Ards: Forget About Western Elements; This Is Asian Fine Dining Done Perfectly At Duxton Road

For a country that prides itself as a melting pot of Asian cultures, we don’t have a lot of Asian fine dining restaurants. Enter Ards.

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The brainchild of Ace Tan and David Lee, the new 40-seater along Duxton Road doesn’t just shallowly feature a key Asian country in each dish of its three- to 15-course menus, but implements a continuous hodgepodge of Asian elements to present a seamless journey.

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For dinner, Ards has a seven-course menu called Dawn ($88++), and a nine-course menu called Roots ($128++). And if you have time (and the budget) to spare, there’s always its 15-course Piquant Illustration ($188++) menu. Eager to try as much as I could from Ards (without having to roll myself home), I opted for the Roots menu.

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First up was the Origin Pickle, a pumpkin pickled in rice vinegar, tangerine peel, apple cider, ginger flower, and rock sugar, and garnished with micro mints and micro dill.

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Pickled for five days, this opening number undeniably left a potently sour (and slightly bitter) impression that gave my palate tingles.

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Their 21st Egg Tart (its name a play on the idea that its rendition is the egg tart of the future; a 21st Century egg tart) features a home-made butter crust, mentaiko fish roe custard, raw corn dressed in vinegar, corn cracker, and cured mullet roe.

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The mentaiko fish roe custard, together with the delicate softness of the crust, resulted in a creamy delight that’s dense without being overly sticky. Like kuih pie tee, I’d suggest popping this whole thing into your mouth.

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Whoever refutes the axiom that chicken soup is good for your soul, you need to try this next dish right away.

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Called Mum’s Chicken Soup, this is a rich chicken broth containing chicken jus-infused wintermelon, braised fish maw, and a chicken-vegetable floss comprising kale, coriander, Thai basil, lemon and lime. Already sounds comforting, doesn’t it?

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Boiled overnight, the soup here is remarkably concentrated, thanks to the fact that the extract is derived directly from chicken stuffed with Chinese herbs. Every ingredient in this dish — the firm fish maw, especially — absorbed the soup well. However, unless you’re devilishly obsessed with salty foods like I am, you might find this stock a tad too salty to finish.

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Some dishes rely on a dozen key ingredients to make it sing. This one has 33!

Aptly titled 33 Ingredients, this medley of flavours and textures is essentially a rice dumpling roulade featuring over 20 grains with dried shrimps, gingko nuts, chestnuts, green and red beans, five types of mushrooms, fried lotus root, sea cucumber and a thick daikon sauce. Phew.

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The genius in all of this is, despite its whopping number of ingredients, it all comes together as one homogeneous dish — a perfect harmony, much like a lot of Asian philosophies, if you will.

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Called Fish On Fish?, this next dish unveiled a red grouper poached in scallop butter and seawater, served with seared scallops, pickled goji, home-made XO sauce, and a unique topping nicknamed umami snow (made up of wasabi, tapioca, and furikake).

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With grouper, the meat tends to be slightly tougher with a sinewy texture, and this was no exception. Yet, that didn’t make this dish cumbersome to eat; its firmness meant it could easily absorb the richness of the XO sauce and the tingling spiciness of the wasabi.

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And yes, it’s called Fish On Fish? as it rests on a fish-shaped plate, in case you were wondering.

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You can’t have a full feast without a starring meat, and Ards’ The Art Of Beef played this role perfectly. What we have here is a fillet of A4 wagyu, served with bamboo shoots, and an assortment of mountain yam puree, black garlic oil, and spiced beef sauce.

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Don’t be intimidated by how black this meat is; it’s not overcooked to oblivion. The wagyu is actually crusted with what Ards calls ‘black soil’ (comprising charcoal powder and mantou crumbs), giving the beef an almost-chalky texture on the outside. But once you sink your knife into it, the medium-rare, pink hue of the meat easily sees the light of day — an indication of its tenderness.

Beginning to feel a little full, I was relieved we were now segueing into the desserts; turns out I was going to get two of them.

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First, the Desserts’ Heritage, a warm, homely dish that barley buffs would love. Barley is cooked in Asian sweet soup, water chestnut, compressed peach, pickled longan, grated almonds, almond oil, and even bird’s nest.

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Served on an icecap-shaped block that, on the contrary, keeps this dessert warm, this dish almost resembled an Asian risotto made up of barley given its grainy, soft texture.

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Finally, our concluding dish was one that had quite a story to it; two of them, in fact. Called Our Childhood Memories, this dessert duo represents the pasts of both Chef Ace and David, portrayed beautifully side by side.

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On one hand, you have a mango and passionfruit jelly with pomelo, representing Chef Ace’s love for mango sago jelly growing up. Tart with a vinegary aftertaste, this was very much a palate cleanser.

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On the other hand, coffee jelly with cream cheese, reflecting Chef David’s origins as a pastry chef. Almost like a jelly macaron, this treat was creamy on the inside and had a coffee taste that was surprisingly strong for its size.

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Some fine dining restaurants focus too much on the quality of the ingredients or buzz-worthy pizazz, but they lack one thing that Ards possesses — storytelling. Even with a nine-course menu, I could clearly remember every single dish; each one brandishing plenty of character.

It’s these lingering memories that make a restaurant great, for what’s a dining experience if you don’t have any impression of it? And for Ards, with a story rooted in Asian culture, this is only the beginning.

Expected Damage: $55 $200 per pax

Ards: 76 Duxton Road, Singapore 089535 | Tel: +65 6913 7258 | Opening Hours: (Tue-Fri) 12pm – 2.30pm, (Mon-Sat) 6pm – 11pm | Website | Facebook