There is something about Fifty Tales. Maybe it is the perennially appealing story of young friends finding their way in a harsh world. Maybe it is their earnest attempts to shine a spotlight on their culture, against the challenges of ingrained prejudices and cultural cringe. (At their now-defunct Chū noodle bar at REXKL, a red neon “Not Ramen” sign glares defiantly from the ceiling, staking a place for their Chinese-style handmade egg noodles in the canon of premium-priced artisan pasta.) Or maybe their food is just that good.
Whichever it is, Fifty Tales seems to have bottled some potent zeitgeist lightning, and its move from Bandar Sri Damansara to Sea Park in Petaling Jaya has created a lot of buzz. Big name chefs, some with Michelin stars, were spotted here on opening week. At one point, the restaurant sheepishly announced it had to close for lunch, as dinner the night before had seen such a large crowd that the kitchen ran out of food. I find the fallibility and openness strangely endearing.
The fallibility extends rather less endearingly to the decor. While the dining room is generally well lit and comfy, the café-style tables for two are way too small for a shared plate concept. For much of my meal, a couple of plates teetered dangerously near the edge, as if anticipating a dreaded (and dreadful) showdown with the brown-tiled floor.
Despite Fifty Tales’ stated mission to celebrate Malaysian Chinese culture, a very Western aesthetic runs through the food. You get an amuse bouche or bread service (uh-huh) in the form of steamed mantou buns with whipped lard (oh my), but the gula apong in the fat is overly sweet for an opening taste — the right dish in the right place but at the wrong time. Dragon chives with century egg sauce is basically a salade composée à la Chinoise — whip up the century egg sauce and chicken fat chilli for a delicious, unctuous salad dressing that is punctuated with the crunch of fried ikan bilis in each bite. Tiger prawns are not cooked in the advertised salted fish curry but grilled separately and laid over an assam-rich sauce with brinjal and okra. The dish drives a lot more like a European protein course with a rich sauce instead of a Chinese-style one-wok curry, and the cohesiveness suffers as a result.
One cannot visit Fifty Tales without having noodles. At dinner, only one noodle dish is served: yeasted noodles with a forceful sauce of dried scallops and truffle. While tasty and filling, the noodles aren’t the obvious hero of the dish, nor are they as texturally compelling as the gorgeous QQ version that Fifty Tales serves at lunchtime.
With only two desserts on offer, sweets seem almost an afterthought. But a kaya mochi encased in a kuih kapit-inspired egg white tuile is a mini tour de force. The generosity of kaya is a definite plus point, and I love the interplay between the tender ultra-thin mochi and crisp tuile. Co-owner Bimmy Soh is a trained dim sum chef and his delicate pastry work is the key to this dish. There is enough magic in this mouthful that I want to see more of what he can do in this vein.
All in all, Fifty Tales has gotten off to a confident start in its new home. The food is pretty decent and a little tinkering around the edges could work wonders. Service is super charming. The unflappable, ever-smiling, Buddha-like presence of the other co-owner Aaron Phua (whom some may remember as the chief cook at Chū) on the floor maintains a fun vibe in the dining room. But they really, really need to do something about those tables.
19-G Jalan 21/11b, Sea Park, PJ. Daily, noon-4pm, 6-10pm; closed on Wed. For reservations, call (012) 249 2697.
This article first appeared on July 24, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.