The birth of Rare The Food Company may be the result of a happy accident — a cooking equipment company merely wanting a showroom for its products but was informed by the management of the premises that a restaurant operator was being sought instead. But since it opened in May 2019, Rare seems to have taken on a life of its own, becoming the go-to spot for gourmets to enjoy a stunning meal amid an ambience that is refreshingly unstuffy, casual even.
Located within The Club of the Empire Residence, tucked away in the depths of the verdant township of Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Rare is that wonderful place where you can crack open a bottle of BYO Romanée-Conti to pair with a dish piled high with sea urchin, ikura (salmon roe) and seared scallops while wearing shorts and slippers. There is no beady-eyed sommelier to cast disapproving glances at you and, better yet, no poncey, judgmental diners at nearby tables to throw shade at your ensemble.
“We were looking for a showroom for GoChef, our seven-year-old kitchen equipment and ingredient supplies company, somewhere we could showcase our products and produce. And we came across this untenanted clubhouse unit,” says Ken Lai, the company’s director.
“It was near where I lived, surrounded by greenery and had ample space for parking. It was ideal! But the management body in charge of leasing told us that they needed a restaurant operator. I was quite reluctant initially as it presented a totally different operations perspective. In the end, by quite a few twists of fate, we decided to embark on our maiden restaurant project.”
Its seven man-strong kitchen is helmed by Bryan Tan, who honed his skills in Australia and locally at Mr Chew’s, Cilantro and The Point prior to joining Rare. The cuisine is firmly rooted in an appreciation of Japanese culinary culture while taking pride in being ingredient-driven, with the produce being the undisputed star of the meal. It also employs the Okinawan principle of hara hachi bu where, in order to live a long and healthy life, one should only eat until one is 80% full.
“Many first-time customers complain about the portions,” Lai laughs. “But our food, served in small sharing plates, is meant to be eaten slowly, with the main focus on quality and over shared intimate conversation. Not many understand [or appreciate this] but those who do, love our concept. This is what inspires us and drives us to keep going.”
Rare’s menu, accessible via QR code, is designed to have you start swooning and salivating in equal parts. For example, the wagyu tartare on offer (RM90) is made using A4 Miyazaki beef and served with sourdough, ponzu and wasabi while the pan-seared gyoza (RM28) is filled with Iberico and accompanied by a dipping sauce of jungle garlic. Street food fans who do not mind taking the luxe route will be thrilled with the Japanese Oyster Omelette (RM29) made using fat specimens fished out from freezing Hokkaido waters while the Carabinero Brillante (RM90) is the perfect example of comforting indulgence where each wonderfully scarlet deep sea Spanish prawn is first grilled before being sliced open, allowing its supremely flavourful juices from the head to ooze out onto a small mound of Japanese rice, serving as a self-saucing surprise.
“That’s the thing about Rare. It’s all about the ingredients,” Lai affirms. “We take great pride in the produce we bring in. It is not easy to understand the difference between a tennen (wild-caught) tuna and a farmed one unless you are in our business.”
Although few good things occurred as the result of the Movement Control Order (MCO), he does share a heartening incident. “As much as possible, we like to use locally sourced produce. Malaysia has an abundance of farming land and we have great produce. However, much of it is sold to bigger economies like Hong Kong and China. During the MCO, we could get more of these as the export chain was interrupted.”
This resulted in a special of the day — deep-fried local tilapia, aged by the Rare team for nine days prior, and served with konbu butter and pickled papaya. “We were fortunate to find a farmer who grew tilapia in natural spring water, which he backwashes every day in an aquaponics environment. The result is amazing fish that is both clean and tasty,” says Lai.
“He also knows how to ikejime (a humane technique of killing fish while preserving the quality of its meat) the fish immediately after harvest, before sending it to us. Many appreciate great produce but are unwilling to pay the price for it. My advice to diners is to start appreciating better produce and to learn the difference. There is a reason why the sweet, fruit-like Amela tomatoes we serve cost over RM200 a box versus the RM10 ones you get out there.”
The overall dining experience at Rare is highly efficient and friendly. Our server for the evening, John Rafael, was particularly knowledgeable and enthusiastic, pointing out key items to try while patiently explaining the specials, all the while being smiling yet unobtrusive. We ate our way through most of the menu in about two hours and Rare’s semi al fresco space made it a joy to linger over yet another glass of wine while luxuriating in the pleasure only a post-meal stupor can afford.
Rare’s wine list is thoughtful and well-priced but its RM30 corkage for wine (sparkling or otherwise) makes it a superb venue at which to play mix, match and experiment. If you plan to go, it would be wise to pre-order the soy-glazed Iberico Ribs (RM175/kg) — a detail, alas, we were not privy to. Rare may be founded on the principle of hara hachi bu but you would agree with me that another seemingly untranslatable Japanese word — kuidaore, or to eat yourself into bankruptcy — may well apply here too. After all, one Carabinero prawn, as you will agree with me after dining at Rare, is scarcely enough.
Rare The Food Company, Empire Residence, The Club, 1st Floor, Jalan PJU 8/1, Damansara Perdana, PJ. Tues-Sun, 5-10pm. 016 640 4257.
This article first appeared on Aug 31, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.