally, you go to shops like this and you expect efficient and polite service. But the wait staff here really surprised me with how warm and friendly they are. They were very obliging and always willing to go out of their way to provide good service. I rarely do this, but the service I got here compelled me to leave a tip, especially considering that they don’t add a service charge or government tax to the bill.

Well, it doesn’t look like Indonesia is about to stop exporting haze to our homes any time in the foreseeable future. But in spite of that, I have, happily, found at least one thing from that country which I like. A lot.

The shop is located on the first floor of the bridge between The Curve and e@Curve. Al-fresco dining available.
Snack-sized review
Amazing beef ribs. And great Indonesian food overall. Drinks are different from what we normally have; they’re not bad but not great, either. Very reasonable prices and great service. Give it a try!

Hours: Same as the mall – 10am to 10pm
Price: Nothing on the menu is above RM20. Regular ribs are RM12.50 and ayam penyet is RM8.50. Very good deal for the quality of food you get. Plus, no service charge or government tax!
Outlets: It’s part of a chain that has 40+ outlets in Indonesia. But according to their Facebook page, their only Malaysian outlet is the one at The Curve.


  1. looks really good... the sambal is mouth watering...slurp

  2. My oh my... I salivated just reading your description, without even looking at the pictures...

    1. Can go try next time if you come visit your girls here :)