This is part two of my wine and food lover’s guide to Macau and Hong Kong, where I had been invited to visit these contrasting lands, and experience what they had to offer the tourist with a passion for fine food and wine.
In part one: a tour of Macau, I looked at the unique cultural influences that have shaped this fascinating territory. In part two, I explore the islands of Taipa and Coloane, look further at the wonderful Macanese cuisine, wine scene, and give my tips for the best restaurants and hotels. There is also some practical information on travelling to, and around Macau.
The peninsula of Macau is connected to its two principal islands, Taipa and Coloane, by futuristic, sweeping bridges that makes getting around by taxi or the dependable local bus services very simple, quick and inexpensive. Taipa is a very popular destination for weekending Macanese and foreign visitors alike.
In the 18th century Taipa offered an anchorage to clipper ships engaged in trade with China. Cargoes of muslin, manufactured goods and opium were transferred up the Pearl river to Canton, to return laden with tea, silk and porcelain for export around the world. You will see long-abandoned factories that offer a slightly eerie reminder that Taipa was once also famous as a centre for firework manufacture (Macau still hosts the International Fireworks Contest, by all accounts an absolutely stunning event held each October).
But now, tourists visiting Taipa will find leisure and enjoyment opportunities in luxury resorts like the Hyatt Regency, the Macau Jockey Club racetrack and the recently built Taipa Stadium, used for athletics, soccer and rugby as well as the occasional rock concert.
Much of the island’s history is celebrated in the impressive Taipa House Museum. Part of a cultural village that includes the impressive library and Our Lady of Carmel church, the original colonial buildings have been restored to recreate the atmosphere of the 1920’s. As far as possible the furniture, furnishings and decorations are authentic period pieces, many donated by Macau’s oldest families.
An easy stroll away is the old town of Taipa. After lunch in one of the good restaurants around Rua do Cunha, make time to visit the enormously atmospheric United Chinese Cemetery, at the top of the bluffs above the village. Following strict principals of Feng Shui, the stratified graves and temples run down to the sea, guarded over by an enormous and colourful statue of the God Toutei, and there are fine views over to Macau.
‘A step back in time’ is such a cliché I know, but spending a few hours on this tranquil, pastoral, idyllic island is both fascinating and completely uplifting; so far removed from the hustle and bustle of Macau.
Village life seems to go on much as it always has. The boatyards that line the shore near Coloane village are piled high with the seasoned timber that is fashioned by hand into dragon boats. Fishermen sell their catch, fresh and wind-dried, and again glimpses of Coloane’s colonial past rub shoulders with the Chinese population living their lives at a very relaxed pace. Tam Kung Temple is well worth a visit, and Mainland China is almost within hailing distance across a narrow channel through which pass cargo vessels and trawlers.
Don’t miss the delightful square of the sleepy Coloane village. A slice of Portugal in every detail, with cafes and restaurants lining the arcades, cooling fountains and dominated by the lovely old church of St Francis Xaviar. The cannonball- studded monument commemorates the last pirate attack on Coloane, as recently as 1910. Just to the left, a shop/museum/library celebrating the real culture of Taiwan will welcome you with a cup of ginger tea as you browse through crafts and information. The old boatyards are within walking distance.
Practicalities – travel
Although Macau now boasts a brand new International airport, there are as yet only international flights within Asia. Most visitors arrive via Hong Kong, where the fast train from the airport will drop you in Central, a two minute taxi ride from the Macau Jetfoil terminal. From here, a fleet of super-efficient Jetfoils runs every 15 minutes, taking one hour to skim across the 60 kilometres to Macau. As this is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world it is always a journey filled with interest. Tickets cost around £10 each way. The Jetfoils run 24 hours per day, so day-tripping to Macau from Hong Kong is entirely feasible. You’ll need your passport and must pass through immigration. There’s a first class option at extra cost, or if you are feeling really flush, helicopters operate from the roof of the Jetfoil terminal.
Practicalities – hotels
I stayed in the Mandarin Oriental, an undeniably luxurious option. The advantage of the Mandarin Oriental are that it has wonderful views from seafront rooms, is close to the ferry terminal and the wine and grand prix museums, but is on the edge of town, so a half hour stroll to the centre. Another wonderful advantage is the superb Mezzaluna restaurant (see below). Rates start at around £170 per room, per night.
For somewhere more affordable, the Sintra Hotel has a very good reputation at around £75 per night.
Practicalities – restaurants
Here’s a run down of the meals I enjoyed most on Macau and Coloane. Hong Kong food and hotels follow in part three. I suppose it’s a matter of conjecture just how long the many very fine restaurants serving Portuguese and the wonderfully spicy Macanese variations on it will survive now that Macau is once again Chinese, and so many Portuguese nationals have left. Let’s hope the best continue to thrive. I didn’t drink particularly fancy wines on this trip: with so many really good Portuguese wines available for roughly the same or lower prices as in the UK there’s no need to break the bank on really very, very good food and wine.
Litoral, 261 Rua do Almirante Sergio
One of the stand-out meals of the trip was here. A homely setting (family run) in the heart of town, where the airy upstairs dining room is the brighter option. To accompany some inexpensive, crisp Portuguese white I really enjoyed the Camarões con Alho (large garlic shrimps), African Chicken and absolutely first class fresh baked fish. A delightfully tropical and fresh coconut and mango dessert rounded things off in style. Moderate.
A Lorcha, 289A Rua Almirante Sérgio
Very crowded when we visited, but that’s because the food is every bit as good as Litoral, cooked by a mother and son team, and the setting is great next to the Maritime Museum. Moderate.
Frenando’s, at Hac Sá Beach, Coloane
This was another stand-out meal, partly for the setting, but mostly for the food and ambience. A genuine institution, Fernando’s is family run (by Fernando), relaxed and informal, but takes it’s simple yet beautiful food very seriously. Go through the non-descript front room and past the kitchens to the airy, breezy backyard room. Dine on the terrace if it’s fine. Highlights here were the Amêijoas a moda da Casa (baked clams in a creamy sauce), Sargo Grelhado na Brasa (King prawns in garlic) which were to die for, and perhaps best of all, a beautifully seasoned and dressed simple salad of ripe vine tomatoes, onion and green leaves. Superb espresso too. Moderate / expensive.
Dynasty at the Mandarin Oriental
Very good food indeed, with superb lemon king prawns, though dining room rather large and impersonal. Moderate.
Long Kei, 7B Largo do Senado
Not the cheapest in town, but excellent seafood and fine dim sum for lunch. Moderate / expensive.
Thai, 27E Rua Abreu Nunes
Slightly dingy street in this little Thai enclave on the city centre, but a modern restaurant serving really good and healthy portions of Thai staples. The Tom Kha Kai (chicken and coconut soup) was fragrant, sweet and spot on. Inexpensive.
Mezzaluna at the Mandarin Oriental
Ironically, this Italian meal was possibly the finest dining experience I had in my Oriental trip. Mezzaluna is a chic dining room, with a very comfortable, but modern, contemporary feel – not just in its decor, but also in its cuisine. Most of the food is more California does Italy than auhentic, but it was just delightful: superb wood-fired pizzas, light and simple homemade pastas with seafood, a wonderful dish of chargrilled butterfly prawns in spicy garlic butter served with basil risotto and real Michelin star quality desserts. There’s a pretty serious wine list, but we chose the excellent Redoma 1996 from the Douro, at around £20.00; little more than retail price in the UK. Excellent service and a buzzing atmosphere. Expensive.
It is incredible to see so many small traditional Chinese grocers shops stacked with herbal teas, fruit and dried fish, yet also selling a wide range of inexpensive Portuguese wines. To be honest, this is not the place from which to bring back lots of wine. Though the Portuguese selection is fantastic, many of the wines are available in the UK at similar prices. The few shops specialising in fine wines of Bordeaux or the New World have some fantastic stock, but the prices are pretty eyewatering. The supermarket at the corner of Rua de Xagai and Rua de Pequim has a good selection, and the Ferry Terminal has some very upmarket claret.