October 25, 2009

Macau's Michelin stars

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I've been invited to watch the tennis showdown in Macau today, with the main event being an exhibition match between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.  Having been away from Macau for more than a year, I took this opportunity to visit a couple of restaurants which got themselves Michelin stars in the inaugural guide for Hong Kong and Macau.

We arrived early in the morning and strolled around a little in the old town center, around the touristy area of São Paulo.  As we were in the neighborhood, we used this chance to duck into the famous Leitaria I Son (義順牛奶公司) for some dessert.  I was never a big fan of the signature steamed milk curd (雙皮燉奶) of this place, but I thought I'd go along and order something since my friends wanted to try. I had a bowl of chilled egg custard (冰花燉雞蛋), which was pretty good. Consistency-wise it was a little like crème brûlée, and for Chinese palates it's somewhere between steamed egg (蒸蛋) and the filling of the egg tarts (蛋撻). It's sweet and "eggy", and although I enjoyed having it, I did not finish the bowl since we were soon to have lunch.

We were going to have lunch at the Crown Towers Hotel, so we took a cab over and walked around the City of Dreams - a new complex across the street from the monstrous Venetian on the Cotai Strip.  To my embarrassment I realized that the restaurant I had booked for was not here at the "new" Crown Towers Hotel, but rather at the "old" Crown which has now been renamed Altira Macau.  A friend joked that the name sounds like a hedge fund, and it reminded me of Altria - the former PhilipMorris.  So another cab ride was required to take us to lunch.

I was flipping through my 2009 Michelin Guide and came across Ying (帝影樓), the Cantonese restaurant here which earned itself a star in the guide.  The description of the guide stated: "...The beautifully styled interior has been designed with real taste and quality; even the beaded curtains - featuring gold cranes and crystal trees - are fantastic..."  Uh... good taste by whose standards?  Stanley Ho sets the bar pretty low so that doesn't mean much.  The Venetian Macao is pretty gawdy and was deliberately so to draw in the mainland crowd.  So lots of golden bling-bling is now "real taste"?

OK...let's talk about the food.  It was pretty decent, but Michelin star worthy?  Not quite.  Food was decent but not spectacular, and the serving order of the dishes were all wrong.  Some dim sum items came in the middle, and the barbecue meat dish was also served late instead of at the start of the meal.

Steamed crystal prawn dumplings with asparagus (露笋鮮蝦餃) - this was pretty good.  The skin was soft and held together, the prawns fresh, and the asparagus gave a slightly crunchy texture to it all.

Cucumber with aged vinegar and garlic (陳醋拍黃瓜) - the cucumbers needed a bit of time to marinate in the vinegar, so the first few pieces I had were a bit more bland.

Fried three flavors rice with pork and chili paste (馬拉盞肉崧炒三色飯) - the three flavor rice refers to three different types of rice grains with different colored husks, including red. Fried with minced pork, corn, chopped kailan (芥蘭) and deep-fried shredded pork on top.  The fragrance of the rice comes from belacan (馬拉盞) - the Southeast Asian shrimp paste.  Initially I was put off by the lack of flavor here, but on reflection I came to see it as something positive, where the paste made the rice aromatic but you weren't hit with the heavy, saltiness of it all.  It was quite an elegant version of the dish.

Poached clams with kuzukini noodles (油鹽水葛絲浸花甲) - not bad.  Not sure why the thick glass noodles became part of the dish...

Crispy pork belly (化皮燒腩) - I personally like the skin thick, crispy and crunchy, which was how this was done here.  I also thought there was a good balance between the lean meat and the fat... yum.

Deep-fried shrimp spring rolls (蒜茸蝦春卷) - pretty nice with a hint of that garlicky flavor along with the shrimp.

Baby spinach in superior broth (上湯浸菠菜苗) - very nice and tender.

Deep-fried squid with spicy salt (椒鹽吊片) - honestly a little too salty for my taste, but the texture was pretty nice.  Not completely deep-fried in batter as expected, but more au naturel and nice.

Overall food was decent and not too expensive.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to choose the right number for the roulette game, otherwise we would have eaten the meal for free.

The tennis was a long, drawn out affair with lots of unwanted (by me anyway) entertainment breaks in the middle.  As expected Agassi was very entertaining, and Sampras was his usual boring self.  I almost got the feeling that Sampras would rather be somewhere else...

After the tennis match, I met up with other friends for dinner at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源小廚) in Hotel Lisboa.  I was initially pretty excited to return to this restaurant since it received 2 Michelin stars, one more than its sibling in Hong Kong.  Unfortunately I received a message from a friend today, informing me that the chef responsible for the additional star has returned to Hong Kong.  Oh well...

The setting here was a little nicer than the small restaurant in Hong Kong, but as expected the service was not great.  Not that the staff was rude, but they just could have been better trained.

Steamed whole fresh crab claw with egg white (蛋白蒸蟹鉗) - I wanted to try this preparation for the claw, since I've already had the winter melon (冬瓜) version and was advised against the deep-fried (椒鹽) claw.  This was wonderful.  The large claw was very, very sweet and succulent.  It was fresh and the flesh had a springy feeling when I bit into it.  The egg white custard was a little harder than I had anticipated, but was still a nice complement to the starchy sauce flavored with Chinese ham broth.  A very good start to the meal.

A friend wanted to try the braised goose web and pork tendon in oyster sauce (豬腳筋扣鵝掌), so I followed her lead and it turned out to be a good call.  Surprisingly the pork tendon was not cooked to the point of being soft and gooey (like Chinese beef tendon), but was a bit chewy.  The goose web was surprisingly salty.  As is typical the dish was served with mustard greens (芥菜).

Stewed bean curd with fresh crab meat and eggplant (鮮蟹肉茄子炆豆腐) - my friend chose this and it was absolutely spectacular for something seemingly so simple.  The dish was flavored with stir-fried minced meat, chili and dried shrimps which are the basic ingredients of yuxiang (魚香) - giving everything a wonderful fragrance.  The crab meat was fresh and sweet, and the eggplants juicy and yummy.  The tofu was also pretty good.  I'd order this again in a heartbeat.

Sautéed pork stomach with pickled vegetable and bamboo shoots (七彩炒肚尖) - this was one of the yummy dishes I had earlier this year in Hong Kong, so I was definitely going to have it again.  I really enjoyed the different textures of the ingredients, especially the springy feeling of the tripe fighting back against my teeth as I chewed on it.  The sweet pickle was very nice.

Steamed pork pie with salted fish (咸魚蒸肉餅) - initially I thought this was a bit too firm, but having had more bites it turned out fine.  There were some yummy and fatty bits in the meatloaf, and of course the usual crunchy bits from bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.

The meatloaf was nice on its own, but also great with the fried rice with fresh crab meat and egg white (鮮蟹肉蛋白炒飯).  The fried rice itself was nice and light, with just enough deep-fried shrimp/salted fish flakes sprinkled all over to make it fragrant without overpowering the delicate flavors of the crab meat and egg white.

Finally we had leaf amaranth stir-fried with garlic (蒜茸炒莧菜), which was a nice way to finish.  Since the restaurant doesn't really do desserts, we decided to do that elsewhere.

I think the quality of the food was very high, although there is definitely a price premium being charged for being in Hotel Lisboa instead of being in the hole-in-the-wall in Hong Kong.  I guess I'll stick to the original Hong Kong location in the future.

Later on in the evening, we strolled around old town again and had dessert in a small joint. The dessert itself was forgettable, but I came across the famous street with lots of old shops along with a few famous restaurants, including the original Fat Siu Lau (佛笑樓) and Cheong Kei (祥記麵家).  These would definitely be on my hit list for the next trip...


Anonymous said...

You must spend a fortune chasing those Michelin stars... I guess for a trust fund kid (or whatever you are) it doesn't really matter, but for the rest of us money is an object.

Why go to Macau and eat Cantonese? Surely the whole point is to eat Macanese? Somewhere like A Petisqueira is far more interesting than yet another Cantonese restaurant?

Peech said...

Alas, no trust fund here... although some of my fellow diners do have them.

I wanted to eat Cantonese in Macau for a change, since I've always had local food on my many previous visits. I wanted to take down a couple of Michelin stars and see whether their status are justified.

Will be going back to Macanese on my future visits.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peech:

Same conclusion as you: I think highly of Tim's Kitchen but Ying is slightly overrated. For Dim Sum, I am more impressed with Imperial Court at MGM and Canton at Venetian than Ying.


Susan said...

I've never eaten at Tim's Kitchen in Macau. I always WANT to go there for dinner, but since I always have lunch at a Galera, there's not enough room in my stomach. I guess I could go for the three-course lunch but what's the fun in that?

Babedolphin said...

I have tried Dinner here at Ying's and its actually quite impressive and execution is top notch, but seems like lunch isn't any good though. Definitely 1 Star worthy for dinner. :(

MGM's Imperial Court I tried lunch twice - it was really good but a few months later the menu got downsized! Interesting dim sim items here that one can't find in Hong Kong, but execution is not 1 Star Michelin but close enough. Not sure about Dinner though but I have a feeling it'll be better!

I reckon Cantonese food in Macau is quite high to be honest, definitely worth eating vs the low prices! :)

mikey said...

Hi Peech

Mikey from Chow. Was just in HK and was lucky enough to get a last minute reservation at Tim's Kitchen. The crab claw w winter melon is great as was the fried pork innards & glass prawn. The next table had a stuffed duck which they had to take away in 4 boxes and some satay sauce stir fried cheong fun - hope to try those next..


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