Five of Macau's best private kitchens

In the less touristy districts of Macau, private kitchens offer a gastronomic alternative to the luxury hotels

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 1:13pm

Down the narrow alley of Rua da Vitoria hides one of the hottest tables in town. Here, knocking on the right door doesn’t guarantee entry – the single round table accommodates just one booking per night. “For weekend bookings you have to wait for more than a month,” says owner-chef Victor Law, checking his calendar. “And I have to reserve some days exclusively for my friends.”

The eatery Law operates is a private kitchen. While the dining concept took off in Hong Kong during the 1990s, it was not until recent years that it made a formal foray across the border.

Found mostly in residential buildings in the less touristy districts of Macau, private kitchens offer a gastronomic alternative to the luxury hotels. By calling themselves “private”, they get around the need for licensing and the relevant regulations, and therefore enjoy greater flexibility in terms of presentation and pricing.

As no official promotion can be done, these reservation-only businesses depend heavily on word of mouth. Many have managed to survive, however, with home-style cooking and creative menus that draw customers time and again.

“Just from bookings, you can tell that private kitchens are widely welcomed among the local community,” says local lifestyle blogger and columnist Susanna Lei, whose food writing is seen on websites such as Vogue China and 163.com.

“Things that make them unique are the sense of privacy and mystery, and the interactions they allow."

Things that make them unique are the sense of privacy and mystery, and the interactions they allow
Susanna Lei, lifestyle blogger and columnist

Law, who has operated his Western-style private kitchen for almost 20 years, sees himself as a pioneer and says that intimacy is the ultimate cachet in his business. The former wine trader began cooking for friends at his wine cellar before launching the kitchen.

“Chefs and patrons are just like friends in private kitchens,” he explains. “There isn’t a fixed menu and instead we talk about budget, expectations and special requests before settling anything. During the meal, they are even welcome to help me with the cooking. They can do whatever they want here – it’s just like home.”

Law, who is self-taught, focuses on getting the best ingredients and preparing them with a minimum of fuss. His specialities include pan-fried Australian lamb steak and baked French baby lamb.

Law’s success has inspired others to enter the scene, including Maria Couto. The Macanese chef spent her early years in the United States and Portugal, accumulating culinary experience in hotels and her family’s restaurant business. She returned in 2008, first running a takeaway lunch service before devoting her efforts to managing a private kitchen in her apartment.

On days with bookings, Couto goes to the market for fresh local produce and starts preparing dinner around 4pm. When guests ring the doorbell, the cheerful housewife rushes out from the kitchen and leads them to the dining room, which is filled with Couto family portraits.

Home-style Macanese delicacies are the focus here. “People keep coming back because they can’t find these dishes elsewhere,” Couto says, placing a pear in port wine – a traditional Portuguese dessert – onto the table. And the chef makes sure no one leaves her five-course meal wanting more, saying “everyone needs to leave with a full stomach”.

While Law and Couto specialise in home-style cooking, other private kitchen owners pride themselves on offering an intimate haute dining experience.

Former hotel chef Tommy Cheang launched his private kitchen in 2010 to serve upscale Italian cuisine. Having recently relocated from a residential building to a kitchenware showroom, he hosts a maximum of 26 diners per night for 1,000 patacas each.

Cheang insists he offers good value for money. “One of the advantages of private kitchens is that we can calculate the exact amount of ingredients needed, because we know how many people will come in at a time and their choices,” he says. “So we manage to import from fresher and rarer sources without having to attribute any wastage to the price.”

Cheang’s dishes are luxurious as far as the ingredients and presentation go. A signature appetiser features translucent slices of scallop carpaccio topped with bits of sea urchin and gold foil, while pizza comes with slices of fragrant Australian black truffle. From working alone to having a small team today, Cheang is glad to have cleared some initial hurdles.

“At the beginning, I had to make repeated phone calls and ask old customers and friends to come,” he says. “Without a stable customer base, I couldn’t get ingredients from outstanding sources.”

Seeking to stand out by offering entertainment facilities, such as mahjong tables and a karaoke machine, Benny Fong from Red House is well aware of the difficult business environment.

“Private kitchens don’t have licences so we can’t do any promotions,” he says.

“You have to be special and worth the cost in order to survive. Our greatest selling point is that people are able to dine on high-end fusion cuisine without needing to care about manners or rules,” he says, adding that the venue is popular among company clients.

Going Private

GRAND CLUB
Cuisine: International fine dining Cost: Minimum of 12,000 to 15,000 patacas
37/F, Grand Club Tower, Grand Hyatt Macau
Tel: (853) 8868 1234

MARIA'S PRIVATE KITCHEN
Cuisine: Home-style Macanese 
Cost: About 300 patacas per person
Hoi Fu Garden, Rotunda de 
S. João Bosco
Tel: (853) 6679 4825

RED HOUSE
Cuisine: High-end fusion
Cost: About 500 patacas per person
109-CB, Avenida Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida
Tel: (853) 6633 6033

TOMMY'S PRIVATE KITCHEN
Cuisine: Italian fine dining
Cost: 1,000 patacas per person
Near Avenida de Horta e Costa
Tel: (853) 6668 6685

VICTOR'S PRIVATE KITCHEN
Style: Home-style, western
Cost: About 300 patacas per person
Rua da Vitoria, No 2G, R/C
Tel: (853) 2830 2828