In a city rife with tasting menus, pricey ones at that, the recently-introduced seven-course degustation at the a la carte-only Birds of a Feather is a major cause for celebration.
While guests are mostly familiar with the spicy and numbing mala flavour that characterises the cuisine, Szechuan food is known to offer 24 compound flavours that are not widely known. It’s not surprising then that after four solid years of serving contemporary western with a pronounced Szechuan influence, the cafe cum restaurant at Amoy Street joins the tasting menu bandwagon. In December last year, it launched a Szechuan-inspired taster to introduce guests to a wider repertoire of Szechuan flavours. The good news is, this taster by founding head chef Eugene See offers a much-needed respite from the city’s modern European-centric tasting menus. Better still, it offers excellent value at just $89++ for seven courses (four-price wine pairing at $60++).
Carabinero prawn, usually seen in upscale restaurants only, arrives here as Yu Xiang Carabinero Prawn, with its luscious flesh crowning a mildly sweet yet intensely crisp brick of polenta cake alongside a heady pool of “fish fragrant” (yu xiang) sauce prepped with soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar, sugar, fermented spicy bean paste, chili peppers, garlic, ginger and onion. At once sweet, sour, spicy, savoury, it’s profoundly tasty yet remarkably balanced, interestingly contrasted against the crustacean’s carapace resting on clumps of pistachio and hazelnut soy. Should there by any remaining fish fragrant sauce, chunks of dehydrated charcoal sponge are on hand for you to mop it all up although, truth be told, the sponges are a tad too hard for the purpose.
Quite impossible to believe but See’s tasting menu also comes with a serving of Australian Wagyu Striploin MBS 4. It’s flanked on one side by a mound of bean paste and butternut squash puree holding a shallow well of Szechuan pepper oil served with a pour of savoury teatree mushroom jus table-side. On its left, raw and fried brussels sprouts topped with eryngii mushrooms provide textural and flavour contrasts. Yet, it aint’t the Szechuan fashion it’s intended to be until you lightly dip the wagyu in a pile of “jiao yan” or Szechuan spiced salt (Szechuan pepper, salt, chilli powder, cumin) for a flavour lift.
Paying tribute to the lesser-known dish of Szechuan fish with pickled mustard (suan cai yu), a spicy and sour fish stew dish with pickled mustard greens, See serves his take on Szechuan Fish Stew. But instead of sliced river fish poached in a stock with dried chillies and pickled greens, he wields a chunk of pan-seared barramundi surrounded by mussels, sea cucumber and pearl quinoa, and serves it in a mildly spicy and sour pickled mustard green broth tempered with cream, butter and chive oil. I would have preferred less cream so that the pungency of the pickled vegetables could shine but it’s still a rather notable dish.
In a menu punctuated with heavyweights, perhaps the most memorable dish comes by way of the tiniest course aptly named Bird’s Snack. Introducing Szechuan’s scorched chilli flavour, See serves a pillow of ravioli stuffed with balsamic-marinated burnt chillies, eggplant and foie gras resting on a bed of celeriac puree dressed in a tangy, appetite-piquing dressing of green Szechuan pepper (teng jiao) beurre blanc sauce. It’s lightly smoky yet full-on tasty even if one could hardly discern the presence of the foie gras. Great dish!
For a menu priced so affordably, no one should complain if one out of seven courses comes across as under-whelming. And hopefully, the pedestrian course of Octopus Carpaccio will be phased out by the time you get here.
But don’t wait too long before you make your move. Prices like this do not last.
115 Amoy Street 01-01, Singapore 069 935; +65-9755 7115.