Rib-tickling Iberico Kitchen rules

It's the sixth dish into the review when I suddenly remember what my mother told me tersely just a few days ago: "Find another job. You're getting too fat doing all these food reviews."

She is right, and yet I push her voice to the back of my mind and continue savouring the juicy Iberico pork rib in my hand.

Nothing, not even my mother's concerns or my expanding waistline, is going to stop me from stripping these ribs clean.

Tender and succulent, the ribs coated in the chef's original sauce are the best meat I taste that night... until they bring out the honey-glazed ribs.

Sticky, slightly charred, sweet and lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds, the honey-glazed meat tears off the bone and enters my mouth easily. The meat is so juicy and full of flavours that it would be a sin to stop at just one piece. So, I don't. The ribs are priced at RM11 per 100g, and come in quarter, half and full rack sets.

This is my second visit to Iberico Kitchen, tucked in a corner lot in the middle of Oasis Square in Ara Damansara, Selangor. The Monday night crowd is dismal, but owners Wilson and Saphir Lee say that business is good during lunch hours on weekdays, and at dinner time on weekends.

"We get the working crowd for lunch and on weekends, this place is filled with families and groups of friends," says Saphir.

Iberico Kitchen opened early this year after Wilson fell in love with the taste of the meat - after tasting it at an eatery in Bangsar last year - and decided that he must own a restaurant that specialises in Iberico.

"My friends warned me that F&B is not an easy industry, especially since I don't have any background in this business. But I just wanted to give it a try and here we are," says Wilson, who worked alongside the chef to come up with the restaurant's menu.

In fact, Wilson is the talent behind the recipe for the ribs, which he himself prepared for us that night.

The husband and wife duo take it upon themselves to see that our table is laden with food that eventually it, together with our stomachs, ran out of space.

"You must try the Secreto Extra - that is my favourite dish," says Saphir. The secreto extra is Iberico's finest meat and is located under the pig's forelegs. It doesn't require elaborate preparation to bring out its natural taste.

Secreto extra is usually served a la plancha (grilled) or a la brasa (cooked over coals) or roasted. Here, it is pan-seared and served on a bed of risotto-style Spanish rice. With a RM39 (S$12.85) price tag, the fatty bits just melt in the mouth and add flavour to the creamy rice.

The Iberico pigs, native to the Spanish Iberian peninsula, have an interesting biology. The animals metabolise their food into fats and fatty acids, and retain the taste of their feeds.

"The pigs feed on olives, apples and acorns that give their meat a distinctive taste. Iberico is definitely tastier and a healthier alternative compared to white pork," says Wilson, who gets his Iberico from a local supplier who imports it from Spain.

No arguments there. The Shoulder Loin Special (RM58) and Pork Chop (RM49) are testament to that; they are flavourful and delicious to the last bite. These dishes are served with mixed salad and mashed potatoes, which can also be ordered as sides.

The Aglio Olio, served with a generous portion of sliced Iberico collar, is packed with fried dried chillies. The potent chillies are enough to sting one's eyes, but the kick it serves with the well-seasoned pasta and pork is worth a tear or two.

"The chef added the dried chillies to give it a little Asian taste. We just wanted to include a familiar local taste in this otherwise Western dish," Saphir explains.

Wilson also highly recommends the Iberico Collar Signature Fried Rice, which he says is one of the most requested.

The Chinese-style fried rice, priced at RM29 per plate, is also one of the first dishes "adjusted" by Chef Lee Chun Kit when he took over the kitchen three months ago.

"I gave the dish more textures. Previously, it was too 'smooth' … just rice, meat and no sensation. I've added crunchy pork bits to the mixture and now you can feel the different textures in each bite," says the 23-year-old.

He may be new to the industry, but Lee sure knows what he is doing as the fried rice indeed is a joy to eat. It is fragrant and yummy, and the spicy, dried chilli sambal it is served with adds "oomph" to the dish.

The chef also fiddled with the mushroom soup, made from a mixture of fresh sauteed mushrooms and homemade mushroom stock. "I stop short of blending it into a smooth puree like it was before … now you get tiny chunks of mushroom in the soup, and that gives it a whole new feel," says Lee.

We break the slice of garlic baguette into smaller pieces and dip them into the creamy, thick soup. The crunchy bread, the chewy mushroom bits and the soup bind harmoniously and the bowl gets empty in a matter of minutes.

This is when I hear my mother's voice in my head again but it gets drowned out by Saphir's suggestion to bring out a selection of tapas they plan to include in the menu soon. I protest weakly, thinking about the tiny space I have reserved in my stomach for their crema catalana.

Saphir wins in the end, and out come three tapas - Gambas Al Ajillo (prawns in garlic and chilli), Calamares Fritos (crispy fried squid served with aioli) and Champinones (sauteed mixed mushrooms in garlic, wine and cream).

By sheer will and stomach power, we demolish the tapas - if only to end the dinner, get home to our beds and fall into a deep food coma. But alas no, Saphir reminds us that we still have one more dish to go - dessert. Now, who can say no to crema catalana served with a side of watermelon cubes and mint leaves?

The warm cream and the cool melon and mint do wonders to my taste buds. Shutting in my mother's voice even further, I gleefully enjoy the light and airy crema catalana.

At that point, Wilson asks: "Sharmila, do you enjoy bak kut teh?" I just nod enthusiastically.

"I'm planning to create an Iberico bak kut teh dish, and you must review it one day," says Wilson.

Sigh... mum, I don't think I'll leave this job any time soon.

IBERICO KITCHEN

Where: Ground Floor, Oasis Square Ara Damansara 47301 Petaling Jaya Selangor
Tel: +60 03-7859 9296
Open: 10am to 10pm, Sunday to Thursday; 10am to midnight, Friday and Saturday.
Closed from 3pm to 5pm daily.