Update: I've heard downhill reports, but I wouldn't say that was the case on my July 2012 re-visit. But I would say that nothing's changed in three-and-a-half years. In fact, my new photos look practically the same as what's below but I feel the need to mention them in case anyone's interested. I imagine everything will look exactly the same in another three-and-a-half years too.
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There was no way I was going to miss Fernando’s on this visit to Macau. After being thwarted by uncooperative cab drivers (after 30 minutes trying to flag one down) during a frustrating daytrip three years ago, I planned ahead this time.
What we hadn’t planned on was spending our first three nights of vacation on the former Portuguese colony. Originally, we intended to take the ferry from Hong Kong and back the Tuesday before heading back to NYC, just lunch and dinner. But we had to make an emergency change to our itinerary after arriving in Hong Kong Friday night with no connecting flight to Bangkok available (I’m still steamed that we had pay the full ticket price when we never got to our intended destination).
Rather than spend our entire two weeks in Hong Kong (a perfectly nice city but not for that long) we decided to regroup in nearby Macau and hoped to pick up the second leg of our Thailand journey after a few nights (way too optimistic). One downside was that while trying desperately to check hotels in the airport with wi-fi that cut out every few minutes, we found out that nearly everything was booked for the weekend or going at a premium. Not wanting to take a chance on a weirdo hotel, (hey, Macau is still kind of seedy despite it’s shiny Vegas aspirations) we went against our loose, unspoken budgetary rule (I don’t spend more than $200 per night on hotels and try to keep it under $150. Everything I’d booked in Bangkok was under $100 so this screwed up things completely. Yes, I am a tightwad.) and reserved a fairly luxurious, over the top, large scale, royal-hued semi-‘90s in feel room at the brand new Sofitel. After traveling for over 24 hours and by nearly all methods—plane, train, taxi and ferry—and stymied by already not having the vacation I’d planned for months, I just wanted to collapse on an enormous pile of down-filled pillows.
And eat suckling pig. By the next afternoon we were ready to tackle Fernando’s. And this time by public transportation. I’d learned my lesson about taxis. Catching a bus (21A or 26A if you care to replicate the route) from Senado Square is easy and at only five Patacas, (about 63 cents) an incredible bargain. The 45-minute ride to Coloane is scenic once you get past all the new casino construction in Taipa. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to finagle a seat (we got one half-way through) and relax during the windy drive to Hac Sa beach.
Though it was too cool to indulge in any sand or surf, the weather was just fine for having a drink in the backyard bar while waiting for a table. Oddly, there was no vino verde by the glass so I had to settle for house white. I was thrilled by the temperate, light jacket weather; the 60-something-degrees nearly erased my sweaty and cranky August 2005 memories. Even though both front and back rooms were filled around our 4pm arrival, we didn’t wait for more than 15 minutes. I’d heard service-related horror stories, and sure, the staff all but ignores you, but I’ve had much brusquer and careless treatment in NYC.
It’s fair to call Fernando’s touristy but since that includes mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers, Australians and not really any Americans with fannypacks, I was ok with it. This was the only place I ever heard a Spanish accent the entire vacation (Latinos just don’t go to Asia it seems) from a young Mexican woman with a German boyfriend sitting next to us.
Warm Portuguese rolls are a must. The old lady sitting on the other side of us stuffed a few of these yeasty behemoths into her purse. Practically every restaurant in Singapore and Hong Kong that offered foil-wrapped butter served New Zealand’s Anchor brand, and we also encountered a New Zealand ice cream chain in malls. Apparently, New Zealand is the Wisconsin of Southeast Asia.
Portuguese choriço isn’t loose and fresh like Mexican-style or even quite like the firmer cured Spanish version. These links were salty, paprika-spiked and chunkier textured in the casing with charcoal tinged edges. Being way too much for two, we made like our table neighbor and James stuffed our leftovers in his bag. This came in handy as a meaty midnight snack when I fell asleep back in the hotel by 7pm, still jetlagged and unable to stay awake for a dinner (the pitcher of sangria didn’t help). I’m never able to stay awake on the second day in Asia. I’m still mourning the hot pot dinner I never got in Beijing because I couldn’t get out of bed.
Ok, sucking pig is the reason to come to Fernando’s. And while well-traveled foodies might scoff, claiming better pork and Portuguese cuisine elsewhere in Macau, I was impressed and my view wasn’t just colored by the journey and rustic trappings. For one, the meat tastes richer, and for lack of a better word, porkier, than what I’m accustomed to in the U.S. I could only eat a few pieces when normally a couple of slices wouldn’t seem satisfying enough.
The skin is the star. Sure, it’s crispy, but tissue paper thin rather than bubbly and thick like chicharron or lechon. Biting into the burnished exterior is almost like cracking a crème brulee with a nice layer of fat beneath the shell instead of custard.
Clams are sautéed in wine, and are perfectly edible. I would rate this dish higher if I hadn’t had such an amazing clam and pork rendition the following night at A Lorcha.
With my first meal in Asia being a glitch-free success, I had renewed hope for the rest of the vacation.
Fernando’s * Praia de Hac Sa 9, Macau