This new Chinese restaurant in the CBD has food so spicy it’ll leave you numb – and it even opens ’til late
Heads up, this is a restaurant that packs a lot of heat; and as a Chinese who embarrassingly can’t take spices without turning his nose into a leaking faucet, this is no exaggeration. Unlike other Chinese cuisines like Cantonese and Teochew, Szechuan is notorious for its use of fiery spices – particularly, the Szechuan pepper that leaves an unforgivingly numbing sensation in the mouth; this is colloquially (and sadistically) known as the “ma la effect”. Such is the specialty you’ll find in Birds Of A Feather, the latest Chinese contender in the food scene that’s spread its wings along Amoy Street, yet it executes this with a contemporary twist that won’t alienate less-adventurous diners.
Coincidentally, the origin behind Birds Of A Feather is also one of ‘scorching’ nature – founded by Chengdu chefs who have moved to Singapore, the dual-shophouse unit is a nod to the Chengdu legend of the Golden Sunbird, an ancient tale about how the sun was rescued by sunbirds from an evil wizard. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for stories like that, and restaurants for fantastical concepts.
As such, a strong connection with nature is exhibited within the casual space – tables and countertops made from wood, chandeliers assembled using real leaves from Chengdu, fluffy cloud-shaped lamps, and plants and branches scattered all around that create the impression that you’re dining in a rainforest. Swooping down into Birds Of A Feather is definitely an immersive experience, and it’s certainly easy to lose track of time here when you’re sprawled across the restaurant’s emerald green sofas while sipping on a hot cup of tea. But rest assured, any torpor you accumulate here will be disrupted the moment you have a taste of the menu.
For the record, prata curries are barely tolerable for me, so I hope this gives you a gauge of how spice-sloppy I am. At $18, the roasted chicken and avocado salad with Szechuan pepper wasn’t potent enough to leave tears in my eyes, but I could still feel tingles on my tongue that cut through the thick, creamy avocado. The Fortune skewer in Szechuan pepper broth ($19, and $24 with Japanese glass noodles) is a spicy, clear stew filled with lightly boiled sticks of quail eggs, potatoes, cauliflower, lotus root and prawns – five sips of this was enough to get me coughing. But it was the restaurant’s devilish rendition of La Zi Ji – dubbed Find The Chicken In The Chillies ($16) – that did a number on me; marinated in Szechuan seasoning and deep fried with dried red chillies, these sizzling chicken poppers are perfect for snapping you out of a hangover.
With that said, not every dish on the menu is set to start infernos in your mouth. The Oriental angel hair Bolognese ($22) was thankfully tamer yet tantalising – the thin pasta is cooked and tossed in a savoury, nutty, mildly-spicy zha jiang sauce with minced pork, and is made thicker with the gooey yolk of burst onsen tamago. Another East-meets-West dish that goes easy on the heat is the grilled cheese panini ($20), stuffed with braised pork belly and pickled cabbage that resembles the popular Szechuan dish, Hui Guo Rou (or twice cooked pork).
And if that doesn’t fill you up, or you’re craving another punch to your palate, the hot and sour chazuke ($28) is one dish that aces in flavour and presentation. When served, a pickled mustard green broth is poured over char-grilled barramundi and Japanese Niigata rice topped with mentaiko, which ends up giving the dish a porridge-like consistency. But unlike your calming bowl of congee, the broth here will give you a sour, spicy kick similar to Thai tom yum goong, so brace yourself for this one… if your mouth’s not already fully numb by this point.
While I might’ve used up a whole packet of tissue over the course of this meal, I’ll certainly be brave enough for a return visit now that I know what to expect. Diners who can handle the heat will have feel right at home at Birds Of A Feather, as would traditionalists familiar with the boldness of Szechuan cuisine. A hot new reason to flock to Amoy Street? Most definitely.
Birds Of A Feather, 113 Amoy Street, Singapore 069935, p. 6221 7449. Open daily 10am-11pm.