The last time I visited Macau, it had only ONE major casino- which was controlled by the city’s one and only gaming licensee. The gambling industry was a monopoly back then, and it attracted a fair number of visitors and day-gamblers from Hong Kong. Tourists that visit Hong Kong also saw Macau as a non-gambling day trip worth visiting for its two-and-a-half historic sites and its various unique food offerings. I remember getting off the jet foil and hitting Yee Shun Dairy, Lord Stow’s Bakery, Largo Da Senado (spelling?), and the Ruins of St. Paul at a leisurely pace enjoying the not-overcrowed streets and generally laid-back atmosphere.
Those days are gone. Long gone.
Nowadays, you can barely go anywhere worth going without experiencing an avalanche of tourists not only from China, but also from India, Australia, Taiwan, and everywhere else in Asia. There are currently in excess of 30 casinos in Macau concentrated in two areas: the traditional ‘downtown’ area on Macau island and the up-and-coming Cotai Strip. Seeing the development of the territory after not having visited it in a little more than a decade is mind-blowing. There are shows upon concerts upon sporting events scheduled year-round; there are enough shopping options worthy of a city of ten million millionaires; most importantly (to me), there are countless dining options that includes local street food, Macanese cuisine, Portuguese cuisine, a high quality Indian buffet in a casino, a rodizio that serves breakfast, Michelin-starred Chinese restaurants, a three-Michelin-star decorated Joel Robuchon institution, a black-tie Chinese restaurant that I could not gain entry to (nor even sneak a quick peek of its interior through its completely-sealed-to-outsiders entrance) because I was dress too casually, and every type of restaurant in between.
With such a wide variety of dining options, you’d think that my family and I would at least leave the hotel we’ve been staying at for the last dinner we were to have at the city before departing the following morning. Nope. Too tired. The hotel was so big and the lineup to get on any type of transportation out of the hotel was so daunting that our best dining option after returning from a night ferry from Hong Kong was right inside the hotel. Not only did we not want to leave the hotel, we didn’t want to leave the wing of the hotel where our room was located in. We just wanted to go down the closest set of elevators and find a random restaurant that served Macanese or Cantonese food.
Old Neptune Restaurant seemed to fit the bill. It looked like a nice enough congee-noodle-bbq-meat place. After stuffing ourselves half the time for the past few days, my family and I were looking for a simple, light dinner.
The meal started off simple enough. We ordered half a roast goose and some pork fried noodles in black bean sauce.
Both dishes were exceptionally good. The noodles were crispy while being neither too oily nor too hard to the bite. The black bean sauce was salted, seasoned, and msg’d just right; it had a depth that paired perfectly with the crisp, juicy peppers and the perfectly-balanced-chewy-tenderness of the pork.
The goose had a thin, crispy, savoury, just-oily-enough, and sweet-in-an-umami-kind-of-way skin. The meat was tender and juicy throughout. Every single cut-up section of the half-a-goose – from the head to the buttocks – had texture and flavour that left you craving for another piece.
Our mouths were left salivating and our appetites appropriately intrigued after our two initial dishes. We decided to explore the menu just a tiny bit more.
We ordered five more items (and took five mostly blurry pictures of them).
The first was the meat cake steamed with preserved fish:
The meat cake was enjoyably snappy to the bite while striking a delicate balance between the fat and the lean. The preserved fish provided a brininess and saltiness that added a couple of layers of flavour complexity to the pork. Yum.
The second was the stir-fried Chinese watercress:
The stalks of the watercress were moist and crunchy; they never for one second felt undercooked and raw nor overcooked and mushy. They were nicely coated by a layer of chili-pepper and garlic infused oil. Another yum.
Next came the duck tongue stir-fried with lotus roots and assorted vegetables:
I know a lot of people would cringe at the mere thought of potentially French-kissing the severed tongues of several dead ducks. I’m not one of them. Although I’m not a huge duck tongue fan, I had no problems trying a tongue or two or three. The tongues were some of the best I’ve had in recent memory. They were tender yet bite-y, and they were bursting with a cornucopia of flavours. The lotus roots, watercress, carrots, celery, and snap peas each brought with them differing degrees of crunchiness that worked wonders in taking one’s mind off of thinking about tonguing (and then de-tonguing) a dead duck.
The kidneys were expertly blanched. They snapped to the bite like nobody’s business. The pieces of liver were nice and juicy when they first arrived, but they dried out rather quickly.
Our final dish of the night was the ginormous clay pot fish head stew:
I’m not a huge fan of gnawing on fish bones to get at tiny pieces of meat, but these were the bones of a giant fish. The gelatinous meat was plentiful, and the plentiful meat was unctuous to the extreme. The unctuousness was further accentuated by the umami-ful sauce and the pieces of porous fried tofu that soaked up all of the amazing sweetness of the fish and the umami-ness of the sauce. I have no doubt that plenty of MSG was used in the sauce; I’m glad MSG was used. It enhanced the natural flavours of the fish by a factor of ten while never over-asserting itself in any way, shape, or form.
My last dinner in Macau was satisfying, It was soulful. It took me to a happy place…It was also quite expensive because, as a non-gambler, I did not receive any of the escalating restaurant discounts offered to the gambling guests of the hotel.
So in conclusion, the moral of the story is this: If you want to pay less for meals at restaurants in casinos, lose some money.