Saturday October 6, 2012
Interior designer Eric Leong's passion for Italian food
Story and photos by ALICE CHING
Décor king Eric Leong relishes his 20-year reign as Malaysia’s favourite interior designer at Villa Danieli.
ERIC Leong’s return to Villa Danieli for lunch recently was a homecoming of sorts for the celebrated interior designer. After all, it was about a year ago when he filmed an episode of his popular interior design series at the restaurant.
Upon discovering Leong’s passion for Italian food, Chef Alessandro Graziosi pulled out all the stops to whip up a sumptuous feast for him. In turn, Leong dug in with unabashed gusto as a show of appreciation for the chef’s efforts.
Tucking into our exquisite starter of Poached Seafood Salad of roasted cherry tomatoes, pitted olives, onion, fennel carpaccio and basil leaves with strawberry tomato coulisse and fresh lemon oil, Leong cheerfully shared with us his secret to staying trim.
“I’ve avoided eating white rice in the last two years and have managed to lose 20 kilos,” he said proudly.
“One cannot stop eating rice overnight so I reduced consuming it gradually, giving my body time to adjust. Nowadays, I only eat white rice whenever I have sushi.”
Admiring the two appetisers – Tuna Tartar (seared tuna slices with sea salt flakes, tonnata (tuna sauce) foam and sliced black truffle); and Burrata with Mediterranean Salad (buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomato, shallot, kalamata olives and basil salad) placed before him – Leong admitted his penchant for spaghetti carbonara, that quintessential Italian pasta dish with white cream sauce.
“My family and friends know I’m partial to spaghetti carbonara and would order it at every Italian restaurant, be it locally or abroad. I actually like how the Brits cook it; the sauce is thicker and creamier than the Italian version,” professed the ID expert.
“I think my love for Italian food stems from my frequent visits to Milan, Italy, for its annual design fair.”
Leong was smitten once he took a bite of Villa Danieli’s Frutti de Mare Spaghetti. “The harmonious blend of flavours in this dish is superb; the seafood’s natural sweetness is evident amidst the zesty mixture of garlic, chilli and roasted cherry tomatoes.”
While extolling on the buttery tenderness of the Beef Tenderloin with Seared Foie Gras, Honey Marsala Beef Jus, Pumpkin Mash and Sautéed Garlic Vegetable, Leong dwelled on how exciting his life has been after he burst into the limelight as the bubbly host of Casa Impian, Malaysia’s first-ever interior makeover TV show, back in 2001. His flair for transforming ordinary interior spaces into stylish abodes has earned him the title of “Raja Hias” (décor king) among his legions of fans. Since then, Leong has gone on to become a prolific author, columnist, international speaker and product ambassador.
In between mouthfuls of Turbot T-Bone with Eggplant Confit, Blanched Zucchini and Mediterranean Seasoning, the head of interior architecture and design school at The One Academy told us he not only lectures at the college’s Subang, Penang and Beijing campuses but also at Teesside University in Britain.
While the restaurant staff tempted us with more of the chef’s signature specialities – Seabass Ravioli (succulent half-moon parcels of potato, ricotta and lemon with seabass and cherry tomatoes), Seared Cod Medallion (stewed with berry capers, taggiasca olives and tomato shellfish sauce, chick pea olive oil mash) and Chicken Cacciatore (roast spring chicken in rosemary white wine sauce with tomato, olive and roasted potatoes) – the ebullient Johorean admitted that he also has a weakness for flavourful local delights such as Sarawak laksa, curry mee and char kuey teow.
“I would indulge whenever I’m in Penang but then I make sure I run for an hour twice weekly at the gym. Sometimes, I climb the 19 flights of stairs up to my apartment,” he said with a laugh.
Reminiscing about his years growing up in Johor Baru, the Kluang-born Leong recounted how much he missed eating tauhu bakar, his favourite snack as a college student.
“The combination of grilled stuffed beancurd with crushed peanuts and sweetish rojak sauce is simply unforgettable.”
As our lunch wrapped up with decadent treats of Tiramisu and Ricotta Cheese Tart with Lemon Sauce, Candy Zest and Fresh Strawberry Compote, we asked the intrepid traveller if there was anything that he doesn’t find agreeable.
“Oh yes, I still shudder at the memory of eating raw beef mixed with a raw egg when I was in Korea.”
True to his bold and stylish approach to life and his chosen vocation, Eric Leong confirms he will continue to raise the interior design bar in Malaysia while helping young, upcoming ID talents to realise their interior designing dreams.