SINGAPORE - Birds of a Feather is a strange creature.
At first glance, the three-week- old restaurant in Amoy Street looks like many of the small-bites eateries that have taken over the shophouses in the area - with a bar just past the door running parallel to a row of small tables.
But walk to the back and the room opens up to what looks like a whimsical courtyard. Heavy wooden tables are surrounded by mismatched chairs, and potted plants on the floor and tabletops conjure a feel of home.
In the day, sunlight enters through two skylights, while more light comes from two hanging lamps sheathed in what look like fluffy clouds.
The look is eclectic, the ambience relaxing and welcoming. This is a place for people to flock together, as the name of the restaurant suggests.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
115 Amoy Street, tel: 6221 -7449, open: 10am to 11.45pm (Mondays to Saturdays), 10am to 6pm (Sundays).
From December, it opens from 10amto 11.45pm daily
Food: 3.5/5 stars
Service: 3/5 stars
Ambience: 4/5 stars
Price: Budget from $70 a person, without drinks
The menu, too, is filled with whimsy.
The cooking is purportedly Western with Sichuan touches, but it actually swings from dishes that are totally Sichuan to almost totally Western. In between are some offerings that bridge East and West.
What is good is that the chef does not tone down the peppery Sichuan flavours, even with the fusion dishes. So expect to get your tongue numbed by Sichuan pepper and your brow drenched in sweat.
One of my favourite Sichuan dishes is laziji, deep-fried diced chicken that comes buried under a pile of dried red chillies. Birds of a Feather appropriately calls it Find The Chicken In The Chillies ($16). It is authentically spicy, with the chicken soaked in chillies overnight before being deep-fried, and it is delicious.
It is with some disappointment that I pick up the last piece of chicken, knowing that no more can be found among the chillies.
Solace is found, however, in the Crispy Pork Trotter In A Bag ($12). It comes in a brown paper bag, which you add powdered spices and jiggle to mix everything up. How salty it turns out depends on how much of the powder you pour in, so start with just half and adjust accordingly.
The spices are more aromatic than hot, and the trotters are tender to the bite but not so soft that the meat falls off the bone.
Another small plates dish, Fortune Skewer In Szechuan Pepper Broth ($19), is rather Instagram-friendly, with wooden skewers of shrimps and vegetables bunched together and served sticking out of a bowl of broth. But the ingredients taste disappointingly flat and the broth is too peppery to drink.
It is best to add an order of Japanese arrowroot noodles ($5) to the broth. It is more palatable as a noodle soup.
For lunch, there are one-dish meals of burgers and a panini that are interesting Sichuan-Western combinations.
The Grilled Cheese Panini ($20) is very good, with slices of braised pork belly and pickled cabbage packed between crispy grilled bread. Besides the cabbage, salad greens sprinkled over the panini help to offset the fat in the pork too.
But the best are the fried potato and Japanese sweet potato that come with the panini. Crushed chunks of both are deep-fried and then sprinkled with an addictive spicy seasoning. They are delicious and the sweet potatoes are particularly crispy.
The Tofu Burger With Mapo Meat Sauce ($22) boasts a good tofu cheese patty topped with a pork ragout that is instantly recognisable as the classic Sichuan dish of mapo tofu. There is that numbing sensation of Sichuan peppers, which I love, and enough heat to be convincingly authentic.
What does not work, however, is the chewy bun. I struggle to cut it and it is too much of a contrast to the soft patty. I'd suggest the chef choose something fluffier.
The Charcoal Roasted Wagyu Sirloin Steak ($46) is the most boring dish at my lunch - a basic steak with some Sichuan spices on the side to dip into.
The meat is rather lean for a wagyu sirloin and not particularly flavourful, so the spices are appreciated.
My dessert of Raspberry Granite ($16) leaves little impression too. Combined with milk chocolate foam, yuzu curd, Earl Grey chiffon cake and almond nougatine, it delivers what you would expect from the list of ingredients, but nothing more.
It serves one important purpose though: It washes any residual heat from the spices in my mouth instantly.
• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke and on Instagram @wongahyoke
• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
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