Birds of a feather don’t just flock together. In the case of this mod-Sichuan eatery on Amoy Street, they mate and beget more avian-related names such as Halcyon & Crane – whose significance flies over the heads of harried shoppers looking for a bite to eat on Orchard Road.
Halcyon & Crane – a mythical Greek bird and the Chinese symbol of luck – is just a fancy way of saying they do East-West mashups in this all-day cafe at the Paragon. It’s where Eggs Benedict meets Kungpao Chicken in a happy union that the US and China can only hope for.
Halcyon & Crane is a slightly more casual offshoot of Birds of a Feather, which seems to have earned a following for its quirky approach to Chengdu cuisine, which is where its owners hail from. Think gyoza with truffle soy vinaigrette; Oriental bolognaise with pork ragout and onsen tamago – not quite Sichuan but onsen tamago makes everything taste good; duck leg confit with potato puree and Sichuan pickled vegetables. You get the picture.
Although we haven’t been to the original restaurant, Halcyon & Crane takes the same idea and runs with it, applying it beyond lunch and dinner to include breakfast, brunch and anything in between. There is a health-conscious side to the menu with its penchant for granola, cereal and healthy grains, but it also caters to diets with a higher alcohol content. The whimsically drawn menu covers all bases – salads, sandwiches, noodles, rice and mains. If you’re thirsty, you can pick from the whisky, yuzu and ginger beer in Spicy Monkey, or the more benign Crazy Rich Asian mocktail of kaya, honey, lemon and pineapple.
If you’re into liquid breakfasts, there is the ultimately weird cereal killer (S$13) where corn, oat and barley flakes are mixed with milk in a glass which you suck up through a fat paper straw. Somehow, it feels like a violation of the rules of the universe to drink your cereal instead of eating it from a bowl. It’s just something you don’t do, like, say, pointing at the moon in case your ear gets cut off during the night. We don’t mess around with such things.
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The cafe is spread out over two seating areas divided by a walkway and looks more like a pop-up than a permanent space. Getting a server’s attention is hard, and when we do get it, she seems almost surprised that we want the baked egg pancake. We almost think we’ve accosted a passing teen shopper by mistake, but no. Our girl in hot pants definitely works there, but she does not bring us our pancake. Her colleagues bring us the other dishes we order, which include our favourite Speciality Beef & Tomato Braised Rice (S$28) – a heartwarming beef broth that’s rich from 16 hours of brewing, enhanced by the tanginess of tomatoes and the chewiness of rice and mixed grains. As a final flourish, mozzarella cheese and a 64-degree egg swoop in to seal the deal.
There is no real technique to the food at Halcyon & Crane. It’s Asian palate-driven and it takes all the bold flavours and mouth feel that we like, pulling them all together with good basic recipes. Once you have a good beef broth, half the battle is won. You just have to add on different layers of interest – tomato for sweetness and acidity, chewiness with the grains, eggs and cheese because most people like the combo, and there you have it. If anything, the chefs here are really good at juggling comfort food basics together – for example, something stewy, eggy, cheesy, creamy, chewy and spicy in different permutations.
That’s also what makes Halcyon & Crane so appealing. We can’t get enough of the chewy, slippery yu xiang noodle in the Sichuan vongole equivalent, Clams and Yam Noodle (S$22). The “vongole” is just thrown in for effect – this is just chewy ban mian tossed in a fiery tomato-ish gravy with clams and, yes, mozzarella cheese. For a final touch, garlic bread is tucked into the sauce so you have something to mop up all the gravy with.
Baby chicken roulade (S$32) has no cheese but tender sous vide chicken that’s rolled and sliced, served with creamy potatoes, braised daikon and quinoa salad. It’s pricey for what it is and a little too sweet overall, but it’s otherwise the kind of crowd-pleasing fare you don’t think much about.
For dessert, avocado cheesecake (S$16) is a wild card although we’ll give points for effort. Tasteless avocado mousse sits on top of a chocolate sponge base, and as if to compensate for flavour, a scoop of banana sorbet sits there like a sore thumb without complementing anything. Tiramisu on glass (S$15) is a better bet for its familiarity, deconstructed into a creamy parfait with crunchy biscotti.
Halcyon & Crane feels slightly bird-brained – but in a nice way. It’s fun fare and as far as shopping centre dining options go, this almost rules the roost.
Halcyon & Crane
290 Orchard Road
#03-09 Paragon Shopping Centre
Tel: 9727 5121
Open daily: 9am to 10pm
This article was originally published in The Business Times.
Photo: Halcyon & Crane