Restaurant Review: El Cerdo – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The first time I went to El Cerdo was also the first time I traveled to Malaysia, a couple of years ago. At that time, we discovered this wonderful “all pig” restaurant. It stood out, because it was a pork restaurant in a predominantly Muslim country and yet was very busy. The food was incredible. The suckling pig, at that time was exquisite. The skin was crispy, more like a roast duck than what you’d expect from a roast pork. The meat was tender, and there was much less fat than I would have expected. We met Warner, who explained to us the three day marinating process that they use. Although pricey, I felt it was worth it. So much so, in fact, that I planned an entire diversion from our trip in Singapore to go to Kuala Lumpur for a morning until night trip, just to take my daughters to this restaurant.

El Cerdo Restaurant - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Big expectations then! How did the restaurant fare, then?

Well, after a long bus ride (see my story on First Class buses to Malaysia) and getting lost and walking in the rain for nearly an hour, we arrived. There seemed to be considerably more staff than on our last visit.

Reservation: Excellent! I made a reservation via e-mail while sitting here in the United States about a month in advance. The manager personally replied and assured me the reservation was made and there would be a table for me. As it was, we were there shortly after opening and there were still many tables available, but by the time we finished dinner, the restaurant was nearly full. Communication was excellent.

Service: I’d say it was pretty decent. They gave the ladies a little step to put their bags on and keep them off the floor. Overall service was fairly friendly, with the Malay staff being a bit more friendly than the European staff. I didn’t try to sort it out that way, that’s just how it came out. At one point a European waitress tripped on the step that was set out for my daughter’s purse (my daughter being in the toilet at that moment along with her purse) as she was waiting on the table next to us, then took away the step when she left. This, of course left my daughter with no where to put her purse on her return other than her lap. Other than that, service wasn’t bad and again, the locals seemed pretty friendly. It fell short of the first trip when Warner himself came out and gave us the warm welcome and explanation of the process they use to cook their pigs.

Food: Not bad. The appetizers were competent, the soup tasty, the salad ok. The pig is the key, though, and here’s our take on the pig that night. The skin on the last trip was almost akin to crisp roast duck skin, thin and crispy. Tonight’s pig was not as thick as Chinese roast pork but was still decidedly thicker in skin and not quite as crisp. There was a thicker layer of fat as well, giving it a greasy flavor that took away from the succulence of the pig. The meat itself, in addition to having more fat in it, was tougher this time, and the flavors not as pronounced. It made me wonder if they still were sticking to Warner’s three day marinade schedule. The paella was colorful, but disappointing. I didn’t feel the overwhelming “ahhhhh, this was worth it” feeling I had before. My daughters, too, were a bit disappointed, after hearing for over a year (close to two?) about how good this place was. Perhaps I had built up too high an expectation. Indeed, if I had come in off the street, not knowing and remembering what it tasted like before, I would perhaps have felt the food was fine, and given an objective scale, it still would rate “just fine” in any book. It’s only that I remember when it was “spectacular” and I miss it.

Ambiance: Same as the first time I was there, perhaps even a notch better. The additional help was very noticeable and welcome. With the exception of the waitress taking away the step, There really weren’t any other missteps by the staff, and they helped to maintain an excellent atmosphere. The decor is pleasant and if you are expecting the occasional crashing of a plate (during the traditional break-the-plate ritual that follows a piglet being served) then all is well.

The Last Word: I would say if you haven’t been to a pig restaurant (and can eat non-Halal) it’s still worth a try. It’s an experience that transcends just food. It’s nice for a special night out and a chance to do something different. In spite of a tough review, it’s NOT BAD, and very decent, albeit pricey.

For me, I’ve done it twice now, and I’m ready to venture forth to find new experiences and culinary delights so I don’t anticipate returning there in the foreseeable future.

El Cerdo has a website here.

May your eating be joyous! 🙂

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