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Macau

Macau’s Michelin-starred European restaurants offer amazing food at fantastic prices

Food this good can’t be rushed, so take a day trip to Macau and settle in for a long lunch – and stick with the set meals, which are still excellent value for money despite recent price increases

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 4:55pm

It used to be that when Hongkongers took the one-hour ferry ride to Macau, it was to get away from it all for a relaxing weekend wandering around the quiet cobblestone streets. The end of the gambling monopoly put an end to that, and people now are more likely to go for a weekend of shopping and trying their luck in the casinos.

But food lovers have long known that Macau is a great destination for fine dining at a (relative) bargain: if you go at lunch and order the set meals, the Michelin-starred European restaurants are fantastic deals (the Chinese places are well-priced, too, but we’ll save that for another article). We visited three of the restaurants to give you an idea of what to expect.

Robuchon au Dome ★★★

For many of us, this is the restaurant that started it all; for several years, friends and I have made regular trips to Macau just to eat here, timing it so we’d arrive on the ferry then take a quick taxi ride for our lunch reservation at noon, then making the return trip at 5pm, after finishing a long, leisurely meal (food this good can’t be rushed).

How chef Joël Robuchon transformed Macau’s dining scene with his culinary mastery

When the restaurant opened in 2001, it was known as Robuchon a Galera and was located in the Hotel Lisboa, and the five-course lunch menu was less than HK$500 (it also offers three- and four-course lunches). The name was changed to Robuchon au Dome when it moved to larger and shinier new digs at the Grand Lisboa (although it kept its three stars awarded by Michelin). And as with everything else, the price has crept up over the years: when we visited last year in October the price for the five-course lunch was HK$638; by this June it had jumped significantly to HK$888 (three courses are HK$688; four are HK$788).

It’s worth it, though. Julien Tongourian has taken over from long-time chef Francky Semblat (who has moved to Shanghai) and he continues in the restaurant’s tradition of serving very fine food. The service hits just the right note between friendly and formal. There are six food trolleys, starting with a fantastic display of house-made breads (the new-ish cheese puff is excellent, but my favourite remains the bacon baguette), butter (salted or unsalted?), then moving on to cheese, desserts (so abundant it takes two trolleys) and mignardises.

Before the start of the meal proper, everyone is served an amuse bouche; for this recent meal it was a light cherry gazpacho that’s made all the more refreshing with the frozen ricotta that’s sprinkled on top at the table, sending up puffs of cold air. From a choice of four appetisers, I choose crab meat and avocado cannelloni which had citrus and vanilla condiment and delicate micro-greens. Mindful of the dishes to come, for my next course I chose the relatively lighter of the soups: tiny foie gras ravioli with a pile of green herbs, over which a ginger-infused chicken broth was poured. My main course (from a selection of eight) had a HK$90 supplement, but that’s because it had half a succulent Maine lobster with spaghetti and an intensely flavoured but surprisingly light spiced coral emulsion. Delicious.

Cheese or dessert comes next, but as there were five of us, we decided to make our own selections and put everything in the middle of the table to share: so in effect, we had cheese and dessert. The cheese, of course, is excellent (my favourite was the deliciously creamy Brillat-Savarin), and from the lavish dessert trolley (select as many as you want, within reason), you simply can’t miss the mille-feuille and the opera, although if you’re feeling full there are lighter choices such as fruit salad and grilled pineapple.

The meal doesn’t end there: the waiter will wheel in the mignardises trolley. In a word: amazing. There are lollypops, pates de fruits, caramels, nougat, chocolates, canneles, madeleines, macarons, cookies … I’ve been tempted to ask for one of each (and resisted, so far), but I always get an extensive selection.

A few words about the wine. Robuchon au Dome (and actually, all of the restaurants at the Hotel Lisboa and the Grand Lisboa) have a wonderful, extensive wine list. It used to come in a huge, heavy tome; now it’s on a tablet, but it’s something that any wine lover would love to spend time poring over. It’s almost like a history book of wines, offering many old and rare bottles that you won’t see at many other restaurants.

Robuchon au Dome, 43/F Grand Lisboa, Avenida de Lisboa, Macau, tel: +853 8803 7878

The Tasting Room ★★

The price of the five-course set lunch at The Tasting Room has gone up since we visited in April: a whole HK$70. But even at HK$588, it’s still a bargain (three courses are HK$398; four are HK$488).

The feeling of luxury starts with the amuse bouche: not many places are as generous to serve an appetiser-size portion of Alaskan king crab with caviar and green apple sorbet.

I tried to pick out the lighter dishes in chef Guillaume Galliot’s menu, which was wise. My appetiser of salmon confit with fennel and radishes, delicious as it was, paled in comparison to my friend’s selection: an amazingly delicious slow-cooked egg with silky-smooth potato puree, Parmesan and onion. Unfortunately it was so rich that he was forced to change his mind about having five courses, and had only four.

French mushroom soup with bacon tortellini and wild garlic emulsion was delicious, as was the lobster with green pea fricassee and oyster emulsion. But the highlight of the meal was the pigeon from Racan with fava bean puree, popcorn and jus infused with Peranakan nut, which gave it an exotic, elusive flavour. For dessert, strawberry puffs with pistachio parfait would have been the wiser, lighter choice, but I’ll order almost anything with caramel in it. I managed to eat almost all of the caramelised bananas with caramel, peanut and brown butter ice cream.

The Tasting Room, Level 3, Crown Towers, City of Dreams, Taipa, Macau, tel: +853 8868 6681.

The Kitchen

We’re back at the Grand Lisboa for an entirely different experience from the very French meal we had at Robuchon au Dome. The Kitchen is a steakhouse – and proud of it; you’ll see some of the more exotic/expensive cuts displayed in a refrigerated case by the entrance. Oddly, the menu also lists sushi and sashimi, various types of “special rolls” such as lobster tempura with avocado (HK$650) and pizza (including “Jewish mother’s pizza” with caviar, smoked salmon and cream cheese for HK$650).

We were there for the meat, though, and had a choice between three lunch menus ranging from HK$380 to HK$580. We went for the middle one (HK$480). For the starter, we skipped the salad bar (it didn’t look interesting) and caldo verde, and had the crispy sushi burger with tuna tartare. They were burgers in concept only, using fried, pressed rice patties instead of the bun, with the tuna tartare topped with salmon roe.

The set lunch offers several choices for main courses, but I wouldn’t go to a steakhouse for chicken breast or pork chop. The USDA prime sirloin was cooked to a precise medium-rare, and had picture-perfect grill marks in a cross-hatch pattern. It comes with sauces (I had an excellent hollandaise), and to accompany the meat, diners can choose two side dishes, including creamed spinach, sauteed mushrooms or baked potatoes. For dessert, a tall, many-layered almond sponge cake looked impressive, but paled in comparison to the pretty, varied fruit salad.

The Kitchen, 3/F Grand Lisboa, Avenida de Lisboa, Macau, tel: +853 8803 7777.