BACK in 1996, Billy McDonald knew little about Singapore other than that the country promised lots of sunshine and served great chilli crab.
But that was enough to persuade him to pack his bags and leave behind Ireland's long, dark winter nights for the Republic's sunny shores.
He had sold off MacD's, his successful Victorian-style pub in County Wexford, Ireland, a year before because he wanted to 'try something more adventurous'. When he learnt of an opening for the position of bar manager with Gaelic Inns here through a recruitment agency, he seized the opportunity.
Eleven years later, McDonald, 50, is group operations manager of Gaelic Inns. It owns five pubs here - Muddy Murphy's and Ballymoons, both in Orchard Hotel Shopping Arcade, The Penny Black in Boat Quay, Scruffy Murphy's in East Coast Parkway and Durty Nelly's in Marina Square.
He lives in a condominium off Holland Road with his Malaysian wife and one-year-old daughter. He has an 18-year-old daughter in Ireland from a previous marriage.
What dish is your chain of pubs most famous for?
Our beef and Guinness pie (right). Chunks of beef steak cooked with vegetables in a rich gravy using Guinness are encased in a fluffy puff pastry shell. It's served with baked beans and potato wedges or fries. The secret to our dish lies in the sauce, which requires a careful blending of Guinness with the basic gravy. The quality of beef used is also important to the taste of the dish.
The Irish are known for their love of Guinness. When did you have your first taste of it?
Around the age of two. My late maternal grandfather used to take me to the local pub every Saturday where he would catch horse racing on TV. He called the pub the 'Ribena House' after the bottled blackcurrant juice drink, and he'd feed me about a quarter of a 250ml bottle of Guinness each time because he thought it was good for me. This continued till I started school around the age of three.
What Irish food do you miss most?
Good corned beef. The corned beef sold here tastes too processed for my liking and it's also too dense. The ultimate corned beef should be juicy and melt in one's mouth. To top it off, it should be served with cabbage that's so soft it's almost liquefied, a handsome slab of butter and some pepper and salt. I try to satisfy my craving for it when I return to Ireland twice a year.
What food can't you do without?
Like rice is to Asians, the Irish can't do without potatoes. My favourite type of potato is Kerr's Pink variety, which is commonly known as Irish potatoes. They are floury with a dry, crumbly texture. I like them boiled in their jackets with a big knob of butter and some salt and pepper.
What's your favourite local food?
Chilli crab with Chinese mantou (sweet bread rolls) to mop up all that lovely gravy. I grew to love spicy food after coming to Singapore and I always introduce this dish to friends visiting from overseas. I normally get my fix of chilli crab at Jumbo Seafood.
I also enjoy the salt and pepper cuttlefish at Crystal Jade restaurants for all its deep-fried goodness. And I never fail to order hot-plate tofu whenever I eat at coffee shops.
What is your comfort food?
Chicken curry with a fluffy roti prata. I don't mind what style it is prepared in - Indian, Malay, Thai or Peranakan - as long as it's spicy. I became hooked on it after a friend recommended it as a hangover cure in 1997. It still is an effective hangover cure, but I enjoy the dish whether or not I'm hung-over.
What is your one indulgence?
I love chocolate, especially milk chocolate. I have no fewer than six little squares from a Cadbury bar daily. I like its plain and fruit and nut flavours. I love having chocolate with red wine or a glass of full cream milk after lunch or in the evenings. It's one of life's simple pleasures.
Which do you prefer, English or Irish pub grub?
They are fairly similar and have influenced each other because of overlaps in culture and geographical proximity. For example, bangers and mash, or sausage and potatoes, are offered in both English and Irish pubs, distinguished only by the type of sausages used. Because I'm Irish, my heart and belly will always stray towards Irish food.
What would your last meal be?
A dozen oysters from Galway Bay in Ireland, where the freshest oysters are from, with a pint of Guinness, a bowl of my mother's Irish stew and a really good chocolate pudding followed by a glass of very expensive port.
From now till Dec 31, 2008, Citibank card members enjoy a one-for-one deal on any order of an entree during lunch, from 11.30am to 2.30pm, Mondays to Fridays, at Muddy Murphy's.