The Chinese province of Sichuan is famously known for its ultra-spicy food — a palate relished by its people because, traditionally, of the idea that the heat of chilis offsets the potential ills caused by the region’s characteristically hot and humid summer months. That, and because it’s delicious.
Singapore’s climate is kinda similar, and that’s probably why we love the tongue-numbing taste of mala right here too. At Amoy Street’s Birds Of A Feather, don’t be fooled by the Nordic furniture and industrial-garden-chic aesthetic here — their East-meets-West cuisine still packs a picante punch. And then some.
The nearly two-year-old restaurant now sports a menu that expands on the restaurant’s array of contemporary Western cuisine with Sichuan influences. What happened here was that French-trained Head Chef Eugene See made several visits to Sichuan’s capital city of Chengdu over the past year, and translated the culinary knowledge acquired into new entrées that reflect the wider spectrum of tastes in the cuisine.
Chef See wants to showcase that Sichuan flavors are more than just mala, and that manifests in dishes like the baked eggplant ($14), a wholly vegetarian dish involving nasu (Japanese eggplant) oven-baked in yuxiang, a sauce base consisting of chili bean paste, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, which, despite translating to “fish fragrance” in English, doesn’t actually contain any seafood. See’s version of this classic dish is topped with mantou blocks spiked with mozzarella cheese.
Tofu — a common ingredient in Sichuan — is creatively used in Birds Not Stinky Tofu ($16), in which silken tofu is blended with the pungent vieux lille cheese and piped into pockets of oven-baked aburaage tofu.
Turning up the heat is the restaurant’s Charcoal Grilled Pork Bits ($15) — smoky, crunchy bites of pork belly marinated in dried chilis, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, and other piquant seasonings. One would guess a classic pork trotter soup next, but Chef See subverts expectations with the Sichuan Oxtail Soup ($24) instead, where a spring onion arlette (yes, a croissant version of the Chinese pancake) accompanies the rich beef stock and an addictive dip made of soy sauce, Sichuan pepper oil, garlic, ginger, cilantro, spring onions and sugar.
The spice gets turned up a notch again with the Sweating Mussel ($29), a twist on mussels cooked in white wine. The juice from steamed blue mussels is fused with chicken stock, dried Sichuan peppercorn, bell peppers and other condiments to deliver a numbing kick. Red Birdie Noodle ($20) is a lunch-time special consisting of egg confit atop Hiyamugi noodles mixed with a hot sauce of red oil, chicken stock, chili paste, and more. Equally spicy “bang bang chicken” (poached chicken pieces that are smashed down for texture, akin to ayam penyet) is the side dish, with pan-fried soy beans, pickled kohlrabi and spring onions serving as garnishes.
If there’s a blaze in your belly, then the cheekily-named Ice2 Baby ($15) might be a good way to extinguish it. A version of a classic Sichuan dessert involving ice jelly, black sugar syrup, and crushed peanuts, Birds of a Feathers’ version goes ultra upscale with the addition of seasonal berries, red sugar caramel, lao zao rice wine granite, and torched sugary cucumber slices.
As delightful and genial the fusion dishes are to take in, it has to be said that Birds of a Feather might not be an entirely fulfilling experience for purists preferring a deep dive into the traditional sweaty side of Sichuan cuisine. Meat and vegetables won’t be steeped in chili oil with shrapnels of peppercorns floating on the surface. Lacking are the fiery red hues of broths and oils that look like they’ll gratifyingly burn all the way down your gullets.
Of course, this is neither A Bad Thing nor is it Sichuan-lite — it’s just a different take on a renowned style. The seven basic flavors of the Sichuan cuisine are still here; they’re just spoken in a different language.
Birds of a Feather is at 115 Amoy Street
Mon-Thurs 10:30AM-3PM; 5pm-11pm. Fri-Sun 10:30am-12am
MRT: Telok Ayer