Newly opened opened along Duxton Road, modern-Asian fine dining Restaurant Ards is a venture between two chefs Ace Tan and David Lee.

One segued from advertising to professional cooking seven years ago. Another did a culinary arts diploma in Taiwan, then worked in kitchens there as well as in Australia and Singapore. Meet Ace Tan, 36 and David Lee, 24, who have taken the plunge to start a New Asian fine dining restaurant. Called Restaurant Ards, it opened on Duxton Road last month.

Realising his passion was in food, Tan made the switch after three years in advertising, working his way up, first at casual restaurants then at fine dining establishments such as modern European restaurants Pollen and Bacchanalia. The Singaporean chef’s last stint was with Les Amis, Singapore’s temple of French gastronomy, where he was chef de partie. Such experience taught him that every detail counts when conveying a concept or story to the diner.

Chefs Ace Tan and David Lee in action behind the kitchen counter.

Chefs Ace Tan and David Lee in action behind the kitchen counter.

In Lee’s case, his stay in Taiwan gained him a deep appreciation for agricultural produce. The Malaysian also learnt techniques like the art of ‘wok hei’ or breath of a wok from working at Taiwan’s famous ‘kuai chao’, literally translated as ‘quick-fry’ stalls. A three-month stint at Ben Shewry’s vegetable-centric Attica restaurant in Melbourne followed. This and later positions at other restaurants like Pollen in Singapore as chef de partie further entrenched his respect for the quality and provenance of ingredients. What ties the duo together is a deep respect for Asian produce and a desire to showcase its unique flavours to the world.

We first met at Pollen at Gardens by the Bay back in 2015. We were working at two different stations and did not get to interact much. But at a team gathering after work one day, we started talking about our passion for food and our goals in the culinary industry. We found that we shared the same dream of setting up an Asian restaurant one day. We put this into action when the right investor and restaurant space came along.

Second level of Restaurant Ards, a slightly more private space

Second level of Restaurant Ards, a slightly more private space

We named it Restaurant Ards because ‘Ards’ sounds like the word ‘arts’, and it symbolises our style of cooking using Asian ingredients and creating unique flavour combinations. It is also an acronym for ‘Asia, Roots, Distinct, Singular’. These are keywords that we identify with very strongly.

We wanted it to be a fine dining restaurant because we appreciate the details that come with a fine dining establishment. That’s our style. More importantly, Restaurant Ards is about creating a dining institution that represents Asia. It’s meant to be timeless and unique, not about following trends.

For us, New Asian cooking is about using Asian produce and creating flavours and pairings that have yet to be seen, such as the 21 Egg Tart, our 21st century take on the egg tart. It’s one of the savoury snacks served at the beginning of the tasting menu, made up of fish roe custard, raw Japanese corn dressed in vinegar and cured mullet roe (乌鱼子) from Taiwan.

One of Restaurant Ards' dishes, 21 Egg Tart

One of Restaurant Ards’ dishes, 21 Egg Tart

We also emphasise drawing out the natural flavours of a dish. One example is Mum’s Chicken Soup, which consists of 18 types of grain, braised fish maw and chicken floss. The broth is the most natural umami essence of the chicken; it is 100 per cent chicken jus that comes from steaming the fowl stuffed with a variety of Asian and Chinese herbs. It was inspired by our childhood days of pouring the jus of steamed chicken over our bowl of rice. In another dish Fish on Fish?, we cook fresh fish in bamboo leaves and seawater, which is then clarified with seaweed butter and sea herbs. This method retains the flavour of the fish in the most natural way.

One of Restaurant Ards' dishes, titled Fish on Fish?

One of Restaurant Ards’ dishes, titled Fish on Fish?

We can’t wait to introduce other dishes like our soybean skewer. It comprises tofu made in-house using soymilk, then dressed with caramelised soy sauce and soymilk reduction and topped with crispy black moss. The skewer is served on a charcoal grill, which imparts a smoky finish.

Our Asian focus extends to sourcing our ingredients from across Asia. For instance, we get our chicken from Malaysia, peppers from Cambodia, and seafood from Japan and Taiwan. Recently, we flew to Sabah, David’s hometown, to visit potential dairy suppliers. Desa Cattle Dairy Farm, with green pastures overlooking foggy mountains, looked like a scene right out of a movie. The milk their cows produce tastes pure and natural. We also went to Evergreen Livestock Farm and were impressed with how owner Datuk Yap Yun Fook practises sustainable dairy farming.

The first level of Restaurant Ards

Main dining room of Restaurant Ards

For now, our drinks list is made up of 60 per cent wines and spirits from Asia. Think makgeolli, sake, soju, shochu and plum wines from Japan, China and Korea. The rest is made up of Old and New World wines. Our target is to eventually have a list that will feature 90 per cent of beverages from Asia.

Everything we put up at Restaurant Ards is a collaboration. Every dish—from our 15-course dinner tasting menu to set menus for lunch and dinner—is a combination of both our ideas. Each of us has our own approach to how we do things. For instance, Ace tends to be calm and goes through everything to make sure it’s fool-proof first before acting, while David can be bullish in his approach. But when we work together, we complement each other well.

76 Duxton Road. Tel: 8280 2801

This was first published in Wine & Dine’s October 2017 issue – The Seafood Issue, ‘Chef Du Jour’

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