Restaurant Cure’s New Menu: Chef-Owner Andrew Walsh Revisits His Irish Roots
Hitting the five-year mark in Singapore’s restaurant industry is no small feat. In a city constantly in gastronomic flux, surviving the small domestic market, intense competition and whims of spoiled local diners is hard enough. Now throw in the travails of Covid-19 and it’s enough to send even the most passionate chefs into resigned hibernation.
But chefs are made of hardier stuff. If anyone needs convincing, those six months in 2020 when F&B businesses struggled to stay afloat should serve as firm testament. In that short space of time, chefs and restaurateurs went from dine-in to delivery in a matter of days before returning to business-as-usual almost as soon as the lockdown lifted.
This unanticipated hustle was hardly how Irish chef Andrew Walsh imagined he would be marking his restaurant’s fifth anniversary. His 40-seat Cure—derived from the Latin word “curare”, meaning to take care of—has always sat high on the list of must-visit restaurants in Singapore. Night after night, Walsh and his team welcomed eager diners who appreciated his special brand of modern European cuisine informed by his personal experiences living and working in the likes of Dubai, London and New York.
The celebratory plan was to fly in chefs Mickael Viljanen and Mark Moriarty from two-Michelin-starred restaurant The Greenhouse in Dublin for a special collaboration dinner. Until then, the 37-year-old pulled regular 18-hour days cooking at Cure, overseeing its sister restaurant Butcher Boy, and planning the opening of two new projects—the recently opened Catfish and a restaurant at One&Only Desaru Coast in Malaysia.
When Covid-19 reached Singapore in January and the island state was locked down in March, Walsh says it stopped him physically and mentally in his tracks. “Yes, we were busy figuring out a delivery platform and menu (during the Circuit Breaker from April to June), but it forced me to slow down,” he said. “I slept, exercised, ran and ate properly for a change and ‘Nua’ was born out of that.”
Back to the Future
Nua is both the old Gaelic term for “Irish” and the modern Irish word for “new”. It is an especially apt term for the new menu that Walsh has designed for Cure. Plumbing from his unique Irish heritage may seem like a no-brainer considering that the most successful restaurants in town today draw from their chefs’ native backgrounds (see Sun Kim at Meta and Rishi Naleendra at CloudStreet). But for Walsh, it took a reckoning to delve into his identity as an Irishman and the only Irish chef cooking at his level in Singapore at that.
“During the Circuit Breaker I missed Ireland; I missed my family back home and that led me to think, ‘people miss travelling, so this would be a nice time to introduce Ireland to Singapore in terms of its culinary style’,” he explained. “We’re not all potatoes and beef. There are lots of Irish chefs who were trained in New York, Asia, Australia, and who have returned home and created a very exciting food scene in Ireland. I thought about these guys back home and felt that I should be doing something to represent Ireland in my adopted home.”
Thus, Nua’s menu features plenty of Irish produce—think Galway oysters, brown crabs, Silverhill Farm ducks and Tipperary brie—parsed in dishes that hark to Walsh’s childhood. There are deliciously sticky nuggets of soda, stout and treacle bread; an ambrosial barley porridge elevated by the addition of koji (fermented rice culture) and raw slivers of beef tenderloin from the 50-year-old John Stone farm in Longford; an addictive potato crisp sandwich, a potato terrine laced with crispy garlic, shallots and spring onions; and a lovely smoky ode to peat towards the end of the meal.
Feel at Home
Unsurprisingly, Walsh is bullish about this new chapter for Cure, which corresponds to his sense of growing up and coming into his own. “I definitely feel like I’ve matured as a chef. I’m no longer that 29-year-old who came to Singapore to head someone else’s restaurant. I realised that it is true what people say about ‘less is more’. There is a lot less on the plate now compared to my previous menus, but there is more flavour, more of a story and more home now.” He pauses for a moment and continues, “Yes, home is the best way to describe it.”
It has been 18 years since Walsh lived in Ireland and that sense of rediscovering and digging into memories he hasn’t truly dug into for a while shows in his food. It is obvious that he has researched the history of his homeland and the role of food during its most significant periods. But it feels like he has barely scratched the surface.
Walsh’s years of experience, his technical expertise, and his solid team led by head chef Maksym Chukanov provide a sturdy backbone for the food they seek to interpret. But one gets the sense that they have far yet to go. The menu strikes all the obvious notes the way a Singaporean chef looking to reinterpret his nation’s food might instinctively look first to laksa and chilli crab, or to sweet potato leaves as a nod to the country’s hard times.
While it is Walsh’s strongest menu yet in terms of concept, Nua holds promise of bigger, better and more insightful cuisine to come.