Handcrafted By, The Balvenie’s series of elevated whisky pairing dining experiences, is concluding another successful run this April. The partnership with the Michelin Guide began in 2020 with modern Chinese restaurant Madame Fan, and across a diverse breadth of haute cuisine (fine Italian, Japanese-inflected Sichuan, contemporary Indian), showcased the synergy of the Scotch whisky with different flavours and dishes. Every chef was introduced to the different expressions from The Balvenie whiskey range, and after selecting their favourite notes and flavours, created limited-time dishes to pair with the whiskies.
The latest exclusive menu comes courtesy of Nua Irish restaurant Cure, led by chef-owner Andrew Walsh. It’s the 6th and final instalment of this line up, after Braci, Shisen Hanten, Burnt Ends, Tippling Club and Thevar. “The Balvenie whisky and their craftsmanship ties in perfectly with what we do at Cure because it’s Celtic, and it comes from the Highland, which is very close to the Irish waters.”
And speaking of, the first of two special inspired-by-The-Balvenie dishes is a truly wonderful twice-smoked salmon. The cured salmon is brushed with The Balvenie 14 Year Old The Week of Peat, cold-smoked, and then hot-smoked. “We’re also going to glaze it with molasses treacle, which is quite popular in Ireland. It has a stickiness and umaminess that pairs greatly with the smokiness of the whisky. We add a bit of horseradish for some heat, and top it off with some roe and flowers. It’s a dish that brings back a lot of memories from eating smoked salmon in Ireland when I was a child,” Chef Walsh explained.
In celebration of their new Michelin star, he also designed a new cocktail called Star In Orbit, an unexpected but thoroughly welcome inclusion in the menu. Using The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old, it’s a playful twist on a whisky sour – fresh and sweet, while the fruit and toffee notes of the whisky give it a lingering finish.
Guiding this celebration of craft in both whisky making and fine gastronomy is none other than Brett Bayly, Regional Brand Ambassador for The Balvenie South East Asia. We spoke with the gregarious Aussie about working with the world’s most handcrafted single malt, navigating the pandemic and working with some of the best culinary talents in the world.
Having had the privilege of sitting in on more than one of these dinners, it’s been a real treat to see how the different chefs take inspiration from The Balvenie whiskies. How did you approach this particular partnership with Chef Andrew Walsh in particular?
It’s been fantastic having you to multiple sessions to see the true scope of what we set out to achieve with this program! The whole partnership began, really, to showcase the dedication of craft both at The Balvenie Distillery, but also with the required dedication of the chefs within the Michelin Guide. Not a single one of them woke up on the first day of their career and were magically handed a star. It truly came down to the same love to perfect their crafts and passion to create something from their hearts that we see with our teams at the distillery. Also, the rich complexities of The Balvenie’s handcrafted whiskies have great synergy and versatility in food-pairing. With the collaboration, we wanted to present diners with a novel gastronomic experience and raise the bar on fine-dining.
As these dinners have all been hosted in relatively intimate sessions (emulating the dining experience of the customers who had the chance to experience them also) it’s really been a unique conversation each and every time. I’ve really enjoyed it as it’s given me the opportunity to get to know everyone involved, from the media attendees like yourself, the chefs, the floor teams, and the Michelin Guide team. The passion has really shone through on all sides to enjoy what we’ve put together. We’ve used the Week of Peat a few times as it’s really up to which bottles the Chefs connect with, but having them select what they wanted to work with allowed that unique conversation piece to permeate as no two pairings. We had some restaurants gravitate towards the gorgeous wafty peat smoke in the 14 Year Old Week of Peat, whereas others felt their food was a little delicate for that kind of palate. Chef Walsh at Cure really seemed to connect with all three bottles and wanted to showcase the team’s capacities both in the kitchen and bar, so it was 100% his call!
It’s been a heck of a journey to the culmination of a long and, on my side of the table, successful campaign (kudos!) with The Michelin Guide. What are the emotions you’re feeling now that you’re at the last course, so to speak? What was it like, with the starts and stops in the midst of an ever-changing situation, navigating uncertainty, governmental guidelines and restrictions?
I’ll take the Kudos on behalf of everyone who helped to get this off the ground, as I had the easier part of enjoying the experience mostly! It has been a long run for us with the restrictive nature of the past 2 years, and this program has run just shy of 18 months.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating as we had to pause mid-program, upsize, then downsize dinner seatings, and but we were really lucky to work with such professional outlets who were more than accommodating, and being in the same boat themselves, truly understood and were flexible. The biggest restriction I dare say would have been really enticing the public to come out for these experiences, as we’ve all been given some form of run around with snap changes in what we can and cannot do, but I really hope that those who did make it to the outlets really enjoyed and appreciated the work the chefs put into these pairings.
Madame Fan’s Chef Mike Tan gave us the wonderfully indulgent traditional Chinese soup infused with The Balvenie 21 Year Old PortWood. At Braci, Chef de Cuisine Mirko Febbrile surprised and delighted diners with a beautiful 7-course menu inspired by his hometown of Puglia, Italy. Out of all the whisky-pairing dinners, which was the one that surprised you and why?
Each and every one of them was different, so it would be hard to place a finger on which of them was a favourite (I’ve definitely been spoiled with my dining over the last year and a bit!) There were definitely some unique elements, really from start to finish with our first dinner which you were with us for at Madame Fan, having the chef encourage us to add additional whisky into the dishes to bring those flavors out to the level our palate appreciated the most.
Chef Ryan at Tippling Club did a really unique pairing with his dessert being paired against the most intense profile from the Week of Peat. Chef Dave at Burnt Ends actually utilised the cask staves in his dessert pairing to bring out a unique flavour that was truly from the distillery as well!
Chef Mirko at Braci put on a show and we were fortunate enough to complete that session during the 8 pax revival, so it was a totally new dynamic, and finally looking at what Chef Andy at Cure did with his team to really bring our whisky to life in such a fun and casual manner, by introducing three of the whiskies in different formats, and such playful dishes coming out, unifying Scotland and Ireland – almost unheard of given their proud history of whiskey distillation across the isle.
It’s been a lot of great menus, but I think most importantly, it’s been an abundance of fantastic experiences.
Like all true-blue, red-blooded Singaporeans looking ahead to the next meal even whilst we’re still eating, what can we expect from Phase 3? It would be really interesting to see how The Balvenie pairs with local cuisine (Labyrinth, Candelnut et al). Is a curry and whisky pairing in the cards for us?
Funnily enough, I’ve had many conversations about this exact topic, and in my own time have explored some more localised pairings, however not at the Michelin level. Our relationship with The Michelin Guide proved to be fruitful on both sides, and I hope to see a new concept evolve in the near future to continue to highlight the appropriate side of whisky pairing with food.
Dedication to craft is the common thread between our distillery, and the restaurants they select, so I hope we can look at a new way to showcase this, and now with proof in the pudding, bring some new restaurants like you mentioned into the fold. Until then, you can continue to enjoy the content series we have with Michelin Guide, capturing the stories of the chefs and the craft behind the pairings here, and if ever in doubt, let me know and I’ll take you on a refresher course through the whisky!
Diners can enjoy whisky-paired delicacies at Cure, located at 21 Keong Saik Road, Singapore, until 21 April 2022. The full menu is S$396++ with alcohol pairing (includes one dram of The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood, one dram of The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask, one Star in Orbit cocktail and other complementary pairings). The Balvenie drams can still be ordered a la carte if diners opt to order without the full alcohol pairing. For reservations, call the restaurant at 6221 2189.
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