SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) So was Andrew Walsh watching a rerun of the Stallone movie Cobra where he delivers the zinger "You're the disease - I'm the cure" when he hit upon the name for his first ever solo endeavour in Singapore?
Did he have visions of people dying from a staple diet of reconstituted mac n cheese, mystery sausage and cherry coca cola, unless he swooped in with ample supplies of sustainably farmed meat, vine-ripened tomatoes and a vow to heal them of their nutritional abominations? Nahh.
He will, however, take care of you in the Latin sense - in the way that Cure is a riff on the word Curare, or "hospitality" in plain English. After years of being Jason Atherton's right hand at hotspots such as Esquina and The Study, Chef Walsh is keen to show what he can do on his own turf.
It may be a coincidence that Cure in Keong Saik Road is so close to Chef Walsh's old workplace, but he's made sure there's no resemblance with soft lighting in a compact indigo and charcoal grey space. A bevy of mostly English girls make up the serving staff, lending a bit of pseudo Sloane Street cool which you either like or reach for your passport to remind yourself that you're still in Singapore.
21 Keong Saik Road
Open for dinner Mon to Sat from 6pm. Lunch on Thurs and Fri from 12pm
No matter. Because the heart and DNA of Cure lies in its sizeable open kitchen from which Chef Walsh dispenses equal parts good eats and culinary philosophy.
It's also a source of all manner of smells - what you swear is a busboy hiding behind the dishwasher sneaking more than a few puffs of Marlboro extra-strong is identified as smoking hay, burnt ash or something else nicotine-free.
For now - or maybe longer - Chef Walsh dispenses with the ala carte concept and offers only a fixed dinner menu priced from a very agreeable S$75 for three courses to S$115 for the full five-course experience.
He has us at "bacon butter" - an ode to cholesterol that is whipped yellow heaven dusted with bacon crumbs, which transforms to something even better when you eat it with the mildly fermented cabbage that comes with it. This unexpected combo is best with chunks of fluffy and warm chewy home-made sourdough bread.
And we haven't even had our amuse bouche yet.
This comes in the form of snacks - a trio of bites starting with a crunchy yellow nugget that's akin to eating deep-fried creamy corn soup. The crunchy batter collapses to release the lush cream within like a savoury lava cake. We wouldn't mind more than just one. The tartare (we forget whether the server said oyster or beef) on an oyster leaf looks like beef but our tastebuds detect more oyster flavour than just the leaf. But we don't object to whichever way it leans. The thinnest chicken skin cracker also pleases.
Chef Walsh's British fixation with Spring is expressed in the fluffy home-made ricotta with extra cheesiness from a Comte boost, shaved raw asparagus and toasted buckwheat that is considerate enough not to crack our teeth or get in between them. It ticks all the right boxes in terms of crunch easing the boredom of eating whipped cheesy cream, but it's more dependable than must-have.
It doesn't look like Chef Walsh is keen to take too many risks at such an early stage, so we're left expecting a little wanting by subsequent courses. Scallops which don't get to pick whether they want to be raw or pan-seared appear in both forms paired with curls of lightly pickled shaved kohlrabi, cured duck ham (what does that even mean, says the duck to the pig), and a much appreciated pea cream with a zing from horseradish.
The salt from the cured duck ham seasons the scallop which in turn is lifted by the pickled kohlrabi and a dab of the pea cream. Nice. The quail is equally uncontroversial, offering a nice tender leg, a very good meaty croquette and garlic foam. We didn't get the memo that foam is back in vogue so we resent eating air. And since leek ash that looks like soot must take a very long time to burn, we won't begrudge the kitchen the effort to make it. But we will blame them for their reluctance to change dirty cutlery, making us use the same knife and fork for every single course.
The last "main" course which our bubbly server says she really loves, is not something we would take home to our mother. The pig mentioned in the menu is a ballotine of head bits, wrapped in a layer of fat and a hint of vinegar in the shredded filling perhaps meant to cut down on the greasiness.
Ordinarily, we are very partial to head cheese, but this falls into the colloquial "dunno how to eat" category. A slice of peach, crisp baby potato skins and a single piece of fatty meat with the texture of tongue try to make amends.
Desserts, again, are pleasant - yoghurt and fennel granita that don't taste like much till you mix it with the cookie chunks and strawberries; and a deconstructed Jaffa cake of chocolate ice cream, soil, orange bits and honeycomb. Oh, and the bill which comes in a box of chocolates is pretty cool.
When you've spent so long in someone's shadow it may be uncomfortable to step into the spotlight yourself. But Chef Walsh is not going to go places by being dependable and reticent. He will need to step up and show a really good hand soon. And cure us of a serious case of apathy.
What our ratings mean
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
This article was first published on July 27, 2015.
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