Last Updated: February 3, 2021
In my mind, Sichuan food is loud, rather boisterous, and somewhat a little uncouth. It’s a type of cuisine usually reserved for moments of ribald laughter and talking loudly in an equally raucous hawker centre, outside of which, can feel a little out of place. However, the elegant affair that I had at Birds Of A Feather had me pulling a bait-and-switch. Right up to that moment, my idea of Sichuan food was limited to the infamous mala, yes, utterly blasphemous, I know. A satisfying and work-colleague bonding item but also rather one-note I might add.
It was a night of firsts—the first Chef’s menu for Birds of Feather and my maiden foray into the complex and delicious world of Sichuan cuisine. Seeing as the restaurant was also fully booked and could only accommodate me, it was another unexpected first. As a food writer, I usually am accompanied by a colleague or any of my friends whom I decided was nicer to me that week. This time, I was by myself. Don’t get my wrong, I have no qualms about eating alone but as ‘food critic’, the magnifying glass was not only on Chef Eugene Teo that night.
Either way, I arrived at Birds Of A Feather with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome and a rather famished belly, excited and intrigued to try the Golden Sun Bird Menu, Redefining Sichuan (S$89, +S$60 with a wine pairing).
Aptly named It Begins With, the tasting menu starts with two crusty slices of homemade pickled vegetable focaccia. Unlike the oily, herby, salty dream of focaccia from Samin Nostrat, this one takes on a rightfully Asian slant. However, I must say those tangy notes from the bread were a little faint.
The real star would be the Sichuan compound butter, whipped well and good into submission and mixed in with ye cai (pickled mustard green). It is an umami-laden and tantalising spread that I would pay good money by the jar.
Bird’s Snack presents as a rotating special on the menu to keep us on the edge of culinary curiosity. This time, a singular ravioli basking on a plate of earthy celeriac puree (a very chefy ingredient), crowned with dainty purple flowers and, just for good measure, a gold leaf too.
Then, a filling of burnt chilli eggplant and foie gras—a combination you’ll never think would work but does. That trademark numbing sensation was peeking through those exquisite translucent folds, just there but not quite. Like all great affairs, this one was short, intoxicating, and leaves you wanting just a little bit more.
This casual dalliance with Sichuan flavours heats up with the Octopus Carpaccio. With plating that is worthy of white table-clothed joints, this dish sees delicate octopus coins stacked neatly together accompanied with saffron-infused mung bean jelly with dots of red wine vinegar gel and wasabi-like Sichuan mustard. A bright and rather tart number, who knew an octopus could ever be so ever-compelling?
As the flavours approach a crescendo, the ‘Yu Xiang’ Carabinero Prawn has my heart. A striking vermillion curl of Carabinero prawn sits decorated carefully with nasturtium flower leaf while riding a delightfully chewy polenta cake. A swirl of ‘Yu Xiang’ sauce leads to the prawn head, flanked by two dehydrated charcoal sponges. As one does when presented with a prawn head, I flipped it over swooning at the vermillion-hued roe that would surely make one forget all propriety.
Not much is done to the prawn, and for a good reason; there’s no need to do much when prawns are this sweet and succulent. A sticky, sweet spread of hazelnuts, charcoal sponge soaking up ‘Yu Xiang’ sauce, this dish was replete with just as much flavour and culture.
I never had much affection for barramundi, so, seeing it next on the Sichuan Fish Stew has got me filled with mixed feelings. The fish can get so painfully dry and bland for lack of better word.
Just like the rest of the dishes on the menu, the fish stew was also immaculately dressed. Plus, you get a little show too. The creamy lime-green broth laced with chive oil and butter is poured tableside into your plate of crisp barramundi, mussels, and sea cucumber surrounded by bouncy orbs of pearl couscous.
The butter and cream do an excellent job at quelling the usually pungent and rather diva-like Sichuan flavours. However, this prima donna doesn’t disappear quite entirely, and you still get a lick of those piquant chiles with each. The barramundi, as those with bated breath are reading, was soft and tender beyond measure. I didn’t care much for mussels though they were fresh, the pearl couscous with a hefty serving of barramundi was all I needed.
Like any good tasting menu, a serving of crowd-approved luxury is all but pertinent. A blushing Wagyu Striploin MBS 4 (cooked to a perfect medium-rare) awaits, accompanied by spiced butternut squash, eryngii mushroom, and a rectangle of Sichuan pepper salt. A crowd-pleaser through and through, there is very little one can fault on a piece of Wagyu. If you can, I’d say spring for the MBS 9 Wagyu with a top-up of S$25—there’s little to regret.
Dessert always seems to stump most chefs. Either the chef gets too tired (or lazy) by the time they get to dessert, taking the easy way out by defaulting to chocolate. I won’t ever say no to chocolate fondant cake but you and I know, it’s boring and quite frankly, a waste of a chef’s talents.
The Mandarin at Birds Of A Feather did not disappoint and paid dutiful homage to the Asian tradition of having fruit as dessert while also making dessert an intriguing endeavour. Shards of gossamer-like tuile decorate this dessert, followed by a citrus French baba cake and icy mounds of Mandarin ice stuffed in between layers of light-as-air Chantilly cream. A riotous and unexpected play on temperatures that is sweet, tangy, and even peppery—thanks to pink peppercorns—yes, this is what all desserts should aspire.
Whatever I have thought about Sichuan cuisine have been utterly altered by this meal. What was once a screaming metal band has turned into a symphony. Each section meticulously played in tandem with each other before arriving at the rollicking finale.
While you enjoy these elevated and elegant renditions of Sichuan cuisine, you never get the sense that it’s taking itself too seriously or shoving culture down your throat. There is a gentle pedagogical edge to this Golden Sun Bird Menu at Birds of a Feather, and this writer has had an education indeed.
Expected Damage: S$98 – S$123 per pax for the Golden Sun Bird menu
Price: $ $
Our Rating: 5 / 5
Birds Of A Feather
115 Amoy Street, #01-01, Singapore 069935
115 Amoy Street, #01-01, Singapore 069935