In the volatile world of fleeting fads the likes of lobster rolls, cheese tarts and rainbow-hued anything, few dishes have stood the test of time — and fickle tastebuds — the way fried chicken has. Whether it’s buttermilk-fried, served as nuggets or a Japanese chicken katsu (where a cutlet is covered in panko crumbs), or prepared Korean-style, where it’s fried twice for an extra crunchy skin, this tasty poultry dish never fails to satisfy.
After all, just the thought of sinking our teeth into golden, crispy skin that gives way to smooth and succulent meat, is enough to make us drool. We wouldn’t even say no to its fast food joint iterations — even if the origins of the meat in some of those options, may be pretty sketchy.
So you can imagine our excitement last year, when we heard of Miami-based restaurant Yardbird Southern Table & Bar’s plans to open its first overseas outpost at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. The eatery is famed for its fried chicken, which is based on a 100-year-old family recipe, as well as other comfort fare such as buttermilk biscuits and macaroni and cheese. We got a first taste of its signature dish at its stall at last year’s Epicurean Market food festival, and were hooked.
After months of eager anticipation, the restaurant is finally open as The Bird Southern Table & Bar. It had to pick a new name to avoid being confused with Hong Kong yakitori joint Yardbird, which will also be opening an outlet here later this year.
Spread across a two-floor unit, the establishment is a rustic venue furnished in wood and white brick walls. Warm lighting gives it a cosy feel, while whisky decanters, which have been converted into hanging lamps, add an ornate touch. Whimsical signboards with slogans such as “run chicken run” and “work hard and be nice to people” adorn the space above its open kitchen, and a slideshow projected on a wall depicts black and white photos of iconic Southern musicians such as Elvis Presley.
An alfresco bar and dining area are located upstairs, which can accessed via a flight of stairs within the restaurant, or directly through Marina Bay Sands.
Like its name suggests, The Bird specialises in Southern American cuisine. Its extensive repertoire of unapologetically indulgent fare runs the gamut of devilled eggs with smoked trout roe, smoked brisket sandwiches, and seared shrimp with grits. Also on the menu is the Low Country Laksa, a local-inspired concoction of red snapper, Carolina gold rice pirlau (a rice grain indigenous to South Carolina), a panko-breaded poached farm egg, and a caramelised ginger and coconut broth.
Customers can pick from various different ways to enjoy its signature fried chicken, including the Blue Plate Special (comprising two pieces of meat with chilled spiced watermelon and a buttermilk biscuit), and Lewellyn’s Fine Fried Chicken, which features half of the bird served with honey hot sauce.
Before digging into the main attraction, we decided to start off our meal with the restaurant’s classic buttermilk biscuits (S$10), which consisted of four warm, buttery scone-like pastries ensconced in a napkin. Covered in a crisp crust with a fluffy interior, the biscuits were a joy to eat with their accompanying honey butter and apple jam. Do note that they get soggy rather quickly, so we recommend not taking too long to finish them.
We also had the macaroni and cheese (S$14), a mix of torchio pasta rolled in a gooey five-cheese sauce, and baked with a crispy herb crust on top. It’s a pretty straightforward dish, but certainly satisfies if you’re craving something comforting and hearty.
Another favourite was the Fried Green Tomato BLT (S$18), which featured three slider-sized portions of juicy, breaded tomatoes stacked with smoked pork belly and pimento cheese, before being slathered with a smoky, umami-packed tomato jam. These are finally laced with a tangy lemon vinaigrette — which helps cut the fattiness of the pork — and garnished with frisée lettuce. Who knew vegetables could taste so sinfully tasty?
It was on to the star of the show. We opted for the Chicken ‘n’ Watermelon ‘n’ Waffles (S$45) — half a fried bird with watermelon cubes spiced in lime, pepper and herbs, and Vermont sharp cheddar cheese waffles. As per The Bird’s century-old recipe, the chicken had first been brined for 27 hours, dredged in a secret blend of flour and spices such as paprika and cayenne pepper, and finally deep fried till crunchy.
The result was a surprisingly light and thin skin that yielded a crisp bite before breaking apart to reveal smooth flesh within. If we have to be honest, it seemed that the spices didn’t really make much of a difference in enhancing the meat’s flavour. The brining process did, however, keep it consistently soft and succulent throughout the chicken — even its breast meat was juicy and tender.
Its sides didn’t disappoint. The sweet and sour watermelon was refreshing and delicious, while the waffles won us over with their layer of salty cheese and chewy texture. When drenched in the accompanying sticky-sweet bourbon-infused maple syrup, the latter was exceptionally satisfying.
While devouring the chicken, we kept ourselves hydrated with some of The Bird’s specialty cocktails. A standout was the Yardbird Old Fashioned (S$27) cocktail, a combination of Angostura bitters, maple syrup and bacon-infused Wild Turkey Bourbon that tasted like a regular old fashioned, but with a mild smokiness. The restaurant makes this by macerating bacon fat in bourbon before straining it out, so the spirit is imbued with the meat’s savoury flavour.
All of our diet plans had been effectively obliterated by now, so we decided to kick things up a notch by ordering the restaurant’s butterscotch cake (S$18) for dessert. It arrived as a hulking slice of cake covered in bacon-infused frosting for a savoury twist, and paired with a scoop of bourbon ice cream sitting in a moreish butterscotch sauce.
Pecans sprinkled at the bottom and in between the delicate, sponge cake layers added crunch, and the ice cream was topped with two strips of candied bacon as a finishing touch. Bacon, cake and butterscotch might sound like unlikely bedfellows, but the medley of savoury, sweet and buttery flavours actually worked beautifully together.
If you’re on a strict diet, The Bird isn’t exactly the best place to be. While it does offer a few token salad items such as kale, grilled mango and vegetables in Caesar dressing, what you really need to try is its comfort food and fried chicken. Your cardiologist might be appalled at the amount of grease and cholesterol you’re scarfing down with glee, but then again, why settle for second best?
The restaurant also has a weekend brunch menu, which boasts tempting dishes such as grits with cheddar cheese, bacon hash waffles, and ’77 Elvis Pancakes (which come with chocolate chips, banana compote, bourbon bacon syrup and peanut bacon butter). We haven’t tried any of these, but just the repeated mentions of “bacon” already have us sold. Diets be damned, we’ll be back.
The Bird Southern Table & Bar, L1-82, Bay Level, B1-07, Galleria Level, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Ave, Singapore 018956
(All photos: Marina Bay Sands)