Rarified, delicate Cantonese cuisine in the Vegas of Asia
Blink and you’ll miss it. Oh, wait, there’s no possible way to miss it. It’s a golden egg, 20 feet high, rotating in the middle of a densely packed display of fresh flowers.
To a swell of music from the loudspeakers, the upper portion of the egg opens up and a phoenix, or perhaps a rooster (not real, a kind of gigantic muppet version), rises out as the music reaches a dramatic crescendo.
This happens every 10 minutes, so if you’re standing in a queue waiting to check in, you’ll catch the giant egg hatching a couple of times.
We’re at the Wynn Macau Cotai, the second Wynn Resorts property in the territory. The first is on the main island, and is the flagship property of the company in the region, and also claims to be the highest-earning casino in the region.
Cotai is an artificial island created by reclaiming land adjacent to where the airport has always been, and all the major players have properties there.
The Wynn Palace’s signature dancing fountain show—reminiscent of its more famous progenitor at the Bellagio (where the final scene of the film “Ocean’s 11” was shot)—is across from the MGM Cotai, the City of Dreams Macau, the Venetian, and you can just about see The Parisian.
There are about 40 casinos in the territory.
The Chinese like Wynn because the name rhymes with “win,”—homonyms are a big thing in China—though it isn’t really clear whether it is they or the house that will win.
In terms of scale, the Venetian has more square meters of gaming area, but Wynn is the most upscale of the lot.
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants chose to hold the awarding ceremony and chef’s talks at the Wynn Cotai. In response, the hotel offered to shoulder the accommodations of the international media covering the event. We were told that about 100 rooms had been set aside for media.
This is part of the hotel’s push—in keeping with that of Macau itself, which in 2017 was given the Unesco designation “Creative City of Gastronomy”—to reinvent itself not just as a gambling destination in the region but as a food destination as well.
Las Vegas has been trying to turn this trick for years: the well-heeled big winners would want a big-brand restaurant to splurge their earnings on, so Le Cirque, Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire all have branches there. For people not interested in gambling but don’t want to fly to Paris, Las Vegas is an easier commute.
And while you’re there, the lure of the green baize might just tempt you to a flutter. In Vegas, non-gambling earnings have begun to exceed the revenues of the house. Many casino companies have begun to reinvent themselves as “resorts,” with a healthy dash of real-estate speculation on the side.
This year, City of Dreams’ Jade Dragon made its way to the list at No. 35, widely hailed for its signature char shiu and roast pork (which we know, of course, as lechon Macao).
We couldn’t get reservations there nor at Joel Robuchon’s place at the Grand Lisboa, which was to be expected when the entire Asian food press was in town.
The Wynn Palace was not shy about flaunting its outlets, including the Michelin-star Wing Lei (with a branch in Vegas).
I really liked Wing Lei; by the time I got there, the restaurant was somewhat run off its feet attending to media, but nevertheless managed to put its best foot forward with rarified, delicate Cantonese cuisine.
But it was its lesser-known cousin, Andrea’s, which stole the show. It doesn’t have a Michelin star, but I’m convinced that Michelin inspectors don’t know jack about Chinese food, so they are to be taken with a very large grain of salt, or dash of soy sauce, when outside their home turf.
Andrea’s does Huaiyang cuisine (from the Jiangsu region, north of Shanghai but south of Beijing), Sichuan and Hunan, and Yunnan cuisine, though I didn’t see much Yunnan represented on the menu.
Andrea’s is what we need now of Chinese food—innovative and inventive, yet rooted in regional flavors, by which I mean regions which are underrepresented, other than Cantonese or Shanghainese.
Subsidized food cost
The food cost at outlets such as these can be anything from 80 to 100 percent, because so much of it is subsidized by the gambling. With the influx of Chinese high rollers, they can afford to treat anything that’s not gambling as amenities, which they can afford to just break even on.
What this means for tourists who don’t gamble is that the restaurants provide pretty good value for money. They are not cheap—these are flagship restaurants, after all—but their seafood is live, they seem to have an endless supply of A5 wagyu beef, and macaroon are thrown about by the caseload.
Gambling, ironically, remains illegal in China (although some say that Chinese investors treat the stock market like a casino). It’s illegal to advertise gambling. Yet gamblers come in droves, to the point that government officials have a rule against consecutive trips to Macau.
However, aside from online gambling based offshore, there are also massive casino developments in Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea and, of course, the Philippines.
Jean Baudrillard, cult theorist of the far left, loved Las Vegas, and once read a poem there in a gold lamé suit with mirrored lapels. Vegas was “hyperreal”: “a reality dominated by symbols and signs bereft of a profound meaning.”
It’s simulation without substance, a vivid construct that points to nothing at all.
From a former Portuguese colony to a postcolonial backwater, Macau has reinvented itself as the Vegas of Asia, to the point that it now earns more from gambling than Vegas itself.
Long in the shadow of Hong Kong as a trading outpost, the city has been reshaped by its casinos and high-end hotels.
With the opening of the Hong Kong-Macau bridge (55 kilometers, including three artificial islands and one undersea tunnel) in June, gambling revenue is forecast to rise to $43 billion in 2019.
In previous eras, it was the port where the Portuguese traded with China, and China and Portugal profited. Today, it is where the behemoth gambling corporations access the cash-laden mainlanders.
What the average Macau local resident thinks about this, it is difficult to tell. —CONTRIBUTED
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