Food Review: Macau Kitchen


Posted by in July's Magazine

Alan Bett

Macau Kitchen
93 St Leonard’s Street
Edinburgh
07577 667334

While our ever-changing politics forces an ongoing reassessment of American Psycho, few would dispute it’s attack on the fad of fusion cooking. Whether it’s the novels vacuously hip Chinese/Creole eatery or quail-stuffed blue corn tortillas, two tasty things combined does not necessarily double the pleasure.

Bacalhau à Macau 

The vogue nature of most fusion cuisine quickly exploits then expends the reserves of curious, easily swayed or just plain dumb diners. But today I’m sampling an authentic and original form of fusion cooking, evolved over centuries. Macau’s culinary heritage is a jigsaw of many parts, drawing the best from South China, Africa and Portugal’s larders and techniques – following the outlines of the latter’s colonial imprint since 1415.

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And you no longer need to visit Southeast Asia to try, just South Edinburgh, with Macau Kitchen the first to offer this cooking in Scotland. We enter its small buzzing room of densely packed tables, between which two waitresses glide with the fine footwork of trained dancers. Its walls reflect the cultural balance of the cooking; signage in traditional Chinese characters alongside images of Portuguese dancers, chopsticks beside fork and knife at each place setting, a specials board of Portuguese Macau chicken next to African Macau chicken – two different sides of the same coin.

Macau’s unique cuisine is revered in its region, but its draw to the peninsula and adjoining islands – an hour’s ferry from Hong Kong – is second to the casinos. Originally edgy dens of smoke and drama, they’ve been replaced by vacuum packed versions of the Vegas stalwarts. Boats transfer smiling, optimistic gamblers and gourmands from Hong Kong harbour 24 hours a day – the return journey invariably a trip of heavier moods and lighter pockets. 

As boats churn water, swirling blades cut air above them as the high rollers are choppered from Hong Kong’s glass and steel skyline direct to the gambling tables. Portugal’s past influence is still visibly strong in Macau, imposed through its place names and tiled streets to the traditional restaurants handed down through generations, serving caldo verde and grilled steaks paired with ruby red wine. It’s a long way from Lisbon, but it still somehow works in culinary terms; the fresh young grapes of vinho verde perfect for cutting through Macau’s humid summer air. From beyond the historic old town’s close bustling streets, the flowering futuristic orchid of the Grand Lisboa casino rises from its technicolour glass bulb. Macau is a place of juxtaposition, but also of a certain balance. Something reflected in its food.

Porco Balichão

Balance, however, need not equate to blandness. Much of the skill of Macanese cooking is in combining bold and disparate ingredients and making them feel like close family. Many dishes are gregarious, well-travelled Bon Vivants full of stories, unafraid of spice, fat, bone and marrow; all the things that make food taste delicious. Our starter of Polvo (octopus) salad is a case in point and suggests a skilled and experienced palate beyond the kitchen door. The main ingredient is chopped together with red onion, in a musky dressing of shrimp paste, with a pinch of seasoning and haymaker punch of garlic. The zinging high notes delivered through fresh mint, coriander and lime. The menu also offers a sibling dish made with pig’s ear, for those who prefer lobes to tentacles. On the side of this combination starter are small perfect half-moons of Empada – curried potato and onion in a light puff pastry [starters range from £5 – £8].

Our cultural conundrum is whether to order individual mains as European etiquette often insists, or to fill the table with shared dishes in the typical Chinese style. The final decision is born only of gluttony; we take the pork, beef and fish [all mains at around the £12 mark].

Macau Kitchen is BYOB and we bring along the vinho verde

The Bacalhau à Macau is a dish to make you smile. A succulent chunk of salted cod, flaking at the edges, poached and now sat in a sunshine pool of naturally sweet, spiced coconut milk, coloured with turmeric. The pork belly – Porco Balichão – has been slow cooked in tamarind juice and shrimp paste, with a kick of chilli. Fat content is high, as it should be for maximum flavour, but melts away without resistance. The star of this talented show however is the ox tail – Rabo de Boi – which suggests that seasons could change in the time it’s simmered in its cinnamon scented stew, such is the ease with which it falls from the bone. We leave this generous and messy portion as three stark white vertebrae, stripped clean, as if by piranhas.

Macau Kitchen is BYOB, and we bring along the aforementioned vinho verde for starters, a sousão from Lisbon our choice of red to follow. The former works well against the heady tangs of the octopus, the latter holds up to the richness of the mains. Beer would also wash this food down well.

Warm custard tarts (Nata) are our meal’s full stop (another option of Serradura – or Sawdust Pudding, a combination of crumbled biscuits and almond tinged cream – is finished). Our coffee is sweetened deliciously with condensed milk, an old custom developed for former colonial outposts where fresh dairy would arrive spoiled.

We are shown out with warm words from the attentive owners. Greed paired with wine means the fusion balance of Macau cuisine is not evidenced in our legs as we stagger home, relieved that Leith is downhill all the way.

Epilogue: A couple of weeks later, and a sudden craving for Macau Kitchen is invoked through being three beers in. We land a late table and saunter up as the evening sun sits high over Edinburgh; to be welcomed like long lost friends. The cod is done, so the chef suggests replacing it with king prawns still wearing their shells (surely intended for their Piri Piri Gambas). They transform the dish, their natural stock escaping to make it a deeper, headier thing. The waitress spills a splash of vibrant colour on our table, then compensates (unnecessarily) with a gratis serving of the Hong Kong street staple of fishballs, but in a delicious Malaysian styled curry, found nowhere on the menu. 

A Portuguese couple enter, with the chef recommending a steak dish, also unlisted. He nods over at us, suggests the chicken cooked in beer for our next visit. But, we didn’t spot that on the menu? “Oh,” he shrugs his shoulders, twists out a wry smile; “It’s not on the menu.” Neither is the Fat Rice that they rustle up for a Sunday special – a baked rice dish with multiple meaty treasures such as duck and chorizo. The front of house co-owner provides the backstory to each dish, listing what we must return to eat like she’s fattening us for market. 

Her inter-table footwork is as nimble as her waitresses; equal grace but with the added intent of a lightweight boxer that marks her as The Boss. She perches on the seat next to us, describing a dessert as “like eating heaven” or a duck steak special as “the meaning of life,” with a look in her eyes to show she truly means it. Based on the evidence, it’s a confidence that’s hard to question.

Food 5/5
Service
5/5
Value 5/5

One response to “Food Review: Macau Kitchen”

  1. Azizul says:

    Hey, Alan Bett

    When I was developing my https://upgradingkitchen.com. This time I see your food review, and I also very convince for your decent reviews.

    allover, amazing experience.

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