Feb 23, 2012|
We love Macau—but let’s face facts: it doesn’t take long to tire of all the usual tourist haunts. If you’ve done Fernando’s a hundred times, and the mere mention of Senado Square elicits a yawn, then it’s time to head off the beaten path on your next visit to the area. Fortunately, our sister SAR has plenty to do just a little way off the beaten path. Read on to discover our favorite, lesser-known Macanese delights.
On any visit to Macau, we head here first. The area surrounding St. Lazarus Church, it’s characterized by narrow lanes tiled with patterns and lined with colorful Portuguese-style facades. It used to be the site of a leprosy hospital, but since the whole area was cleaned up and restored several years ago, more and more creative outlets, shops and restaurants have sprung up. The epicenter of the action, Albergue SCM is a beautiful, peaceful square surrounded by buildings with yellow shutters and dominated by two huge leafy trees in the middle. Within the square itself, there’s a gallery as well as a new boutique that exclusively sells products imported from Portugual. The Portuguese Corner Shop’s (8 Calcada da Igreja de Sao Lazaro, Macau, (+853) 2856-2709) stock ranges from canned foods to delicate gold jewelry to fragrant bath products. Across the square, there’s also a restaurant called Albergue 1601 (8 Calcada da Igreja de Sao Lazaro, Macau, (+853) 2836-1601), which serves fusion food in an old-fashioned building with a contemporary interior.
A few blocks over, pop into G17 Gallery (17A Rua de Sao Miguel, (+853) 2834-6626), a petite exhibition space which recently showcased a collection of local delicate ceramics and pottery work. On a recent Saturday, it was packed with culture buffs and well-wishers that all greeted and embraced each other like family. Nearby, there’s a small, inviting boutique called Jabber (Edificio Man Fai, 38 Rua de S. Roque, (+853) 2835-3618), where you’ll find everything from necklaces to vintage postcards to handmade soaps—It also doubles as a coffee shop. Around the corner is a former mansion house dedicated to promoting the area's Chinese traditions (7 Calcada de S. Lazaro, Macau, (+853) 353 537). The official name of the house—The Association of Educators of Chinese Children of Macau—is a mouthful, but its aim is simple. Lots of Chinese artifacts are on display in big cases on the walls, while chandeliers and bird cages hang from the ceiling. Calligrapher Carlos Choi was drawing couplets during our visit, and he chatted with us for several minutes while we gawped at his effortless, beautiful characters.
The new can't-miss spot is this neighborhood is G32 (32 Rua de Sao Miguel). The newly renovated tong lau (tenement building) has only been open for a few months; it’s been painstakingly restored to look like a typical Macanese home from the 1960s and 1970s. The narrow three-story building has a rickety staircase, retro floral wallpaper, period furniture and vintage knickknacks scattered about. Every Saturday and Sunday from 3-5pm there are free tours, and our guide talked excitedly about the building’s heritage and plans to turn part of the space into a café soon—it quickly became clear that renovating this house was a labor of love for preservation enthusiasts. The ground floor houses a display about how the tong lau was refurbished, and there’s also a darkroom for local photographers, but the highlight is the roof, from which you can see exactly how Macau’s back alleys and crumbling old architecture are set against all of the newer, sleeker developments.
A quirky interior and an off-the-beaten-path location is what sets this Portuguese-Macanese restaurant apart from its brethren. Just a five-minute walk from the Sands, this colorful joint is the perfect spot for a laid-back lunch. We hear dinner is more crowded but at 12:30pm on a Saturday we walked in without a reservation and were seated immediately. The friendly, patient staff helped us select a warm, hearty chorizo and chickpea dish as well as a heaping plate of tangy, garlicky clams and prawns. But let’s return to the unique part—the décor: “Galo” means rooster, and there’s a ton of rooster paraphernalia scattered about as well as eclectic tchotchkes, wacky paintings and colorful tiles. Playfully arranged stuffed animals peer down at customers from the restaurant's interior balconies. Menu offerings are fairly standard, but the reason to come here is the peculiar, endearing setting.
Avenida Sir Anders Ljung Stedt, Macau, (+853) 2875-1383.
"A bar within the massive Venetian complex?" you may ask. "There's no way that can be a secret." It’s hard enough to find—we definitely got lost multiple times before we spotted this glittering oasis hidden away amid the posh stores of the Four Seasons shopping complex. Sure, its elite name means it fits right in with its surroundings—Gucci, LV, Cartier and the like—but the bizarre part is it was actually blissfully empty when we came across it. (We’d bet everyone was busy shopping, or playing baccarat.) It’s a champagne bar, obviously—the first Moët one in the world—and it’s all decked out with gold with dramatic, enormous glass lighting ornaments above the bar and the seating area. Bubbly is naturally the bar’s specialty (straight up or in special signature cocktails), but it also serves some finger sandwiches as well as chocolates, macarons and chocolate-covered strawberries. Head here every day from 6-8pm for happy hour, when both glasses and bottles of Moët are buy-one-get-one-free. Some bottles run as affordable as $400, so a small group can knock back two whole bottles for a lot less than what it'd cost to buy a purse from a shop next door.
Shop 1122, 1/F, Estrada da Baía de N. Senhora da Esperança, The Shoppes at Four Seasons, Four Seasons Hotel Macao, Cotai Strip, Taipa, (+853) 8118-9333.
Churches are a dime a dozen in the former Portuguese colony, but this one is more special—and secluded—than most. So much so that it’s worth the slog up Penha Hill and a flight of sweeping steps to get to the piazza in front of this quaint chapel, which has a simple stone exterior and a subtle, cobalt blue stained glass window above gentle archways in its façade. The church and the adjacent Bishop’s Palace were built in 1837, though the first chapel on this spot was founded in 1622 by crew and passengers of a ship that had escaped capture. Sailors embarking on dangerous voyages would make pilgrimages here to pray for safe passage. Enjoy the peace and quiet as you look out over a view of the Macau Tower, the Inner Harbour, the bridge over to Taipa and nearby towns across the water in China. Nearby, be sure to look out for the Gate of Understanding, a monument to Sino-Portuguese friendship. You can also catch a glimpse of the elegant Portuguese mansions that dot the hillsides, including Santa Sancha (Government House) and the famous Bella Vista Hotel, now the Portuguese Consul General’s residence.
Calcada Da Penha, Macau, (+853) 2831-5566.
This ornate boutique hotel was built into a 17th century stone fortress originally erected to deter pirates from the territory. The downside: It only has 12 suites, each carefully decorated with antique furniture—and they go for at least around $3,000 a night. But for a little taste of those luxurious surrounds at a lower cost, consider having high tea on the tiled terrace or in the chandeliered bar and lounge just inside. Silver teapots (one per person) arrive at the table quickly, along with a two-tiered tray of goodies, from savories such as smoked salmon open-faced sandwiches to bite-sized cheesecakes. Lest you forget you’re in Macau, though, the array also includes mini egg tarts and pineapple buns, just like you’d get at a local bakery. The hotel’s terrace enjoys sweeping views of the water and is also a prime spot to watch the sunset.
Avenida da República, Fortaleza de São Tiago da Barra, Macau, (+853) 2837-8111, www.saotiago.com.mo.
More than a mere ice cream shop, Lai Kei is a retro mom-and-pop joint that's been in business since the 60s. Everything from the recipes to the ice cream sandwich packaging was conceptualized by the original owners way back when, and the décor looks like something out of a vintage comic book—painted yellow walls, old-school signage, tiled floors and brown folding chairs. The ice cream is yummy and very easy on the wallet at MOP 8-26, and beverages like iced coffee and fruit punch are available, too. Some of the dishes have been adapted for local tastes, such as the banana split that’s topped with canned fruit rather than heaps of caramel and whipped cream. The menu is mostly in Chinese and Portuguese, but inferring what’s what isn’t too difficult. If you’re cabbing it there, the cab driver will most likely recognize the place by name alone, so you don’t have to worry about the address. Just make sure you pronounce it “lai kee,” not the official romanization “lai kei.” Leanne Mirandilla
G/F, 12 Avenida do Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida, Sao Lazaro, (+853) 2837-5781.
Just a few steps away from the Ruins of St Paul’s, cozy wine bar MacauSoul is our new favorite destination in Macau. Opened by British couple David and Jacky Higgins, two well-traveled professionals who have lived in Hong Kong for decades and moved to Macau after retiring in 2004, it’s tastefully decorated with fine wooden furniture, works of art and cute bird cages. The bar offers an extensive list of Portuguese wines, including 85 whites, 225 reds and 120 ports and Madeiras (you can go through the wine menu on their website). Its food, highlighted by the delicious homemade hummus and sourdough bread, is also top-notch. Downstairs, there is a spacious basement that hosts live gigs every Saturday, where musicians perform a wide range of tunes from jazz and blues to country and Texas swing. Other times, you’ll have the likes of Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane playing from the stereo, giving MacauSoul an extra classy ambience. Jacky told us they set up this lovely place as “a hobby”—well, that explains the amazingly reasonable prices and the down-to-earth, friendly service here.
31 Rua de Sao Paulo, Macau, (+853) 2836-5182, www.macausoul.com.
Outside of the casinos, there aren’t too many posh places to enjoy a cocktail in Macau. Sky21, which opened its doors in December, aims to change all that. Located on the 21st floor, at the top of an office building, the bar is a sleek, modern watering hole with a glorious view of the Grand Lisboa and the rest of Macau’s glittering skyline, not to mention the expansive harbor. Opt for a table or booth indoors for coziness on a windy night, or perch atop a high stool at a counter outside on the balcony. Offerings include everything from elaborate signature cocktails (we tried two bright green ones) to standard drinks. If you go for happy hour, on weekdays between 6pm and 9pm, all drinks are 50 percent off. Let’s not forget Sky21 is a restaurant, too, offering Asian cuisine from Indonesian and Indian to Chinese and Portuguese as well as an executive set lunch, high tea and bar snacks.
21/F, AIA Tower, 251A-301 Avenida Comercial de Macau, Macau, (+853) 2822-2122, www.sky21macau.com.