If you asked me what my thoughts on Argentinian food were, I honestly wouldn’t be able to comment much on the matter due to my limited knowledge and experience. To make matters worse, my limited exposure to the cuisine didn’t stem from a lack of interest but rather due to its microscopic presence in KL. The only knowledge I had of Argentinian cuisine was that beef is a delicacy, and so too is the Malbec wine to go with it.
So when an invitation to dine at Don Julio came up, I said yes, eager to taste some South American delights. Or so I thought until I learned from a conversation with its chef, Ramiro Moya, that Argentinian fare was only one half of the equation, for Don Julio serves both Argentinian and Italian food as a nod to its owners. How quaint!
I later also learnt that Italian food is incredibly popular in Argentina thanks to a large number of the population having Italian roots.
While my review comes at a time when the restaurant will soon undergo a location change, I believe sometime in April, I’ve been informed by chef Ramiro that Don Julio in its new home will still focus on the same core offerings that I experienced. So rest assured, dear reader, that should you wish to try what I have, you can do so at Don Julio, past, present or otherwise.
Just remember to google the place and give it a call before you head over.
Let’s dig in.
There’s something otherworldly delicious about baked cheese. Don Julio takes the simple approach with its baked provolone cheese (RM40), crowning it with a modest chilli flake and honey dressing. The sweet, savoury, combination of the cheese and honey, which is already a winning combo, goes up a notch with a touch of heat. If the goal of an appetiser is to whet one’s appetite, then this passes with flying colours.
Empanadas. Before dining at the don’s, I may have only had empanadas twice. Once at a South American festival here in KL with a friend named Peter (his wife was from Ecuador) and another at a festival in Melbourne. And I have to say, my impression of the empanada remains the same after tasting the restaurant’s take on this South American staple – it’s an iteration of our local curry puff. Reimagined for their palates. And that’s by no means a bad thing.
You see, my reasoning goes something like this. The Malaysian curry puff is already so delicious. So why not embrace a new take on such a humble street snack?
Don Julio offers two types of empanadas – prawn and beef (RM63 for 1/2 dozen; RM126 for a dozen). I prefer the prawn, a Peruvian-style empanada that uses coriander, onion, parmesan, mozzarella, and diced tomatoes to keep things flavourful without taxing the palate. Eating baked provolone will do that to you. Trust me.
If there are two of you, get the 1/2 dozen. If it’s just you, get the dozen.
The meal flips back to the Italian side – caprese salad (RM52) using homemade buffalo mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, a twist of black pepper, extra virgin olive oil and a dash of sea salt flakes. I love me a good caprese salad, and Don Julio’s came at the right time to relieve the palate.
Chef Ramiro is a man who knows his beef. Argentinian beef, naturally. He tells me that Argentinian cows are bred the old-fashioned way, meaning almost no antibiotics and that the grains and grass they eat do not have pesticides. This results in fresh-tasting cuts, with a natural flavour that can only come from good breeding and husbandry. The icing on top of the cake? The chef tells me that Argentinian beef is cheaper than Australian beef!
Which begs the question, why isn’t Argentinian beef readily available in our supermarket stores? Long story short – political bureaucracy at its worst.
However, as a chef who knows his beef and a true Argentinian who knows how to cook that beef, Ramiro can serve Argentinian beef at his restaurant simply because he’s a native and a culinary professional. Thanks to the chef, Don Julio works directly with Argentine beef farms (DEVESA) to obtain unique cuts typically for exclusive use in Argentina.
This all led to the beef slab I had laid before me. Cooked over charcoal, the medium sirloin (RM55/100g) that I wolfed down had a delicious natural beefy taste I hadn’t yet experienced. It was cooked the way a steak should, and it tasted like one. No fuss, no frills. Just a good cut of beef that needed a sprinkling of sea salt and the occasional beef jus drippings.
Can the octopus claim the title “steak of the sea”? No, I don’t quite think so. But it still makes for one heck of a main, though. Grilled Spanish octopus (RM126) comes served with crispy potatoes for heft and pico de gallo for balance. The octopus was plump with a bouncy texture, infused with a noticeable citrus element.
To my surprise, pizza was also a fantastic alternative to a protein-heavy dish. In my case, I had all three, but you get the idea.
I had the turkey pepperoni, and you’d think that pepperoni made from a lean bird would sacrifice flavour, but it was a suitable replacement. I thoroughly enjoyed the pizza here and would happily make a return just for it, along with a pint of beer.
Ok. Those who know my eating preferences know that I’m not one for desserts. But holy guacamole are the two desserts I had at Don Julio so fantastically good.
The first you see above is a Colombian take on tres leches (RM21), a traditional Latin American dessert made of three kinds of milk – evaporated, fresh and condensed. This somewhat sweet and incredibly milk-soaked cake was just absolutely delightful from start to finish despite my stomach constantly reminding of it reaching max capacity with every spoonful.
The texture is also something unique. It’s not everyday you get to eat a cake soaked in milk!
For the unadventurous and those looking for that ideal way to end the meal yet still keep in tune with the Latin American vibes Don Julio exudes, there’s dulce de leche (caramelised milk). I’m of course talking about dulce de leche ice cream (RM19 a scoop).
The ice cream was big on flavour, and it’s quite sweet, with a lovely caramel-milk tug-of-war happening in the mouth as it melts and coats the tongue. So good. I later discovered that Don Julio’s dulce de leche ice cream is custom-made by artisanal ice creamery Minus 4 Degrees, who are no strangers to dishing out unique yet impactful flavours. Makes sense. And I wholeheartedly recommend having two scoops at least to really enjoy this. What a treat.
Would I Stay Or Would I Go?
I’d stay. This is to say: I would make a return trip to Don Julio to eat some of the dishes that I enjoyed. And I recommend you make a trip too.