June 4, 2016

Macau Michelin tour 2016: another head-scratcher

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Our third stop this weekend was Zi Yat Heen (紫逸軒), the Cantonese restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel Macao with two macarons.  None of us have ever been here, and in private discussions with friends there have been speculations that this place only got their two macarons because sister restaurant Lung King Heen (龍景軒) has three of them.  Well... we decided to find out for ourselves.

I left most of the ordering to the others, and made just one request.  The Man in the White T-Shirt suggested that we order up a few "standard" dishes where ingredients and recipes were not gonna be much of an issue, so that the main difference between restaurants would come down to execution.  That sounded like a good idea...

We were given a smaller menu of "seasonal recommendations (時令精選)" apart from the main menu - which also contained the two "set menus" designed to be ordered as individual portions.  After flipping through it, we wondered out loud how many ingredients were actually "seasonal"...

Our little amuse bouche was a little dish of string beans marinated in X.O. sauce (X.O.醬釀四季豆).  This had a little spicy kick to it.

Marinated cucumber in vinegar (涼拌手拍黃瓜) - lots of black vinegar here delivering acidity.  In that sense it worked well as a starter.

Barbecued pork with honey (密味香叉燒) - since many high-end Cantonese restaurants have been using premium, imported pork to make their char siu (叉燒), we asked our waiter whether any special type of meat was being used.  He matter-of-factly replied: "It's pork."  After he walked away, we couldn't help but chuckle at his response.  It was basically a real-life version of the Cantonese joke "Mothers are women (阿媽係女人)" happening before our very eyes.  No shit, Sherlock...

Back to the char siu itself: this was kinda weird.  There were clearly two very different textures - from two different parts of the pig - being served on the same plate.  There were pieces that were seemingly leaner but which turned out to be very tender.  At the same time, half the plate had tendons which were, of course, kinda chewy.  While we liked the fact that this didn't have a thick coating of honey glaze - and therefore not too sweet - the inconsistency of the texture kinda dampened our enjoyment.

Baked stuffed crab shell with onions and crab meat (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - I like the addition of onions in a stuffed crab shell dish, so I didn't mind too much the abundance of it... although I wish they were a little more caramelized and less crunchy.  But I felt that there was just too much cream here... and that covered up the natural flavors of the crab meat itself.

Stewed suckling pig knuckle with Japanese pumpkin and black beans (豉香日本南瓜炆豬腳仔) - this sounded interesting on the menu, but in actually the flavors were just OK.  The Man in the White T-Shirt wondered if they actually took the traditional marinated knuckles and put them through a second round of cooking...

Bamboo piths stuffed with spinach in fish broth (魚湯竹笙釀菠菜卷) - a very simple dish that got the thumbs-up from everyone.  We needed a veg dish and this "seasonal selection" turned out to be it.

It's just stuffing some spinach into bamboo piths (竹笙), then serving in a milky fish broth while throwing in a couple of wolfberries (枸杞).  The addition of white pepper neutralized any strong "fishy" flavors from the broth.  Simple and clean flavors.

Zi Yat Heen crispy chicken (紫逸脆皮雞) - we ordered half a chicken as there were only four of us.  I must say that while many people I know order crispy chicken on a regular basis, I find it incredibly boring once I've had the paper-thin crispy skin.  In tonight's case, the meat was under-seasoned and had very little flavor... so once again I'm gonna throw in the simple demand that "chicken should taste like chicken (雞有雞味)".  This was so uninteresting that we left quite a few pieces on the plate.

Braised egg noodles with shredded fish maw and spring onions, abalone sauce (鮑汁花膠絲炆麵) - now this was pretty interesting.  It's pretty common to see braised noodles with abalone sauce, but adding shredded fish maw (花膠) was a nice touch.  At least it added some interesting texture to the dish besides julienned carrots, even if the flavors of the fish maw were somewhat overpowered by the abalone sauce.

Sweetened cream of walnut with coconut (椰青生磨核桃露) - I'd never seen chunks of coconut being added to a dessert like this, and it wasn't bad.  The walnut cream had a reasonable degree of thickness, while coconut chunks were sometimes soft and at other times crunchy.

At the end we were presented with some petits fours.  The puff pastry was filled with red bean paste, and we also got a small chunk of brown sugar sponge cake (馬拉糕).

Honestly, dinner tonight was a little underwhelming - especially considering that they've had themselves two macarons for 7 straight years.  They failed on the execution of a classic dish, and their ingredient sourcing was a little questionable on another classic.  If a restaurant isn't dependable on its classic offerings, then I wouldn't have much faith in its more "creative" selections.

A few final words on service: while service tonight was attentive, they still made the classic mistake that 95% of all Chinese restaurants make.  It was good that they paused after sending us the two starter dishes of cucumber and char siu along with the stuffed crab shell, but the next 3 dishes came within 10 minutes of each other, and our big clay pot of noodles came less than 10 minutes after that.  There was no way for us to even get to the noodles, so we kept the lid covered on the clay pot for a while.  No doubt this affected the texture of the ingredients and therefore our enjoyment of the dish... and isn't something I would expect from a starred restaurant inside a Four Seasons hotel.

But the Great One did catch a glimpse of her ultimate big boss in real life for the first time... as did I.  At least we could count the celebrity sighting as a highlight of the evening.

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