09 Dec 2015
The bird is the word
“Bird Bird satisfry you long time” smirks a slogan on the wall. “This taste so good will make you keep come!” crows another on the menu. These, and other hilarious Thai-mangled English witticisms wink knowingly at us in this shophouse bathed in the glow of red light bulbs.
Week-old Bird Bird is an ode to edgy Thai-meets-southern-American cuisine. The main event here is — as its name suggests — chicken. It’s all a bit too self-aware, but it’s done so expertly we fall for it anyway, chuckling at the mural of a cowboy riding a rooster. Mainly because the person behind it is the charismatic Bjorn Shen, a dude who’s equal parts nice guy, bawdy jokester, junk food lover and passionate food nerd. We spot him outside his new restaurant on the sixth night of its opening. Our cover is kind of blown (but we paid for our meal anyway). This is his second eatery after the wildly popular mod Middle Eastern café Artichoke, though he’s given fans a taste of Bird Bird’s cuisine at pop-up markets before this. Bird Bird has found its home amid nondescript French cafes in the not-quite-grungy locale of Ann Siang Road (“the rent was cheap,” says Bjorn). “I want this place to look as ‘lok kok’ (Hokkien for run-down) as possible. Yet, we have to justify our $40 plus a head price tag,” he adds.
09 Dec 2015
For that, a designer and pal at famed architectural firm Ong & Ong ensures the space teeters somewhere between tacky, fun, yet cool. The décor takes a leaf from go-go bars and roadside eateries in Thailand. Mismatched tablecloths line the tables, soulful Motown and Jamaican tunes permeate the room. Dangling overhead: a tangle of riotous lanterns and a rubber chicken which squeaks when you squeeze it “for service”. But it’s all a lot shinier and cleaner than an actual Thai bar, of course. Take note that, as with any self-respecting “ghetto-style” eatery, the name of this establishment is relegated to a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sign outside. Instead, look out for the kitschy signboard that says “Palace of Thai Chicken”.
09 Dec 2015
OREDER THIS: So they’ve got the look down pat. But what of the food? The menu is segmented into a few sections, but we zero in on “Bird”. Specifically the Gai Yan (above, $25 for half a chicken), barbecued chicken from Isaan in northeastern Thailand.
Instead of the street food classic of punchy but grilled-to-dry-oblivion kampong birds, half a plump chook arrives dark golden and glossy, peeking out from an avalanche of fresh coriander leaves. Our makan kaki takes the first bite and his eyes widen. The skin is sticky, salty, sweet, sour, herbaceous charred perfection from a “shitload of garlic, lemongrass and fish sauce”. The bird is bathed in this potent marinade for days, and it seeps into the flesh, tenderising and inundating it with irresistible flavour. It is then grilled to smoky, succulent awesomeness. Even better when it’s dunked into its piquant chilli-tamarind dip.
“I took my boys to Thailand and we ate nothing but grilled chicken and som tum for seven days. They were all tasty but dry. So we took this humble street food and made it juicier and more tender so that we could bring it to a restaurant level,” shares Bjorn. He succeeded.
Speaking of Som Tum ($14), order this spicy green papaya salad that, along with Sticky Rice ($3), is a traditional Isaan-style meal which form the heart and soul of Bird Bird. “If we get these three things right, I’m happy,” says Bjorn. The salad bears no fancy makeover, just the right levels of heat, tang and crunch to make a farang’s eyes water.
OTHER TASTY STUFF: The Nugget Talay ($18 for six pcs) is Bjorn’s take on “McDonald’s nuggets with curry sauce”. Crusty crumbed morsels hold together chopped squid and prawn, each mouthful a crunchy, chewy burst of umami. The accompanying thick green curry dip is Adele-voluptuous: rich, coconutty notes hit with a gutsy burst of spice and lime.
The Thai Pancake ($10) is a fun nod to southern American cornbread. Except this is a fluffy coconut cream pancake studded with kernels of corn, then draped with two oozy yolked fried eggs and a drizzle of sweet fish sauce caramel. Unsurprisingly, dessert here is unapologetically decadent. The adorable Thai Donuts ($10) are crowded in a bowl like chewy, lightly crunchy chubby children waiting for a dip in a pool of sweet kaya.
VERDICT: 4 stars for the feisty grilled chicken, som tum and sticky rice alone. 3.5 stars for everything else, because the place is new and tweaks are needed for certain dishes. But Bird Bird brims with delightful sass, and the food, in general, taste so good will make us keep come.
#01-01, 18 ANN SIANG RD, S069698, TEL: 6635-2536. RESERVATIONS TAKEN ONLY FOR 8 PAX & ABOVE. OPEN DAILY EXCEPT MON & SUN. TUE-SAT 6.30PM-10PM (SUBJECT TO CHANGE). LAST ORDERS AT CLOSING. WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/BIRDBIRDSG