Chefs Ace Tan and David Lee tell all about their new mod-Asian Restau­rant Ards


Chefs Ace Tan and David Lee tell about their new mod-Asian Restau­rant Ards

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“‘Ards’ also stands for ‘Asia, Roots, Dis­tinct, Sin­gu­lar’— keywords we iden­tify with very strongly.”

76 Dux­ton Road. Tel: 8280 2801

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