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Macau Left Two years on, Elyse Glickman says Macau is booming.

Macau’s moment

Conceived by big business as the “Asian Vegas”, Macau comes into its own, but with its heart and soul intact by Elyse Glickman
photographed by the author

 

 

TWO YEARS AGO, I went to Macau with a group of food writers and the founder of a top restaurant chain looking for treasure amid the world’s largest construction site outside of Dubai. The gold in question, back in March 2007, was the recipe for the perfect representation of African chicken—the signature dish of Macau blending together influences of Portugal, mainland China and the Silk Road. While we found the best examples of the dish and other specialties at Littoral and a Hospitality and Restaurant School, we fed our souls elsewhere, at spots like the Macau Museum and the Handover Museum and along the bustling main street connecting Senado Square to the Ruins of São Paulo Cathedral.
   There were plenty of stops en route to elaborate Chinese temples and earthy local restaurants to view signposts for the Macau that did not yet exist—building models and scaffolding. Alorino, my guide from my first visit, insisted to truly experience Macau, it was necessary to return in a few years to see it at the peak of its potential. Fast forward to 2009. An invitation to return was an opportunity I could not pass up, and an ideal place to spend my 40th birthday to boot.
   After being spoiled in Cathay Pacific’s Business Class with Agnès B. amenity kits and restaurant-grade food, I arrived in Macau via a connecting Turbo Jet ferry amid a wave of nostalgia, followed by visual shock of a city that doubled in size and was twice as luminous. This time around, Teresa Gomes—a friend and co-worker of one of my mother’s best confidantes from her epic 1960s’ European trip—was our guide. Teresa’s approach to showing off Macau, was sweetly personal and deftly blending usual must-sees with her personal favourite restaurants, side streets, temples, food markets and shops.
   As the energetic Teresa introduced us to her Macau, and waxed poetic about her and my mother’s mutual friend, I tried to figure out why Macau felt even more of a discovery than the last trip. Sure, Hong Kong’s international polished glamour was an hour away by boat, but there was something that remained so earthily appealing about Macau, even with its extreme makeover nearing completion. Since my last visit, loads of glossy Macau magazines cropped up, including an edition of Tatler and Macau Closer, edited by Teresa’s son. There is also a spectacular new Cirque de Soleil show, Zaia, that does a great business by thematically touching on world peace and the environment. However, even with a skyline that announces ‘twenty-first-century powerhouse,’ Macau still has not shaken its character and rustic roots.
   As Teresa will show you, the Macau Museum is as compelling as ever. The original Grand Lisboa, where the Roger Moore-as-James Bond flick The Man with the Golden Gun was shot, has a new paint job. Macau Tower and Fisherman’s Wharf are still providing entertainment for sophisticates with families, while temples around town and the bustling markets are making a taste of mainland China accessible to people coming in from outside Asia. The old house of nineteenth-century trader Lou Kau is the perfect place to be surrounded by old world Chinese beauty while his Lou Lim Ioc Gardens is a perfect place to simply breathe and take in impromptu music and opera performances and tai chi sessions, even as modern Macau grows up around it.
   Taipa and the Cotai strip, meanwhile, are taking on a sheen similar to Repulse Bay in Hong Kong. Big-city sophistication and amenities are tucked into hills and valleys, allowing rural charm to shine through. Across the water from Macau’s downtown and the monolithic collection of now scaffold-free casinos lies the domain of more sophis­ticated escapes in Taipa. An old establish­ment once called the Crown Hotel has been fully trans­formed into the Altira Macau, a venue that epito­mizes every­thing that’s right about twenty-first-cen­tury architec­ture and design. Rather than borrow ideas (even success­fully) from the past as Sofitel Ponte 16 and MGM Grand have done, Altira is the sensory equivalent of 150-year-old cognac served in a contem­porary Baccarat glass. The flower-shaped building is a cohesive whole and yet allows the hotel guests to retreat to privacy if they choose, while another petal welcomes a loyal fan-base of expat residents to enjoy the visual feats offered by restaurants like Kira (Japanese), Aurora and 38. Happy hour at Aurora is a social event, particularly on Fridays, where expat regulars partake in wine tastings similar to those at good brasseries in Roma and Milano, brimming with a buffet of cheeses, meats, condiments and bread. The terrace is as close to heaven as one can get in the area and yet still have the city’s glitzy heart in full view. Every public space is a room with its own identity and personal­ity—not just a part of the hotel’s “theme” like Cæsar’s Palace or the Luxor back in Vegas.
   Teresa’s favourite spots to shop and treasure hunt are Splendid Sesame (a neat, miniature Indian bazaar tucked inside the Grand Lisboa) and the Macau Culture Club (a favourite of mine from my 2007 trip, as well). Beyond those stores, and some of Hong Kong’s most popular boutiques (including Joy & Peace, Shanghai Tang and Moiselle), the Macau of 2007 was primarily a treasure trove of museums, culture and unusual food. Today, thanks to the multitude of shopping opportunities offered by the casinos—especially the city-within-a-city known as the Venetian–Four Seasons complex—one could gamble as much on the latest fashions from every corner of the globe as she could on bets in the city’s ele­gantly sub­dued casinos.
   While my last venture into Macau in terms of food was focused on the fusion of Chinese and Portu­guese flavours, Teresa was intent on showing us how today’s Macau was a show­case for many differ­ent types of food exper­iences. She chose to stage my 40th birth­day at a quiet little spot called Miramar, which captured the flavour and ambiance of a Portuguese beachfront inn on Coalone Island. Our group also feasted our senses at two stereotype-shattering buffet places, Belcanção inside the Four Seasons and Afrikana at Macau Fisherman’s Wharf, that had everything but the 99¢ shrimp cocktails, wilted vegetables and reheated mystery meats associated with the American concept of the buffet.
   Dim sum was a must, and Teresa made sure we experienced that at two of her favourite places. On the first afternoon, we tasted our way to a pleasant saturation at Imperial Court. Later in the trip, did the same, but with a stunning Coalone backdrop and a formal tea tasting at Kwun Hoi Heen. However, veterans of earlier Macau visits needed their fix of African chicken and garlic prawns, so a visit to Litoral—one of the city’s great old-school and decidedly non-casino restaurants—was essential.
   Though Teresa took us to visit A-Ma Temple and her other favourite spiritual places so we, too, could receive the goddess’s special blessings, there was no question in our minds that Macau was a blessed spot for everybody from culture vultures to gamblers, and from fashionistas to foodies. It is also proof, that with a solid respect for history and some careful planning, there are places out there that can be all things to all people. •

 

Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.

 

 

 

Left The goddess that guards Macau. Below, from top The iconic ruins of São Paulo. Away from the maddening crowds: haute happy hours at Altira, one of Macau’s most stunning and newest boutique properties on Taipa. Getting around Macau. At Lines Lab, one of the hot labels coming out of the city.

 








 

 

 

Inset photos, from top New Casino Resorts like the MGM Grand Macau bring more viva to the vintage feel of old Macau, just a few blocks away. Tea and dim sum at the Westin Coalone. Bottom left Taipa, Macau.

 

 

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