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When Sichuan and French Meet

Birds of a Feather’s tasting menu is a bold attempt at abating the heat of the Sichuan cuisine with a splash of French sensibility.

As one of the few restaurants stepping up to fill the gap for modern Sichuan cuisine, Birds of a Feather made a blip on our radar when they opened in 2016. Unlike the array of small, casual late-night eateries one can find in Chinatown, the food here combines chef Eugene See’s French culinary training with the flavours of Southwest China for dishes that aren’t drowning in red chilli oil or tongue-numbing peppercorns.

Sichuan cuisine, as See would like you to know, is not all about the chillies and peppers. Its capital, Chengdu, was declared a city of gastronomy in 2011 by UNESCO. In fact, there are four types of Sichuan fare: Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong and Buddhist vegetarian.

It’s partly the reason why they’ve decided to come up with the Golden Sun Bird ‘Reimagine Sichuan’ menu, a multi-course offering of the diversity found in the commonly pigeonholed fare of the region paired with French wines. It’s also the many research trips and R&D come to fruition, with some ingredients flown over directly from China.

Bird's Snack (Image courtesy of Birds of a Feather)

See tries to incorporate the seven basic flavours in Sichuan cooking: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic and salty.

We start with moreish It Begins With, a pickled vegetable focaccia that comes with a whipped dried ya cai or mustard green butter. We’ve never had our pickled vegetables this way—it’s typically eaten with porridge and used in savoury dishes—but it’s a substitution that works and, we foresee, will be inspiring a home baker or two.

Although heat and spice aren’t the focus, they’re used to give the dishes a little (and sometimes not so little) kick. An example is Bird’s Snack, a singular ravioli stuffed with smoky burnt chilli, eggplant and foie gras garnished with bits of green chilli, which creep up on you after you take your first bite.

Sichuan Fish Stew (Image courtesy of Birds of a Feather)

We soon find out it’s child’s play compared to the Sichuan Fish Stew or suan cai yu. Barramundi is poached in a milky broth comprising dried chillies, ya cai, cream, chive oil and butter. He’s also added mussels, strips of sea cucumber and pearl couscous for texture, then sweet dried tomato chips and ribbons of fennel for garnish.

By this point, few of our tablemates have tapped out; they’re sniffling and reaching for a sip of water. But for seasoned spice lovers, this level of Scoville Heat Units is exactly what makes this dish beloved.

For our tablemates, the other courses were thankfully less piquant. A favourite was the ‘Yu Xiang’ Carabinero Prawn, which has a few curious elements that we wouldn’t immediately associate with the cuisine such as a polenta cake and hazelnut yu xiang paste, made with fermented chilli bean.

There’s also the main of a Wagyu Striploin MBS4, his version of meats (occasionally skewered) marinated with jiao yan, spice powder consisting of salt, chilli and cumin.

'Yu Xiang' Carabinero Prawn (Image courtesy of Birds of a Feather)

While See’s goal of showcasing the range of Sichuan cuisine is well-intended, we still find that he’s perhaps more comfortable working within the constraints of spice; the dishes that stand out are those that leave a little sweat on our brow. But going by the impassioned way he speaks of his experiences in the Chinese province, we’re sure that with some time he’ll be able to find a way to balance these fiery flavours with more finesse.

Birds of a Feather is located at 115 Amoy Street, 01-01, Singapore 069935. Tel: +65 6221 7449/9755 7115.

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Lu Yawen

Editor in chief

A free-spirited creature, she enjoys both the shiny and gritty things in life. She envisions a home by the ocean with weekly dive expeditions and art exhibitions.

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