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.
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.
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.
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.
Pickled for five days, this opening number undeniably left a potently sour (and slightly bitter) impression that gave my palate tingles.
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.
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.
Whoever refutes the axiom that chicken soup is good for your soul, you need to try this next dish right away.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
And yes, it’s called Fish On Fish? as it rests on a fish-shaped plate, in case you were wondering.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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