You’ve heard of Las Vegas but may not have heard of Macau. This is, rather surprisingly for a Westerner the wrong way around as Macau is far bigger and more important than Vegas nowadays and overtook it on gambling revenues way back in 2007.
Macau is, like Hong Kong, a Chinese Special Administrative Region or “SAR”. This basically means it is a cultural mess. A vestige of Portuguese imperialism which the Chinese by virtue of having the world’s largest military quite peacefully nabbed back off the Portuguese in 1999 and have run differently from the Mainland (read capitalistically) since then.
The unique thing about it is meant to be the influence of Portuguese colonialism on the buildings and food. In reality it is the gambling. Millions and millions of Chinese pour into Macau for that sole reason. In the places where the hotel complexes haven’t managed to concrete over and in glimpses from the food, however, you can still see the slight influence of the Portuguese. It’s not egg tarts in Macau but custard tarts in all their glory.
I’ve been to Macau twice now and the first time I hated it. The first time I went to the main island, saw the hotel girls in their skintight lycra (well that was ok) and culture-less buildings helping people indulge their gambling addictions. However, the second time I went back and went to the slightly smaller island of Taipa and gave in and got a seriously bling hotel room and spent a lot of time by the pool. Suffice to say I loved it and quite how ridiculous it is.
Whilst this is a food blog to not mention the casinos in Macau would be a dereliction of duty because that is what Macau is – legalised gambling and a dumping ground for every casino brand you have ever heard of. Great ironic pleasure can be had from wandering around the Venetian (replete with chlorine filled internal canal systems and electric gondolas) and gawping at the low ceilings and decadence of the Lisboa. We began one of our evenings with a romantic cocktail looking at the pure blue waters of the Venetian canals. Till I can afford to take Jen to Venice its the best I can do.
Macau is not exactly pretty – but it is an interesting mix and worth a day of wandering. The centre has some historic buildings which won’t amaze you if you have been to Portugal or Spain but the unabashed might of the casinos will. If your jaw doesn’t drop at how much there is and the raw effort expended on it all I would be amazed.
The casinos also have some serious dining. Joel Robuchon’s only 3* Michelin is in the Hotel Lisboa and Tim’s Kitchen (a haute Cantonese cuisine restaurant) also has a 2* Michelin place in the same place. We didn’t go for either of those, however, as we wanted to try the Macanese cuisine with its Portuguese and African influences poking their way into southern Chinese food.
- Price – 250MOP a person (£20)
- 45 Rua dos Clérigos, Taipa Village, Taipa Island, Macau
We found Galos Portuguese restaurant in the centre of Taipa by the red rooster on the door outside. It serves “Macanese” food by which one means, founded by the Portuguese, cooked by the Chinese, staffed by Filipinos. It was damn good in a dirty way. The atmopshere and decor is a touch like a Nandos with the connection to Portugal being shouted about through red roosters and tat on the walls.
We started with sardines which came out perfectly cooked which was unsurprising given the skill of most Chinese cooks with seafood.
Then followed the real indulgence – African chicken – a classic Macanese dish. To the uninitiated this is broiled chicken doused in sweated onions, garlic and spice. Perfect to mop up chips or a hangover with. Next time I am back in Macau I am going straight for it again.
This is the dish Jen will hopefully be inspired to try and cook this week because it was deliciously unhealthy.
Our other meals in Macau consisted of snacking on Macanese Portuguese snacks such as custard tarts (which were uniformly unhealthy but tasty) and the big fancy meal at Antonio’s which, erm, wasn’t.
- Price – 600MOP a head (£50 odd quid)
- António, Rua dos Negociantes No. 3, Old Taipa Village, Taipa, Macau
Antonio is one of a couple of places where guidebooks suggest you should go for high level Macanese food. People obviously know different as it is empty when you go in. Quite frankly I wished we had gone to the other suggestion – Fernando’s (review by Mocha here) – as Antonio’s was a relatively expensive disappointment.
I should have know as soon as we walked in as it splashed the Michelin emblem everywhere in what seemed a demonstration of a lack of confidence. From memory (as my guide is elsewhere) I am fairly sure it doesn’t have a star or a bib and after our meal doesn’t warrant one.
The starter of clams was just plain bad. Overcooked and rubbery. Nothing like the joy that any Portuguese or Cantonese chef normally brings to seafood. Whilst we were struggling with those there was an amusing interlude as our Russian waiter sought to manhandle a bottle of white into submission by grinding ice into it.
Then came our main. A fish stew. It was good with nice fresh seafood but also expensive and the kind of quality you can get from any cooked food centre in Hong Kong for a tenth of the price.
So next time it’s Fernando’s, Robuchon and Tim’s Kitchen then… And a lot more cocktails by the pool.
For all the reasons you shouldn’t like Macau I have to admit I rather love it. Now I just have to save up and get that suite at the Venetian (and perhaps borrow Mike Tyson’s tiger).
PS – Jen has now done her recipe based on African chicken which you can find here if interested.