|Restaurant Ards at Duxton Road|
What comes to mind when you think of New Asian dining?
For many, it’s the dreaded thought of having to fumble through a dated Asian fusion nightmare played out with western fanfare.
Fusion may have given New Asian a bad name but two young, earnest and relatively unknown chefs, Ace Tan and David Lee, both alums of Pollen and Bridge, are trying to re-shape your paradigm with their unusual take on this cuisine dished out in the 40-seat Restaurant Ards (an acronym for Asia, Roots, Distinct, Singular”) at Duxton Road.
|Interior of Restaurant Ards|
Set in a double storey shop house with plush carpets and white washed walls bookended on one end by a pristine white-and-steel open kitchen, the space is minimally embellished. Perhaps all the better to put the focus on the New Asian menu, available at lunch for S$48++ (3 courses) and S$68++ (5 courses) and at dinner for S$88++ (Dawn – 7 courses), S$128++ (Roots – 9 courses) and S$188++ (Piquant – 15 courses).
Yes, it’s been done to death but no one does New Asian like this duo. Instead of fishing for tried and tested flavours from an South East Asian perch, Tan and Lee create original flavours that span local, oriental and occasionally Japanese influences and execute them with restraint, precision and a bit of smoky fanfare.
Restaurant Ards’ cutting edge approach is best experienced at dinner via the 15-course Piquant menu (there are smaller menus at lunch and dinner). Tan and Lee are die-hard romantics when it comes to fine-dining delivery and you should be aware that the Piquant menu will require a time commitment of about 4 hours.
If I may say so, the parade of six snacks starts out a little rocky but ends on a high.
|Soy bean skewer|
Housemade soy bean skewer served on a charcoal grill with crispy black moss scores full marks for presentation but it is let down by a tough rather than silky bite, notwithstanding the robust soy bean taste.
A gigantic Hokkaido oyster arrives in all its briny glory, aptly tamed by an aromatically sweet and fragrant osmanthus jelly and sauce. But much to our chargrin, it comes with oodles of frozen cream cheese “noodles” that clash with rather than complement the mollusc. For the one bite it proposes from a spoon, the oyster is also way too big.
Mum’s wholesome and nourishing Chicken Soup makes up for these mishaps. Chicken is stuffed with Chinese herbs and steamed for 12 hours to extract the poultry’s jus, which is served over chicken jus-infused water melon, braised fish maw, cucumber flower and chicken and vegetable floss.
|21st century egg tart|
The 21st century egg tart tastes even better than, if different, to egg tart itself: melt-in-the-mouth butter crust crowned with raw corn kernels resting on mentaiko fish roe custard completed with corn crackers and slivers of mullet roe on top.
To signal the end of the snacks course, bread course arrives as knotted genmaicha infused mantou (Chinese bun) served alongside an interesting ginseng butter dotted with matcha tempura bits and drizzled with honey. Flying colours for the ingenuity of an oriental bread course.
It continues uphill from here.
Tan and Lee’s play on traditional dumpling arrives as 33 Ingredients – a lotus leaf wrapped dumpling prepped with 20 different types of grains packed with dried shrimps, gingko nuts, chestnuts, green and red beans as well as an array of mushrooms including bamboo fungus, shimeji, shitaki, enoki and maitake. After presenting the dumplings, it returns to the kitchen for plating with battered and deep-fried lotus root, braised sea cucumber, bamboo fungi and daikon sauce. If this sounds laborious, it is. But it also earns plaudits for being so soul-satisfyingly delicious.
|Fish on Fish|
The fish course of Fish on Fish is stellar. Red grouper is slow-cooked in sea water with scallop butter and seaweed and served with housemade XO sauce alongside flower clams, wasabi-spiked umami snow, pickled goji and a drizzle of oyster broth crafted from fresh and dried oysters. No doubt there are many elements in this dish but they all corroborate for the better. If there is one thing that could improve, we’d like our fish skin crispy please.
Desserts are generally refined, demonstrating a rare restraint of flavours that are never too loud nor sweet. If I have to pick a favourite, I am quite fixated on the textures of coconut.
As a concept, New Asian is really nothing new. But Lee and Tan present a flavour approach that is one-of-a-kind and highly unconventional. I don’t expect a cuisine of this nature to appeal to everyone but you’ll be missing out if you forgo this experience based on negative hearsay. Come and judge for yourself if this is indeed your cup of tea.