Chiado: Portuguese Cuisine with Asian twists in Macao
Fans of avant garde chefs in Europe need no introduction to Henrique Sá Pessoa. Credited with being at the forefront of the renaissance in modern Portuguese cuisine, Chef Henrique is an impressive guy and a smooth talker. This might have something to do with his weekly stint on a television cooking show that ran from 2013 to 2015 in his hometown, Lisbon in Portugal.
Chef Henrique, who graduated from culinary school in the 1990’s, left his home country in search of new experiences which included five-star establishments in London and Sydney. He also gained exposure to banquet and smaller, brasserie-style establishments, before he returned to help reinterpret Portuguese cuisine in 2002.
Alma, the first restaurant he opened in Lisbon, was more a budget-friendly enterprise before it relocated from the district of Madragoa to Chiado in 2015. However, Chef Henrique wanted to return to fine dining, and he set up shop in an entirely new space. The dining room with high stone arches, polished concrete floors and simple, polished wooden furniture, is located in an 18th century warehouse, which previously stored books from the oldest bookshop chain in the world, Livraria Bertrand. The restaurant has an open kitchen, and you can see the chefs as they prepare traditional Portuguese dishes with Asian twists, a culinary practice that was rarely attempted.
Located in an 18th century warehouse, the restaurant has an open kitchen
One year after the move and reconceptualisation, Alma won its first Michelin star in 2016 and achieved its second star in November 2018. So what can be expected from the first Asian offshoot of one of the most progressive kitchen concepts to come out of Lisbon?
Chiado is named after the historical area where Alma is located, and the new restaurant is situated in the new wing of Shoppes at Cotai Central. The space is decorated with wrought-iron awnings and light fixtures, and evokes the casual vibe of Chiado district.
During lunch, the celebrity chef tell us: “The idea behind Chiado was to give diners in Macao a contemporary spin on Portuguese cuisine. The Chiado district is gentrifying in Lisbon, and I want to bring the same modern vibe here to Macao but also paying homage to the traditional aspect of the recipes.”
King prawn cataplana with sweet potato perfumed with lemongrass and ginger
First to arrive is the squid and prawns sautéed in chilli and garlic with cherry tomato compote. This is one of the dishes that has been around since Alma was a casual concept in Madragoa. The seafood is warm and tender, and is accompanied by a punchy tomato base. A sugar and vinegar base is used to make the compote to tease out the flavours of the vegetable, and pulls all the ingredients together on the plate. It is a refreshing start that whets our appetite for the mains.
Alma’s Calçada de Bacalhau is the stuff of which legends are made. One of the signature dishes that made Alma into a household name, the beautiful reinterpretation of the salted cod dish is one of the most Instagrammed items from the restaurant. Chiado’s version of bacalhau is less fussy. The salted cod is imported from Portugal and finely shredded alongside onions and potatoes. The difference between this and the traditional way of making the dish is in the egg, which is first added as a confit made with olive, and then a fresh egg is cracked tableside and mixed in. The result is a rich and silky texture with a pudding-like quality. The attention to detail sets the item apart from the rest.
Roasted pumpkin soup with coconut cream prawns and almonds
However, the 24-hour slow-cooked suckling pork with sweet potato purée, pak choy and orange is the star of the meal. Marinated for four hours then sous vide cooked for a day at 68 degrees Celsius, the aromatic and tender pork is then roasted to make the skin crispy – and it is. Our knife sliced the pork to a crackling symphony similar to the sound of breaking a freshly baked baguette.
Crispy vanilla parcels with raspberry coulis is a dessert that Chef Henrique says is “inspired by custard tarts with a filo casing”. Light, airy custard is enveloped by layers of crunchy filo pastry dusted with icing sugar and raspberry coulis. It’s a 180-degree take on Macao’s Portuguese egg tart, and Chiado’s version is fresh and light.
Crispy vanilla parcels with raspberry coulis
Chocolate bombe with salted caramel and hazlenut ice cream is another of Alma’s signatures. The celebrity chef says the dessert: “Is everything I love about chocolate and all the flavours that go with it”. It’s a chocolate party on a plate. There’s hazelnut ice cream, dollops of salted caramel and crunchy cocoa nibs to go with the smooth chocolate mousse and will satisfy any chocolate lover.
Chiado isn’t just a big opening for Sands Resorts Macao, it’s a great addition to the Asian food scene and has the potential to be a gourmet gem for the city. Gourmands in the region have the opportunity to sample Lisbon’s culinary renaissance before their next trip to Europe. Those of us who plan to stick around the area, will have a great meal to look forward to at Sands Cotai Central.
Chiado Shop 2206, Level 2, Sands Cotai Central, Macao, +853 8113 8988