Tuesday, April 11

Rebujitos, Custard Tarts and Gondolas

I can go anywhere on the planet and find a decent glass of beer. Afterall, I am a beer blogger. My craft beer odyssey has taken me from the wilds of Patagonia to the torrid streets of Jakarta. I even found a microbrewery on Easter Island (perhaps that is why the ancient Moai statues were abandoned).

But after four days in Macau I was looking like a man on a hopeless mission. Sure, the pleasure palaces of this former Portuguese enclave (now a Special Administrative Region within the People’s Republic of China) serve Stella Artois by the gallon – the Chinese middle classes seem to love the stuff. And those with a taste for Asahi Super Dry and Tsingtao lager will find ample supplies – each glass chilled to near freezing point.
However, I was looking for something edgy, boutique and hoppy. All seemed lost until I stumbled on The Old Taipa Tavern, an open-sided pub in the backstreets of Taipa – a quaint enclave of alleyways and tiny Macanese houses just across the bridge from the Macau Peninsula. To coincide with the Rugby 7s being played in nearby Hong Kong, the cheerful Taverna was serving draught Little Creatures – Fremantle’s world-famous pale ale – in traditional Schooner and Middy glasses; despite the heat there were just three people, all European, at the polished bar.
Almost two decades after Macau’s handover to Beijing the compact territory (which includes the peninsula and a smaller offshore island) retains much of its Portuguese heritage – in fact many of the old colonial streets and alleyways in Taipa and nearby Coloane are coming back to life. Little coffee shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and artisan food outlets are springing up everywhere. Portuguese and Macanese cuisine is also enjoying a resurgence. Street food snacks like egg tarts and pork chop buns remain wildly popular among locals and mainlanders alike, while many family-owned restaurants serve authentic rustic Portuguese fare – clams cooked in white wine, butter, coriander and oodles of garlic are one of my favourites, alongside is spicy African chicken and grilled Portuguese sausage, plus some toothsome cheeses from the motherland.
Although the Chinese are a nation of tea and beer drinkers, wine still rules the waves in Macao. Our four-day visit began with chilled glasses of Rebujito (a refreshing cocktail of dry sherry and soda water with a sprig of mint) at Antonio’s – a multi-award winning restaurant in the heart of Taipa old town. Even the smallest eatery, such as the brilliant Restaurant Espaco Lisboa in picturesque Coloane Village, stocks a dazzling range of wines -- from the unctuous and refreshing Alvarinho (a popular white wine) to those distinctively soft and earthy reds from the Douro.
Given this honourable legacy – the Portuguese claim to have educated the Chinese wine palate over the past 300 years – it’s easy to relegate beer to the status as a pleasant midday Macau tipple. But there is one place where craft beer is making a triumphant stand: Marks & Spencer’s department store in Cotai Central. The store stocks an impressive range of hand-made beers from Europe, North America and the British Isles. Thanks to its “buy two get one free offer” I was able to retreat to my hotel room with a selection of ales from Cornwall, Yorkshire and Staffordshire – just part of the store’s current British Beer and Cider promotion. For the homesick UK expat M&S also sells authentic English crisps and wine gums. Despite such brave efforts I suspect that it will be some time before the happy Chinese holidaymakers taking a gondola ride at the Venetian Macau (oh, there’s even a half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower nearby) will be queuing to taste a Cornish IPA or Belgian farmhouse ale any time soon. But who knows? In Macau, everything is possible.

Mark Chipperfield travelled to Macau as a guest of the Macau Government Tourism Office (www.visitmacao.com.au) and Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com). For imported craft beer visit Marks & Spencer, Shop 2116B, Second Floor, Shoppes At Cotai Central, Macau.