PETALING JAYA, Oct 5 — With a name like The Swimming Cow, one might wonder if the business offers aquatic lessons for cattle. (Imagine herds of Holsteins, paddling in synchronised fashion.)

But no, the witty moniker actually refers to the sous vide method of cooking meat. The meat in question here is beef, of course, which is vacuum packed and dipped into a thermal immersion circulator machine.

Sous vide isn’t a new cooking method but to base an entire restaurant’s cooking philosophy on it takes a certain degree of nerve.

Courage isn’t in short supply with the founders of The Swimming Cow — Ken Lee, Nicholas Ng and David Mo — who have had to navigate the difficult waters of the pandemic and several lockdowns when they first opened.

Experience in the food and beverage industry has helped. Lee is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Sydney; Ng an experienced chef trained in different cuisines; while Mo is their key person for digital marketing. Even then, why go the sous vide route?

The Swimming Cow trio (left to right): David Mo, Ken Lee and Nicholas Ng.
The Swimming Cow trio (left to right): David Mo, Ken Lee and Nicholas Ng.

Lee recalls, “In 2019, there was a massive in-flow of high grade beef such as wagyu and Angus beef. Many restaurants started serving them but it was hard to find a good place that served good steak with a consistent quality at a good price. As a chef, I found the sous vide method and fell in love with it right away.”

As the sous vide method was relatively new in Malaysia at that time, Lee had to import the sous vide circulator from overseas and took his time to master it. He adds, “The action of dropping vacuum-sealed protein into the heated water bath has always been referred to as ‘going for a swim’ in the sous vide community. Hence the name The Swimming Cow.”

“Going for a swim” makes for tasty, tender meat. Take the tomahawk steak, for instance. This cut is basically a ribeye with a good portion of the rib bone left intact. This thicker, Frenched bone-in steak clearly benefits from the sous vide way of preparing meat.

Vacuum packing the tomahawk steak for 'sous vide' cooking.
Vacuum packing the tomahawk steak for 'sous vide' cooking.

Ng shares, “Sous vide is a controlled temperature slow cooking method that guarantees the ‘doneness’ consistency of the protein if done right. There was a time where we had to do a lot of R&D to make sure we achieved that but once we got it right, it’s an almost foolproof method.”

Due to the longer time required to prepare the steaks this way, The Swimming Cow began as a reservations-only restaurant. This way the kitchen could estimate the number of customers coming each day and mitigate food wastage.

Over time as their brand grew, the restaurant started having more walk-in customers. This was when they adapted accordingly; it was simply a matter of preparing ahead of time to accommodate a greater volume of diners.

Although The Swimming Cow is a relatively new restaurant, the journey has been a long one for the team. Mo explains, “We started renovations in March last year. Our third day in and Malaysia went into its first lockdown for Covid-19. Renovations were postponed and we were only able to complete it in July 2020.”

Preparing the tomahawk before 'sous vide' cooking using a thermal immersion circulator machine.
Preparing the tomahawk before 'sous vide' cooking using a thermal immersion circulator machine.

The Swimming Cow officially opened its doors a month later, in August 2020. Ng says, “We had a very good crowd as that time was a more relaxed period with lower daily cases of Covid-19.”

Introducing a sous vide centric approach to steaks meant taking the time to explain it to customers. Not everyone understood it from the get-go.

Lee shares, “As we all know steaks are best eaten medium rare, and we were so adamant about it that we refused to serve customers anything else but this doneness. Because of the cooking method, it captures all the juices in it so you will not have a plate full of blood half way cutting into your steak.”

But never say never. As the restaurant’s customer base grew from a younger segment to include older diners, the trio has now eased up by doing the doneness of their steaks up to medium well when requested. But yes, the default doneness will still be medium rare.

According to Mo, regulars tend to return for the dishes they love best. From their fresh handmade pasta — that is rolled only when the customer orders it — to the creamed spinach that is a go-to side for pairing it with their steaks, everyone has a favourite at The Swimming Cow.

Freshly made fettuccine and spaghetti.
Freshly made fettuccine and spaghetti.

He shares, “If we have to pick one, it will have to be our Australian Wagyu Striploin MB6. We have gone through many different breeds of the same marbling of Australian wagyu to ensure our customers enjoy the best steak there is.”

As this is Australian wagyu and not Japanese wagyu, the meat has a more balanced fat to meat ratio. By using their signature sous vide cooking method, the team has managed to retain all the steak’s precious juices and serve it at the appropriate doneness.

The wagyu 'don' is beefed up with pickles, fried garlic chips and an 'onsen' egg.
The wagyu 'don' is beefed up with pickles, fried garlic chips and an 'onsen' egg.

In the beginning, The Swimming Cow only took in dinner reservations. However, the various lockdowns over the past year forced the restaurant to pivot their business strategy towards delivery and expand their hours to target the lunch crowd as many customers were working from home.

This meant expanding their repertoire of steaks, perfect for dine-in meals, to include easily packed rice bowls and even sandwiches to appeal to the delivery segment. Which didn’t necessitate a drop in taste and quality; the shift merely broadened their reach.

Now customers may enjoy their wagyu don — beefed up with pickles, fried garlic chips and an onsen egg — from the comfort of their own home. Freshly made pasta such as fettuccine and spaghetti can be delivered too; and who wouldn’t enjoy some sumptuous and unctuous pappardelle beef ragù?

Sumptuous and unctuous: Pappardelle beef 'ragù.'
Sumptuous and unctuous: Pappardelle beef 'ragù.'

Lee says, “The past one year has been tough, and the next year will not be easy. We just reopened our doors for dine-in in September with strict SOPs in place. Our focus will be back to basics, which is to provide a cosy, chill dine-in experience for our customers to enjoy good quality steaks at an affordable price.”

To welcome better days to come at The Swimming Cow, there will be new dishes in the pipeline. These include a 36-hour sous vide braised beef cheek, while non-beef diners will now be able to enjoy a variety of seafood dishes.

The waters have been rough but the tide is turning. We can hope for things to improve. For the meat lovers at The Swimming Cow, and for all of us.

The Swimming Cow

29, Jalan SS20/11, Damansara Kim, PJ

Open daily (except Mon closed) 11am-3pm, 6-9:30pm

WhatsApp/Call +6017-207 0783 for reservations

FB: facebook.com/theswimmingcow/

IG: instagram.com/the.swimmingcow/