SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - You have to say one thing about American food. It sure ain't shy when it comes to flavour. It's like getting into a lift (or elevator) with a party of Americans and knowing where they live, work, went to school and their weekend plans by the time you reach the ground floor - nothing is left to the imagination. So if you like food that's amplified in portion, sweetness, saltiness, richness and exuberance, then welcome to The Bird, your fried chicken and grits paradise.
This bird - whose original name was Yardbird - brings the comfort food of the American South to Singapore via Las Vegas, where founder John Kunkel has a branch in the Venetian hotel. Singapore is the first overseas outpost for the Miami-based restaurateur whose claim to fame is his grandmother's recipes for Southern- style fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits.
Anyone who's been to New Orleans will know that the Bird offers the spirit of Southern hospitality, if not the real thing. It's a Disney-fied version that's well-organised and executed with showmanship. Sumptuous decor and food that is hearty and fun taxes the stomach rather than the brain. In fact, you might want to leave your brain at home since it's likely to end up in a food coma after a meal here.
The two-level restaurant in MBS looks like a cross between a gentlemen's club and a theme park eatery with its padded banquettes and whimsical touches like the quirky chicken sketches propped up above the open- concept kitchen and the boxes of Crackerjack popcorn on the tables.
Corporate suits pack the dining room as early as noon, and it's an amusing scene of serious men in shirts and ties losing all sense of corporate decorum when faced with a plate of fried chicken and waffles.
The Bird Southern Table & Bar
Where: B1-07 (Galleria Level) and L1-82 (Bay Level), The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue
A thumbs up to the classic buttermilk biscuits (S$10) which are light, fluffy and scone-like, served fresh out of the oven and barely sweetened - easily fixed with a smear of honey butter and apple jam. There are four to each order and to finish a whole one is a temptation you may want to resist if you hope to survive the food orgy that follows.
We try to lighten things up with a crisp salad of butter lettuce and grilled mango (S$14), although the unblemished mango didn't look or taste like it had been near a fire recently. Pecans add a nice touch to this otherwise ho-hum plate of greens.
It paves the way for the calorie onslaught - led by a little cast iron pot of macaroni and cheese (S$14). This cheese fix for the toothless features gum-friendly soft pasta whirls drowned in a volcanic eruption of four kinds of cheese melted into a jarring orange hue. It's a grown-up version of the Kraft processed mac 'n cheese snack, served with tongue in cheek.
The piece de resistance follows - a S$45 platter of half a chicken cut into four pieces, brined for 24 hours and then coated in a secret batter that delivers a decent, if unimpressive crunch. It could just be a function of the kind of chicken available here, but the meat is on the lean side and not dripping with natural juices as we would hope. That said, the breast meat on the bone is surprisingly plump and tender, even if not our favourite cut. But texture aside, it is terribly salty. So it's a good thing that you can alternate bites with the very good waffles - tender and fluffy, just like the buttermilk biscuits.
It's got just a hint of savoury cheese in it which is good on its own, or you can turn it into a dessert waffle with the accompanying maple syrup. Chunks of juicy watermelon round off this breakfast-lunch-fruit-plate rolled into one.
Hopes of recreating memories of creamy smooth grits in New Orleans fade with the first mouthful of shrimp and grits (S$39) - more clumpy than smooth, sitting in a thick reduced chicken broth and topped with too-firm grilled prawns. A mountain of bacon and sundried tomatoes pump up the volume of flavour till it almost screeches.
Sadly, The Bird is not a place to find beignets - deep-fried choux pastry-like batter that's the ultimate doughnut to us. Instead, there is a banana pudding (S$14) that pairs a thick banana-flavoured custard with bits of cake and topped with whipped cream. The custard is stodgy with a plasticky mouth feel - we can't help feeling we might be happier with the Mississippi mud pie (S$18) which we have no room for.
The Bird is a place to go when you just need a break from superfoods, genteel fine dining or lectures about plant-based diets. There's a convivial vibe about it, with a menu that's aimed to meet your cravings for sugar, salt and baked goods. Forget subtle. Just dig in.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.