Contemporary Sichuan restaurant Birds of a Feather gives spicy northwestern Chinese cuisine a modern take with its “Reimagine Sichuan” tasting menu.
Some meals you view with trepidation. Sichuanese food, for example, is particularly polarising. This hugely popular cuisine from northwest of China is well-known for its blow-your-head-off spicy flavours. Its signature dishes – mapo tofu, kung pao chicken, and Sichuan hot pot – liberally employ spices such as aniseed, cinnamon, clove, chilli, and (especially) Sichuan pepper. If you love spicy food, chances are you’re a fan. And if you don’t you probably avoid it like the plague.
But contemporary Sichuan restaurant and bar Birds of a Feather is looking to change misconceptions about the food of Sichuan. Its latest gastronomic foray is a very liberal, modern exploration of this regional Chinese cuisine – “Reimagine Sichuan” is a tasting menu that is as much a fusion of Sichuanese flavours and Western technique, as it is an elevation of what is a very traditional cuisine.
“I want to showcase the vast number of flavour profiles that Sichuan cuisine has to offer,” shared Chef Eugene See of Birds of a Feather. “Although many think of mala when they think of this cuisine, in reality Sichuanese is an amalgamation of many more flavours – from salty to aromatic to bitter – and provides a multi-dimensional dining experience that is truly unlike any other.”
“With our new tasting menu, I hope to challenge the public’s preconceptions of Sichuan food, and capture the many depths of this beloved cuisine through the lens of refined contemporary Western fare,” he added.
And that changing of mind begins from get go. The bread course of Homemade Pickled Vegetable Focaccia, which kicks off the meal, comes studded with house-made pickled mustard greens, as is the accompanying compound butter. The pickled vegetables – a familiar ingredient in Sichuan cuisine – give the bread a salty, umami punch, with just the mildest hint of spice.
The Bird’s Snack, a single ravioli-like dumpling with the most translucent skin, somehow combines foie gras, celeriac purée, eggplant, and burnt chilli into a most heavenly-tasting parcel. This culinary creation is a case study into the measured application of spice in a dish; just enough to be assertive, but not so much as to overpower other flavours. We could eat an entire plate of this; we told Chef Eugene this could – should – be a mainstay on their regular a la carte menu.
And the mains. The Octopus Carpaccio came beautifully arranged, with thinly-sliced octopus served alongside a spicy wasabi-like mustard that brought out the sweetness of the mollusc. The accompanying mung bean jelly is refreshing and helps soothe burnt palates. Then there’s ‘Yu Xiang’ Carabinero Prawn. Yu xiang is one of the signature sauces used in Sichuan cookery; here it reinterpreted as a delicate red sauce and served with red carabinero prawns. Both dishes were surprising, mainly because Sichuan – situated deep inland thousands of miles away from any ocean – doesn’t feature seafood in its cuisine.
Likewise Chef Eugene’s Sichuan Fish Stew. It’s his classy version of the much beloved Sichuanese sour vegetable fish 酸菜鱼 dish, which traditionally uses river fish cooked in a stock with dried chilli and picked mustard greens. Here he uses local barramundi – skin perfectly seared – and mussels that’s doused in a far more refined stock yet offering similar flavours to the original. Pearl couscous add bite to the dish.
The final main of Wagyu Striploin MBS4 comes exactly as you’d expect to find in a regular steakhouse. Until you discover the classic Sichuan bean paste that’s mixed into the accompanying butternut squash purée, or the classic Sichuan salt and pepper spice mix that you dredge your steak with.
Chinese cuisines aren’t particularly known for dessert. But Sichuan happens to be one of the key producers in China for mandarin oranges. Mandarin, Chef Eugene’s twist on a rum baba, is his hat-tip to that fact. Here you’ll find a Grand Marnier-infused cake served alongside fresh and freeze-dried citrus segments, with Chantilly cream bringing everything together. It tastes nothing like you’d find in Sichuan, but it does help to quash any residual fires that may still linger on your palate.
If you’re expecting authentic, traditional Sichuanese food, you won’t find it with Birds of a Feather’s “Reimagine Sichuan” tasting menu. It’s a very intentional departure from that. Instead it offers a very contemporary Western approach that happens to be inspired by Sichuan and her largess. “Reimagine Sichuan” is also an epicurean glimpse into what’s possible when Sichuan cuisine meets fine-dining.
The Reimagine Sichuan tasting menu at Birds of a Feather is available every evening upon special reservation for $89++ with an optional beverage pairing for $60++.
Birds of a Feather
Address 115 Amoy St, #01-01, Singapore 069935 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 10.45am to 3pm and 5pm to11pm on Mondays to Wednesdays; 10.45am to 3pm and 5pm-12am on Thursdays; 10.30am to 12am on Fridays and Saturdays; 10.30am to 10pm on Sundays
Tel (65) 6221 7449 / 9755 7115