Following the economic slowdown in recent years — accelerated in no small part by China’s anti-corruption crackdown — Macau may just be turning its luck around. Indeed, the gambling mecca has been undergoing a distinct rebirth as a new lifestyle destination with a broader focus on arts, culture and entertainment. It’s a trend buoyed by a wave of shiny new hotels and resorts, the newest amongst them being Morpheus, an architectural marvel that’s transformed the Macau skyline and is part of City of Dreams’ Phase 3 launch.
There’s no question that Morpheus is one of Macau’s most impressive structures to date. Billed as the world’s first free-form exoskeleton-bound architectural building — designed by the late and great Zaha Hadid — the building incorporates cutting-edge architectural and engineering breakthroughs to achieve a modern-day marvel. Free of columns and internal structural support, the building relies solely on the strength of its steel exoskeleton, allowing for some stunning architectural features including a figure 8 hole punched straight through the centre of the building, and twisted, geometric lines and curved interior spaces that play with your sense of spatial reference. The facts alone are staggering: a combined use of 28,000 tonnes of structural steel, 58,000 square metres of glass, and 70,600 cubic metres of reinforced concrete (that’s more than 28 Olympic pools) were used in constructing the building.
While architect nerds could marvel for days at the design features of what’s been deemed as the “icon of New Macau”, those of us with more epicurean-leaning tendencies have another reason to be attracted to this new resort: a handful of world-class dining venues spearheaded by two titans of French gastronomy, pastry chef and chocolatier Pierre Hermé and the legendary haute cuisine master Alain Ducasse. While the former provides guests with a never-ending carousel of divine sweets, tarts, croissants and other fine French pastries, the latter anchors the flagship restaurants of the hotel, with two distinct concepts taking up the entire third floor of the hotel.
Ducasse’s first fine diner in Macau
During a recent preview trip to Morpheus, we had the pleasure at dining at both of Ducasse’s outlets — starting with dinner at the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Alain Ducasse at Morpheus. With the influential French chef now spearheading over 20 dining operations around the world, from casual bistros to 3-Michelin-starred fine diners in Monaco, Paris and London — the nuts and bolts have been left to his on-the-ground team here (led by Pierre Marty, a 10-year Ducasse veteran) to put into place, executing dinner service nightly for a maximum of 35 diners (not including the incredible glass-walled chef’s table set right in the kitchen, which seats up to eight).
Here as elsewhere, Ducasse has splashed his signature touches across the restaurant’s menu and décor; his keen eye for detail is present in everything from the fine tableware to the 1,200-label wine cellar (stocked only with wines he would personally drink), not to mention a whole walk-in glass cupboard displaying Ducasse’s own “Cabinet of Curiosities”, with custom knick-knacks and vintage tableware from his personal collection.
Sitting amidst the glittering wonderland below 619 magnificent Lasvit-designed crystal chandeliers (meant to resemble a waterfall of light descending from the ceiling), with plush carpeting and sumptuous armchairs, would feel like absolute heaven were it not marred slightly by the distinct air of formality that pervades the atmosphere. In an era of more down-to-earth tasting counters and fast-casual places, we found it almost jarring to dine in a restaurant so devoted to the French style of formal dining that seems to have all but disappeared in recent years — from servers standing at attention and whisking plates away in perfect unison, to a particularly pompous waiter who informs us, without cracking a smile, that we’re all using our knives upside-down (an easy mistake given the counterintuitive design of the silverware).
Luckily, this somewhat supercilious service is eclipsed by food that is much more modern — and does a stellar job of upholding the quality reputation of the Ducasse name across the board. Head chef Pierre Marty deploys Ducasse’s classicist streak in harmony with contemporary interpretations of dishes, even incorporating Asian influences and local Macau references that fit in seamlessly with the mostly European ingredients. Though appearances may follow the old-school format of French restaurants, the food feels of the moment, exuding a finesse and refinement that seems well in line with the futuristic structure that is Morpheus.
For the amuse-bouche, we start with two ethereal bites: gently marinated fresh sea bass on a wispy rice cracker dusted with seaweed powder and a sliver of bottarga, and an inviting basket of barbajuans, empanada-like French delicacies shrunk down in size and stuffed with Swiss chard, ricotta cheese and the woody scent of marjoram. These French treats have been reinterpreted from the original versions served in Le Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, the restaurant which kicked off Ducasse’s career and where he picked up his first three stars in 1990.
The tasting menu continues with an onslaught of luxury in the form of caviar and foie gras: The Mediterranean gamberoni does justice to the beautiful, deep-red tiger prawns caught off the coast of Italy, ever so slightly blanched and enhanced with a whisper of fleur de sel and espelette pepper. The tails sit atop a rich sauce infused with the juice of the heads, spooned over with Kristal Gold caviar and a rockfish gelée — a dish not unlike what you might find at Ducasse’s Rech in Hong Kong. The next dish is foie gras, a staple of haute French cuisine given a textural twist by steaming instead of pan-frying, in a nod to the traditional Cantonese style of cooking, paired with the tried-and-true combo of figs and toasted brioche.
The remaining plates come in a pageantry of colour, from the line-caught sea bass with shredded broccoletti and a bright green purée, to the farm veal chop, whose delicate flavour is intensified with a jus, caramelised carrots and ginger. Finally, dessert: a coffee and chocolate arrangement served in a giant empty cacao pod, where cloying sweetness is traded in for the earthy subtleties of Japanese buckwheat and raw cacao nibs. The chocolate is of course Ducasse’s own La Manufacture brand, shipped over from his bean-to-bar workshop in Paris — the same chocolate which serves as inspiration behind every single chocolate dessert in Ducasse restaurants around the world.
A Voyage of epic proportions
Across the way from Alain Ducasse at Morpheus sits a wholly different experience, and it’s a first for a chef whose championed classic French cooking for most of his 46-year career. A brand new concept created exclusively for City of Dreams, Voyages by Alain Ducasse delivers an Asian-inspired menu inspired by Ducasse’s travels around he world. A welcome departure from the stuffy French fine-dining format, Voyages is lively and sociable — the dishes themselves being equally, if not more, intriguing and entirely more unexpected than the ones we encountered at Alain Ducasse.
Stepping in for lunch the next day, we’re greeted by a splash of colour from the bold walls and eclectic artwork. The East-meets-West theme is integrated throughout the 110-seat room made primarily with natural materials such as solid wood and stone, where design elements such as Thai paper lantern-inspired overhead lamps and persimmon-orange floors are juxtaposed with quirky and vibrant artworks by contemporary French artists. On one wall sits a glass-panelled installation showcasing 100 ingredients from across Asia interspersed with cooking quotes from Alain Ducasse; on the other, a giant painting of an octopus by new age French artist Romain Bernin. Tentacles outstretched, the animal inserts an aura of the fantastical into the dining room, while also acting as a metaphor for Voyages’ ability to morph and stretch to encompass various global culinary influences.
As for the menu, simple bistro recipes are parlayed here into dishes bearing the same mark of elegance and refinement as those found across the corridor at Alain Ducasse, grounded by high-quality ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. Leading the kitchen is French executive chef Anthony Bacle, who oversees a team of 15 chefs from France, China and Southeast Asia. Though a restaurant that dabbles in French, European, Asian, and even African and Middle Eastern cuisines could easily be at risk of derailing; under Bacle’s laser-focused guidance, Voyages stays determinedly on track, with a coherent offering which effortlessly skips across borders without feeling distracted or disorderly.
The menu consists of five main categories: raw seafood, starters, mains (seafood or meat-focused), sides and desserts. A rush of colour hits our table with the first round of attractive sharing-style appetisers: There’s marinated sea bream lulling in a citrus cure with pops of lemon and edible flowers; foie gras terrine, a smooth-as-butter pâté with a side of fig chutney; beef tartare with curly taro chips; crispy shrimp toast katsuobushi in a nod to the Cantonese dim sum staple; and finally, the crab cake fritters, which our table goes wild for — addictive puffed balls of fresh crab meat pulsed with jalapeño chillies and dunked in a luxurious sweet corn velouté.
Mains are hearty, gut-busting affairs: The menu dips into the spice-heavy valleys of Southeast Asia (don’t miss the shrimp red curry, bolstered with a throat-punching sauce of fresh coconut milk with pineapples, red chillies, coriander, galangal, ginger and lime); veers towards the Middle East with offerings such as lamb shoulder marinated in za’atar spices; and ends up somewhere in the French countryside with our favourite dish of the day, the Iberico pork cheek daube. This classic Provençal-style stew is textbook perfect, a gorgeous medley of carrots, caramelised pearl onions, and tender meat luxuriating in an unctuous, sticky, uplifting and soul-warming sauce that you could bottle up and sell as liquid gold.
Adding a convivial atmosphere to the restaurant is Bar at Voyages, Morpheus’ main drinking destination, where guests can enjoy some fine tipples made from an exclusive selection of rum, sakes and Champagne. The shelves here showcase more of Ducasse’s personal collection, from the Grey Goose Vodka Alain Ducasse to the Nichiei Alain Ducasse by Japanese junmai-shu sake, an organic sake specially created for the chef by the 200-year-old Nakamura Shuzo brewery in Kanazawa prefecture. Tropical-leaning libations are rounded out with Ducasse’s house label rum, blended by renowned rum producer HSE from the French-Caribbean island of Martinique. If you’re craving bubbles, opt for a glass of Champagne Selection Alain Ducasse Brut, a medium-bodied wine produced by the chef’s favoured Champagne house, Lanson Champagne. Classic tipples, meanwhile, are made from rolling cocktail carts in a nice touch of table-side service, with one cart for concocting Bellinis and the other dedicated to Negronis and G&Ts.
Though two entirely different experiences, our meals at Alain Ducasse and Voyages were equally delightful, and a superb complement to Morpheus’ other F&B attractions, which include the Pierre Hermé Lounge and the unique Chinese omakase fine diner, Yi. While we found the service at Alain Ducasse a bit stiff, the tasting menu is a worthy exploration of neoclassical French cuisine, and it’s hard not to revert to a child-like enthusiasm with the old-school theatrics, from the bread and butter trolley where artisanal butter is spooned into palm-sized quenelles using giant antique silver spoons, to the post-dinner fruit and granite trolley with whimsical treats such as marshmallows and flavoured sorbets. At Voyages, the more down-to-earth menu crosses borders with gleeful abandon, a joyous celebration of multi-ethnic cuisine complemented by vibrant interiors, friendly service, and a multifaceted and dynamic menu. Living up to the fine standard of dining that the City of Dreams is known for, both epicurean offerings are well worth a trip to our sister SAR.
Morpheus, City of Dreams, Estrada do Istmo, Cotai, Macau, +853 8868 6688