CLICK ON THE MAIN PHOTO ABOVE TO VIEW CAPTIONS IN GALLERY FORMAT
Image 1: Known globally as "The Vegas of the East", the tiny peninsula of Macau is less than two hours from Hong Kong by Ferry. It’s here that Stanley Ho made his name as the "king of gambling" holding a government-granted monopoly of the gambling industry for 40 years based at the famous Casino Lisboa. Macau was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999 and opened up its gambling industry to the world. As no casino can legally exist in mainland China, Macau took off at an unstoppable rate attracting millions of mainland Chinese tourists every month. Gambling brings majority of the city's revenue, and in 2007, it even overtook Vegas!
Image 2: Over the past couple of decades, major casino giants from Vegas have flooded this small island with casino after casino. Just as in Vegas, the business strategy is simple – build fancy hotels with casinos, and attract tourists with a host of entertainments, including restaurants with celebrity chefs from all over the world. Basically, the more people who walk through their casinos, the more revenue they generate. To compete with this influx of Western wealth, Stanley Ho opened (in 2007) a new 47-floor casino hotel, Grand Lisboa, directly across the street from his original Lisboa.
Image 3: Perhaps predictably, bringing in any old celebrity chef wasn’t enough for Stanley – he wanted the best of the best. So, in 2001, he lured the "Chef of the Century" Joël Robuchon out of retirement, and established a restaurant for him. This is now located in a purpose-built dome at the top of this tallest building in town. No wonder Robuchon came out of retirement! And not only did he come back, but he came back in style… within a few years, Robuchon started his own open kitchen concept (L'Atelier) in Tokyo. This achieved almost instant success and now he's the most Michelin starred chef in the world!
Image 4: We suspected before we arrived that this hotel would be a glittering symbol of wealth and status. We weren’t wrong! The place simply oozed luxury from every pore. The marble floor, the spiral staircase, the artwork, all were…well, words escape me. Incredible!
Image 5: Gold, silver, ivory, jade… basically everything you associate with wealth can be found here! And it’s not surprising because it’s a great way to attract mainland Chinese tourists who love to show off their own wealth. As well as all this, it’s the very pinnacle of fine dining - this is the only hotel in the world to boast four Michelin-starred restaurants under one roof. And these include the only two Michelin 3-star establishments in Macau! By now, it’s probably becoming obvious why I spent a few days here!
Image 6: Our first appointment was for lunch at one of the city’s two Michelin 3-star establishments, Robuchon au dôme. Although we arrived at the hotel before noon, they had our rooms ready, so we had enough time to change before our much anticipated lunch.
Image 7: Talk about a Room with a View! Wow! We were on one of the hotel’s top floors, directly facing the lake. I don’t want to boast, but this view from my bed must be one of the best in the whole city!
Image 8: Since I’d had no breakfast that morning, I was (as usual!) the first to arrive at the dining room, despite the fact that getting to the restaurant from my room was a bit of an expedition. As there’s a specially designated lift to the top floor, we first had to go down to the lobby. After arriving at the top floor, I found myself faced with a locked door of the restaurant. A nearby member of staff told me that it would automatically open at noon precisely, so I needed to be patient. It wasn’t long before I was joined by more and more people, all mainland Chinese. Seems I wasn't the only hungry one!
Image 9: The door didn't actually open until a few minutes past noon (so much for ‘automatically opening at noon precisely’!). While it didn’t matter to me, as I waited patiently, others weren’t so relaxed about the situation and began shouting impatiently. Oh well, that's their culture, I guess. Behind the door was a long, dark corridor lined with wine bottles, and when I got to the end, I found another lift that took me to really the top floor of the hotel! What an interesting way to build the suspense. I found myself feeling excited!
Image 10: Finally, I arrived at the summit, and the doors opened. And – once again – wow! I found myself faced with a vintage Steinway piano enclosed by mirrored panels and lying beneath a stunningly beautiful crystal chandelier. My iPhone's panoramic photo feature was useful here, letting me capture the full majesty of the room.
Image 11: The meal hadn’t even begun yet, and I was already super-impressed!
Image 12: As its name implies, the restaurant is in a large glass dome situated on top of the hotel offering a (literally, in my case, as I gasped when I saw it) breathtaking 360° view of the city. Is this the most spectacular dining room I’ve ever visited? Probably. At least, I can’t think of many that impressed me more. Maybe Louis XV in Monte Carlo?!
Image 13: Although every table enjoyed a magnificent view of the city, the manager kindly offered us an alternative: if we wanted, we could dine in their small private room, as it hadn’t been booked that day and it was perfect for a table of three.
Image 14: What to do? It was a difficult choice – a private room may be more exclusive, but we would then miss out on the lovely natural light and, of course, the superb view. Still, it didn't take long for me to accept his offer – after all, I could enjoy a similarly wonderful view from my bed, just a few floors down, and the offer of a private room doesn't come often. It was, as they say, a no-brainer.
Image 15: Bernardaud platinum plates, Christofle silverware, Reidel wineglasses…they really were making us feel like royalty! With a winelist consisting of 500+ pages, this hotel definitely has one of the large collections of wine in the world with more than 450,000 bottles in stock. As to menu choice, since I couldn't say no to the great-value 5-course lunch, we all ordered the same – though I added some extra courses from the à la carte menu just to sample a few other signatures dishes.
Image 16: Well, I knew there would be some pretty special dishes on offer, but I hadn’t expected even the bread to have the Wow! Factor. The manager came over and talked us through the options on Trolley number one, bearing 15 types of homemade bread!
Image 17: Following this, one of the staff rolled in Trolley number two, with two types of butter (natural and salted) from Brittany. He then carefully…
Image 18: … scraped a little of each type with a warm spoon.
Image 19: He then gave us a selection of breads - tomato focaccia, bacon brioche, multi-grain, rye, cheese, chestnut, onion, baguette, etc.
Image 20: As we were enjoying ourselves trying the different breads, a small amuse bouche arrived…
Image 21: … warm crackers sandwiching a layer of minced prawn and sea urchin. What a great start!
Image 22: Another small treat - minosa egg! The yolk of the egg had been replaced by crab meat, and the top filled with yolk cream. Finally it was crowned with imperial caviar. Exquisite presentation, for sure, and a truly luxurious bite, but - just to be picky - I did find the yolk far too dominating on the palate, preventing the saltiness of the caviar from coming through. Also, the sharp, citrusy cream at the bottom was rather distracting.
Image 23: I was glad that I had added this caviar course to share. Its central feature was a disk of imperial caviar, garnished with a flake of gold leaf. Around it laid a shallow pool of lobster jelly, with many blobs of cauliflower purée and tiny dots of parsley cream, carefully arranged in concentric circles. Although the individual flavours were simple - just cauliflower, lobster, and caviar - the amazingly precise balance of intensities resulted in an enduring and delightful aftertaste of both lobster and caviar, “ying-yanging” on my palate. It struck me as an excellent example of how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts! Astonishingly good!
Image 24: Next up was King crab avocado cannelloni. Here, the king crab meat had been wrapped in thin slices of avocado, before being elegantly garnished with cubes of citrus fruit; The ‘mesh’ you see at both ends was crisped squid ink and the plate had been decorated with drops of beetroot, lemon and vanilla gel. It was, quite literally, beautiful food!
Image 25: The other additional course I’d chosen for sharing was their seasonal foie Gras, which was accompanied by white asparagus, in peak season at that time. I was simply amazed at the superb artistry! Along with the foie and asparagus came black garlic emulsion and apple flower; everything on the plate was supremely edible. The foie was perfectly pan fried, with a thin crust and silky centre. It occurred to me that I hadn’t had such a high standard foie gras for a quite a while – and possibly ever!
Image 26: The seafood course was roasted lobster in spice bisque, along with a mix of salted butter, green pea and bok choy. Good to see an oriental touch! Although the lobster meat was actually very tough, it was only a few bites before I was hooked by the bisque - it had not only an intense flavour from the lobster shell but it was also packed with herbs and spices.
Image 27: The main course was pigeon and foie gras duo! To prepare this, they first wrap the foie gras and pigeon breast in leaf of cabbage before steaming and finally cutting into slices. This way, the meat maintains its moisture while absorbing some of the richness from the creamy foie. I loved the delicate texture of the meat, and the pigeon legs had been pan fried separately, giving a nice charcoaly fragrance. An exceptional dish!
Image 28: Plus, on the side, was a small bowl of bouillon and ravioli.
Image 29: It came as no surprise that was a meal of trolleys. And here was Trolley number three - 16 types of cheese! Since, by now, we were getting full, we just shared a little creamy and blue cheese.
Image 30: A small pre-dessert - a sphere of chocolate and Armagnac jelly sitting elegantly on raspberry and vanilla cream. Very enjoyable it was – full of refreshing berry fruitiness complemented by the crispy texture of a chocolate ball at the bottom. An excellent transition to the sweets!
Image 31: The last dessert was a Lemon! But it was no ordinary lemon - the pastry chef had personally handcrafted it for us. And it wasn’t (you guessed it!) a real lemon either – it was a sugar casing filled with an airy lemon cream and white cheese sorbet. It reminded me of lemon cheesecake, but with added zest as it had small wedges of lemon and popping candy inside! A very creative dessert to end our lunch! But it wasn’t over yet…
Image 32: …there was still Trolley number four! Yet more desserts for us to enjoy - chocolate mousse, raspberry tart, caramel meringue, profiteroles, millefeuille, rum baba… you name it, it was there! And then it really was over. Or…
Image 33: …was it? For here was yet ANOTHER trolley - Trolley number five! OMG, you don't need to dream about food heaven any longer, just come here! This wide selection of petits fours ranged from macaron to canelé cake to mixed fruit salad... incredible!
Image 34: Unfortunately, though, we were too full to try many!
Image 35: They were absolutely determined to make sure we didn’t leave with an atom of space left in our stomachs. Along with our tea came a small tray of freshly-baked madeleines.
Image 36: If you’re looking for a place where you can seriously indulge yourself, you can stop your search right now! First there’s the smooth and flawless service and the exquisite dining. But that’s just the start. When you come to the food, you’ll be blown away by the quality, quantity, artistry, extravagance and sheer imagination of what’s on offer - from the huge choice of breads through to their spectacular petits fours trolley. I can confidently say that nowhere else in Asia will you find such a lavish dining experience. Truly an unforgettable meal!