Friday, July 03, 2009

Macau Part I: Dim Sum

A few weeks ago I went to Macau for a weekend (actually I went 2 weekends in a row). I hadn't been since all the new casinos and their respective Michelin-starred restaurants had opened, so I made sure I bagged a few this time. Maybe I'm becoming old and unadventurous like a Chinatown grandpa, but for some reason, I went and had Chinese for lunch on both days...

The Eight

Steamed beef balls with morels

Very, very tasty with fresh beef that was just cooked through (rather than all grey and overcooked like most beef balls that have spent too much time on the trusty steamer, these were still slightly pink inside). The morels helped, of course, make it super tasty - there were slices on top and under the beef, kinda like the bread of an overstuffed sandwich. With such dominating flavours, I thought they could have toned the sauce down a little - it was quite salty and I ended up smearing it off the beef.

Steamed spare ribs with Thai basil

Looks fairly traditional, with diced up black beans, but it was actually laced with hair-thin strips of Thai basil, which shone through unexpectedly, but beautifully. If only the ribs were in larger dices, then it would've been perfect.

Char Siu (BBQ pork)

Wasn't so excited about this one - it looks pretty yum in the photo, but it was very lean - too lean - on one end, and fat-only on the other. Our fault, I suppose, for not ordering 'half fat-lean' (半肥瘦), which means streaky/marbled (like streaky bacon).

Prawn cheung fun (steamed rice paper rolls)

Thin, translucent and slippery rice paper, huge prawns, good soy sauce - can't really get better than that. The individual parcels are again, a little unconventional, but much less clumsy when it comes to dividing it...

The Eight's swanky Alan Chan-designed interiors. Think Megu Hong Kong with Chinese accents

Tim's Kitchen

Steamed spare ribs

As you've probably guessed, this is my 'control' dish - I order it pretty much at every yum cha place I visit, and this is one of the best I've had. The morsels were cut to the right size (often they are too small, so it's like you're nibbling/pecking like a starved pigeon - it's probably done that way so that it doesn't take so long to marinate & cook through). These were perfectly sized - one human bite-full, juicy, porky and tasty with the traditional black bean, soy etc. marinade. For the uncompromising traditionalist, this wins over The Eight, but since I'm like, so avant garde, I choose The Eight's surprisingly compatible Thai basil-tainted for taste; but this one still wins for the perfect size.

Siu mai (steamed pork dumplings) with salmon roe

To me, the salmon roe was rather pointless. It adds colour, but little else to the dish. Nonetheless it was good, if not a little standard.

Shrimp dumplings in spinach dumpling wrapper

Strangely you can't really see from the photo, but these dumplings were actually green, like someone decided to lightly spraypaint them with a wheatgrass shot, because spinach juice was added to the wrapping. It didn't really make any difference to the taste but anyway, these were good - fresh, crunchy, subtly-flavoured whole shrimps (I think there were two apiece), and a slippery, elastic wrapper that was fine, but not paper-thin. While I do appreciate the skill involved in making a wrapper so thin you can see the filling, I don't believe that thickness is the be all and end all - how smooth/fine it is is also important. A lot of mediocre restaurants serve dumplings with wrappers that are rough and look like they have huge pores - this is in part due to over-steaming, but also to do with how smooth it was in the first place. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find out what factors lead to these differences, but watch this space...

Yeung Chow fried rice

I ordered this because it's so, so basic, but at the same time, so hard to get right. I don't think there's a proper combination of things that go into YC fried rice, at some places they just toss in whatever's left over; here, they put in Chinese sausage (lap cheung) and prawns, both of which are kinda pricey, which is what the average diner here would expect, I suppose. This was quite well done - not a single grain of rice stuck to another. You'd expect that though, given the amount of oil in it, but then again, despite being able to see the glisten of the oil, it didn't seem too oily when I was eating it - quite bizarre, but it was great - savoury spiked with the slightly sweet sausage, chewy grains of rice - I'm not complaining.

So the verdict is, I wish I had a regular yum cha spot close to home that was like Tim's Kitchen - traditional Cantonese dim sum done (very) well, and I wouldn't mind the new, but tacky decor if it was a neighbourhood regular. For food, presentation and ambience, The Eight can't be beat (despite the vulgar Grand Lisboa lobby), though the conservative may have a hard time accepting the slightly fusion-ised menu and low lights.

The Eight
2/F Grand Lisboa Hotel (aka the 'new' Lisboa)
+853 2803 7788

Tim's Kitchen
G/F East Wing, Lisboa Hotel (the 'old' Lisboa - enter from the side with the wavy multi-coloured mosaic canopy, facing the big roundabout, not the side directly opposite the Grand Lisboa)
+853 799 7382