If our experience at the Birdcage this week is anything to go by, chefs Luke Firth and Chad Dufall are turning out some of the best Asian themed vegetarian food around town.
We stopped in for lunch, didn’t head up to the Aviary bar on the roof with the weather not that conducive to a visit, but into one of the comfortable booths by the windows looking out onto the mall.
The menu, as so many are these days, is designed to share – informed by our friendly and engaging waiter, small plates about entrée size and larger dishes about 1 and half serves. The food has an Asian bent – pink pepper squid with chilli and green onion; five spiced lamb ribs with chilli soy; steamed buns with a variety of fillings; sweet and sour pork belly; braised black bean beef cheek and green fish curry, among the offerings.
Feeling righteous and wanting only something fairly light, we settled on three vegetarian dishes – two from the small shares and one larger plate – chilli salted silken tofu; green chilli fried corn cup; and vegetable rendang.
The drinks list provides a good range of beers, both on tap and bottles, and some excellent wine choices – 2014 Plantagenet Riesling, 2006 Tyrrell’s Belford Semillon, 2012 Cullen Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, 2012 Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay, 2012 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir, 2012 Cullen Diana Madeleine Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and 2012 Howard Park Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon, among them; with around three dozen available by the glass.
Looking for something to suit the spicy food on order 2014 Vinaceous Salome rosé appeared the right choice. Made from tempranillo, with aromas of cherry and strawberry, it also had hints of rose petal and musk. The palate had plenty of fruit and mid palate sweetness, but savoury and liquorice notes helped it to a nice dry finish. It was, indeed, a good accompaniment to our food.
The tofu was presented as small deep fried cubes, with a slightly spicy and salty coating. Inside the tofu was slippery and creamy; the small dish of tamarind caramel dipping sauce provided an amalgam of sweet and sour notes. The dish was a contrast of texture and taste and showed some real skill in design and implementation.
Fried cup shapes made from corn and green chilli were served with a yuzu infused avocado cream; tangy citrus set against sweetness from the corn and zesty chilli notes. It was another dish of textural and flavour contrasts carried off very well.
The rendang had all the flavour notes expected of this classic of Indonesian and Malay cuisine – although there are as many recipes as you can shake a stick at, the key components include chilli, galangal, garlic, lemongrass, turmeric and coconut milk. The dish was aromatic, lemon, garlic, ginger and coconut dominant, the vegetables – sweet potato, eggplant, green beans, bean shoots – well cooked, retaining crunch and bite – and the spices perfectly balanced, supported by underlying sweetness from, probably, cane sugar and creaminess from the coconut milk. Served with crushed cashews, chopped dried chilli, mint and coriander on the side, it was another very impressive dish.
While we stuck to the vegetarian side on this occasion and cannot speak for the other dishes on offer, the quality of those we had was very high – balanced spices and seasoning, contrasting textures providing interest and points of difference, presentation very good – and professional waiters combined with an inviting ambience, lead us to recommend the Birdcage highly.