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Audacious but solid cooking at Audace
2 Dickson Road
Open daily from 7.30am to 11pm.
IF necessity is the mother of invention, audacity must be the brother of misguided intentions.
Maybe it's just us, but telling someone you're audacious before letting them come to their own conclusion is a bit like saying: "I am about to tell you a joke. It will be funny."
Audace is short for audacious. Because, well, it wants to push boundaries. Challenge expectations about food. All well and good, but what we'd really like to do is report Audace to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Paper Products because it is incredibly mean to its menus.
At first, we assume that maybe the server had a bit of a security blanket issue when we notice him carrying a picnic basket all around the restaurant before finally stopping at our table with a smile that says "I'm being audacious". He opens it and asks us to help ourselves to the balls of paper all crumpled up inside, like escapees from nearby waste baskets. "Here's your menu," he says.
We don't understand. "Why would you crumple up perfectly good sheets of paper?" To which the reply is, "Oh, it's just to be fun. As a surprise." So we make our order from a tatty piece of paper, after which it's crumpled up again, ready to be abused by the next diner.
Maybe after its first life as Cocotte and its second, temporary stint as an Anglo-Indian Meat Smith mash-up, the restaurant in Wanderlust Hotel needs to spin a new tale to get diners out to its outpost in Little India. So it plays really loud music and makes you sit on eclectic metal chairs while a French chef with a Michelin star background dishes up contemporary bistro cuisine made from fresh ingredients hand-picked daily from the nearby Tekka market. Like, uh, octopus?
We don't know how far the cephalopod travelled to get to Tekka but it's well-braised, almost to the perfect point of being tender yet retaining a resilient bite, served with grilled whole spring onions, sweet onion puree and hazelnuts (S$19). It's predictable, but boasts reliable, familiar flavours and a confident hand in the kitchen.
An endive salad (S$11) is a nice idea if not a complete success - refreshing endive spears in a tart lemon dressing with lemon paste, and crispy chicken skin crackers that even out the raw leaves with a rich, oily crunch. But the flavours are too fleeting to leave much of an impact.
The roast duck breast (S$24) offers more potential - its thick hunk of meat gives your jaws a satisfying workout. Some bits are too gristly but the rest of it is enjoyable, particularly with the black polenta - creamy and grits-like, with a lot more butter in it than we should be eating. But we pretend otherwise and polish off as much as we dare. Chestnut mash is a nice touch, even if a little too similar to the layout of the octopus. We make a mental note to visit Tekka market to buy ourselves some nice duck breast, chestnuts and octopus the next chance we get.
The menu's highlight seems to be the beetroot pork belly (S$38) - a sharing portion for two that suffers a bit of an East-West identity crisis. By all indications, it looks like Chinese braised pork with its glistening, syrupy glaze and bouncy, fat-dense layers that should be encased in a fluffy white bun. But here it's treated like a luxury roast, carefully carved by your table and then presented in neat slices, flanked by - of all things, slow roasted beetroot.
Bite into the pork and visions of dongpo rou dance in your head until your brain registers an unfamiliar tanginess from the beetroot the meat has been marinated in. The beetroot itself is assertively sour on its own, until you take a bite of both the vegetable and meat, and it dawns on you how the tartness works its magic on the pork fat. Still, we can imagine how it will be a hard sell for Asian palates.
Desserts are surprisingly low-key - a simple brownie fighting for attention with an equally dominant-flavoured peanut ice cream (S$11) and an under-poached apple in a syrupy nectar "soup" with a refreshing coriander sorbet (S$10).
There's some solid cooking going on at Audace even if it doesn't exactly bowl you over. Which may be a good thing after hearing about some pretty zany dishes in early-opening tastings which don't seem to be on the menu anymore. Maybe Audace shouldn't get too hung up about being audacious and try some other adjectives instead like "honest", "unpretentious" or stick its neck out and try for "progressive".
Meanwhile, we've embarked on a rescue mission of its menus - stealing the crumpled victims and bringing them home to iron them straight and finding them a new forever book to live in...
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.