John Massey Eats At Albergue 1601 in Macau


A restaurant review by Aard regular John Massey. Macau is an old Portuguese colony on the southern coast of China.

Albergue has numerous translations, which include “hostel” and “refuge”. “Refuge” is now a suitable translation for Albergue 1601, hidden within the quiet and peaceful historic St Lazarus Quarter with its mostly pedestrian-only thoroughfares, away from the hectic, modern, polluted awfulness and tawdry, glitzy casinos of much of modern Macao. But it is more likely to have carried the original meaning of “hostel”.

It must be accessed on foot up the sloping, decoratively cobbled, pedestrian-only Calcada da Igreja de S. Lazaro. The temptation to follow interesting-looking side diversions along narrow streets in this area is hard to resist, but luncheon beckons. Albergue 1601 is a small establishment, and advance reservations are strongly recommended. Exploring the area would be better done afterwards to walk off the excesses of lunch, when getting hopelessly lost is more in the category of fun than minor disaster, provided you remembered to visit the lavatorio before leaving the restaurant.


Albergue 1601 is not confined to one building. In various capacities it occupies one- and two-storey, well preserved heritage buildings on three sides of a small plaza, which is now dominated by two very large camphor trees which dwarf the buildings. The entrance gateway to the plaza occupies the fourth side.

You can be forgiven for missing the entrance gateway. The legend across the top of the gateway reads SANTA CASA DA MISERICÓRDIA ALBERGUE, but this is now rendered illegible by encroaching vegetation, which no one seems to be in a hurry to remove. The small but conspicuous billboard planted beside the roadway gave the location away, though, or we would probably have walked straight past it.


Once inside the gateway, we had the difficult task of identifying the entrance to the restaurant. It wasn’t easy, being virtually invisible and with nothing to advertise its presence. You might suspect they are trying to keep it a secret, and maybe they are. I certainly hope so – this is the sort of place you want to keep to yourself, for fear of it being overrun by bloated, over-zealous, Instagramming gluttons.

It turned out to be this nondescript little doorway:


Once inside we were invited to sit on welcoming giant leather sofas that are so worn that they appear to have provided a welcome resting place for the backsides of foot-weary travellers for hundreds of years, and probably have, while the staff located our reservation and then beckoned us up a very narrow and rather creaky old wooden staircase to our table, with a pleasant view overlooking the small plaza. We had the small room to ourselves, the seating was very comfortable, the table well and tastefully appointed, with an array of salt and pepper grinders, some particularly fine olive oil and a bottle of vinegar. Service was efficient, pleasant, polite, knowledgeable, quick without rushing and unobtrusive, just the way it should be but frequently is not. As soon as it was clear that we had finished with one course, the next course arrived promptly.

The menu is extensive to the point of confusion and indecision, but we worked our way through it, while our server delivered excellent bread piping hot and accompanied by small dishes of delicious black olive paste with which the sharpen the appetite, if it needed any sharpening. My wife and daughter studiously ignored my advice to choose one of several bacalhau (dried and salted cod) dishes for which Macao is renowned.

There is no need to fear language difficulty with the menu – we were presented with the English version of menus without needing to ask. For starters, I chose the gambas à guilho (garlic shrimps), while the girls ordered salada de polvo (octopus salad) and petingas fritas (baby sardines). Mine turned out to be five very well-sized prawns, shelled (so no messy fingers required) and smothered in an addictively delicious sauce that was adequately but not overwhelmingly garlicky. Having demolished the four prawns left to me after the girls had speared one to share between them, I could not stop myself from scooping up that delicious sauce and eating it spread on bread. I am not a big eater, and that one dish alone plus bread would have sufficed for my lunch. The girls reported that the octopus salad was bland and indifferent – certainly edible but not exciting, but they did very much like the sardines.

For mains, the girls chose the arroz de marisco (seafood risotto) and the secretos grelhados (grilled Iberico pork shoulder). I superfluously ordered the vegetais salteados (garlic mixed vegetables), not realising it was not a side dish. The seafood risotto was easily enough for two, and the girls went about demolishing it very happily and pronounced it to be superb. When cooked with sufficient liquid, the Portuguese strain of rice becomes creamy, and it came chock full of crustacea, shellfish and pieces of fish. My dish of garlic mixed vegetables was embarrassingly very large – the vegetables were delicious and excellent in variety, but I could hardly make a dent in them. The pork shoulder was very tasty but a bit on the chewy side; it came with good parsley mashed potatoes.

We had ordered far too much food for lunch for three, but no matter – the staff obligingly put the pork shoulder, mashed potatoes and garlic vegetables into leakproof plastic boxes for us to carry back to Hong Kong to have for dinner when we got home, too tired to cook, which we duly did.

For dessert, out of curiosity I not could resist ordering the serradura (sawdust icecream pudding), and the girls decided to share a pêra bêbeda (drunken pear poached in port wine). My serradura came as a nicely decorated and suitably modest serving (rather than the diabetes-inducing monstrosity you would be likely to get in the USA or Australia), so once the girls had each stolen their sample spoonful to try, I had no difficulty at all finishing the rest. It was delicately flavoured and excellent. My wife declared the dark purple Poached Pear to be VERY ALCOHOLIC!!! (well, the name did sort of warn her it might be), but I noticed that between the two of them, the girls had no difficulty in consuming all of it, and not too much difficulty walking afterwards.

I rounded out my excellent lunch with what was, without question, the best cup of coffee I have ever had in Macao, which means one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had anywhere. Macao puts Hong Kong to shame when it comes to coffee. Daughter stole a sip and agreed with my assessment, and she knows a thing or two about coffee. She and Wife had tea, which they confirmed was indeed nice tea, but unexceptional.

In all (remembering that we drank only a bottle of mineral water with lunch, not wine), the bill came to MOP$ 1130 (USD 140, €124, SEK 1290; the Macao pataca is pegged to the HK$ at the rate of HK$1 to MOP$1.03) – not cheap, but not overly pricey either, and after all this is definitely a “high end” restaurant. And we had ordered enough food for two meals for three people.

After lunch, my curiosity drew me to the other side of the small plaza, where I discovered the Albergue 1601 gift shop, a beautifully appointed small shop selling various canned Portuguese comestibles, special soaps made in Portugal, myriad bottles of mysterious substances for ladies to put on themselves and a confusing array of other things that I couldn’t very well take in – besides, we were travelling very light, so I wasn’t up for buying anything, although I wouldn’t have minded. Next door was a gallery, which was under renovation when we were there – I poked my head in far enough to see that it was a sizeable, uncluttered and very pleasant, well lit space, which I presume is for local artists to display their paintings and sculpture, before one of the tradesmen doing the renovating invited me to remove myself again in a not overly polite manner. Fair enough.


We did all remember to visit the lavatorio before leaving, me struggling to lock and unlock the antique wooden door with its clunky wooden latch, which presented no such problems to my wife and daughter – and I’m the one who is supposed to be an engineer! Even the lavatorio was a pleasant enough experience, though – spotlessly clean and fragrant.

So then, there was nothing else for us to do but head off down the hill, wishing we had time to go poking down all of the fascinating looking side streets, and looking for somewhere we could catch a taxi to take us to the Outer Harbour in time to catch the TurboJet back to Hong Kong, a trip that takes almost exactly one hour pier to pier.

Would I go back to Albergue 1601 again? Yes, in a minute. I give it top marks for food, presentation, service, ambience, physical setting, and anything else a restaurant can get marks for. I am enthusiastic enough about it that I would post something on their Facebook page to praise the place, but I’m kind of trying to keep it a secret. I doubt I will succeed.

Which reminds me – their Facebook page contains their menu:

Decades-long Quest for Levantine Pudding

Mouhalabieh (pic by Patricia latelierdescouleurs on Pinterest)

The summer after my high school graduation I went to Israel to do unskilled labour on an archaeological excavation. Reading a guide book I found mention of a Near Eastern dessert pudding called mouhalabieh, “delicacy”. I asked for it at a couple of restaurants, but no luck. One Jerusalem café owner laughed and pointed to the ads in a newspaper for porn movie theatres in Tel Aviv, “There’s your mouhalabieh!”.

The memory floated up from deep storage the other day, and I googled for recipes. Turns out that I have kind of made mouhalabieh / muhallebi / malabi many times already. It’s simply sweetened milk thickened with starch: blancmangé or maizenapudding in Swedish. What mainly differentiates the Near Eastern version from the Northern European one is that it’s flavoured with rosewater and / or orange blossom, and topped with chopped nuts.

Sunday Mushrooms


I’ve been remiss in reporting on our mushroom hauls in recent years. The last report is from four years ago and two weeks earlier in the season. But 2018 has been very different weather-wise than was 2014. The average July temperature in central Stockholm was 20.7 C in 2014. In 2018 it was 22.5 C, the highest seen since measurements began. So it’s no wonder that nature is looking a little odd.

On Sunday’s foray into the woods between the Halvörestorp road junction and Gungviken, we didn’t see many mushrooms except lots of rufous milkcap, pepparriska, Lactarius rufus. You need to be a Finn to eat that. We did get four other kinds though, only one of which we found at my last report: the ubiquitous velvet bolete, sandsopp. The most common one we knew to pick today was a large, bright red brittlegill, storkremla, Russula paludosa, which has never featured in my reports before.

Here’s what we got:

  • Brittlegill, Storkremla, Russula paludosa
  • Velvet bolete, Sandsopp, Suillus variegatus
  • Fårticka, Albatrellus ovinus
  • Birch bolete, Björksopp, Leccinum scabrum

Palm Oil Non Sequitur

Weird argument in the World Wildlife Fund’s magazine for why Swedes shouldn’t avoid buying palm oil.

“Sweden has such a small population that it doesn’t matter to the environment whether we buy environmentally destructive palm oil or not. The big markets are in other parts of the world. But if we buy environmentally certified palm oil, then we get to have a voice in the discussion about palm oil production.”

How would a small group of people buying certified oil have any impact on the market for uncertified oil? Makes no sense. I don’t want those producers to cultivate any oil palms whatsoever.

To protect the environment, I prefer to buy local rapeseed oil.

Weekend Fun

One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says "possibly a kitchen mortar". Neither function seems likely.
One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says “possibly a kitchen mortar”. Neither function seems likely.
Had some quality fun this past weekend.

  • Dinner at Tbilisis Hörna, a Georgian + Greek + Italian restaurant. Service was slow and unsynched but the food was great. The deep green tarragon soda in a bottle with almost exclusively Georgian script on the labels added to the sense of not being anywhere near Stockholm.
  • Gig at the Globe Arena’s annexe with psychedelic Australian genius Kevin Parker and his band Tame Impala.
  • Chinese banquet cooked by my wife and sis-in-law, to celebrate the end of the Year of the Wooden Goat and the beginning of the Year of the Fire Monkey. I got out my old mini steam engine and oversaw Jrette operating it with her cousins.
  • Visited the museum in the basement of the northern wing of Stockholm’s Royal Castle, to learn more about its Medieval predecessor that was torn down after a major fire in 1697. Not very informative, mainly a lot of 17th century sculpture fragments. A few Medieval coins were in a tiny, poorly lit glass-topped depression in the floor where you could barely make them out. But one wall of the basement is the castle’s 13th century perimeter and the other is 15th century building fronts, so that’s something. This level was the ground floor at the time: the closest you can get to visiting the Medieval castle.
  • First semla of 2016. Mmm…
  • Bach’s Mass in B minor at Nacka Church, the last major work he completed, played on period-style instruments by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble. Silver trumpets!

Dear Reader, what did you do for fun over the weekend? It’s an important issue: fun is after all the meaning of life.

Saturday Morning Mushrooms

blandsvampMushroom picking again this morning, this time in the area between Lakelets Skinnmossen and Knipträsket. Found more velvet and birch boletes than we cared to pick.

  • King bolete, Stensopp/Karl Johan, Boletus edulis
  • Orange birch bolete, Tegelsopp, Leccinum versepelle
  • Velvet bolete, Sandsopp, Suillus variegatus
  • Chanterelle, Kantarell, Cantharellus cibarius
  • Gypsy mushroom, Rynkad tofsskivling, Rozites caperata
  • False saffron milkcap, Blodriska, Lactarius deterrimus

Oh how annoying that the image gallery function is so bug-ridden.

Crayfish Gastroliths


It’s the time of the year when it used to become legal to catch and sell Swedish crayfish (since 1994 there is no limit), and so the grocery stores sell Turkish and Chinese crayfish for a few weeks. The traditional way to eat them is to boil them with dill, salt and a little sugar, and serve them with toast, strong cheese, beer and akvavit. I don’t drink but I love shellfish, so crayfish time is always a treat for me. My wife, being refreshingly unorthodox about traditional Swedish customs, and indeed about all traditional customs thanks to a Maoist childhood, served crayfish with smoked shrimp, aïoli and boiled potatoes last night.

There’s a fun detail about these animals: sometimes you find a pair of little white buttons in their heads. These are known as kräftstenar in Swedish, “crayfish stones”, and gastroliths in English. (The same word is also used for actual stones eaten by crocodiles, birds and other dinosaurs to help digest their food.) As Andrew Hosie of the Western Australian Museum explains:

… crayfish gastroliths … represent a remarkable physiological process to conserve calcium.

Much like people require calcium for strong and healthy bones, so too does a freshwater crayfish to maintain its armour. … As crayfish (indeed all crustaceans) grow bigger, they must periodically shed the exoskeleton and form a new one. To start a new exoskeleton from scratch would require large amounts of new calcium.

The hormones that drive moulting (referred to as ecdysis) trigger calcium carbonate to be removed from the exoskeleton and starts forming a pair of these gastroliths in the stomach. After the crayfish has moulted, the gastroliths are reabsorbed and used in the strengthening of the new exoskeleton. Only freshwater crustaceans form gastroliths because unlike seawater, freshwater has very little dissolved calcium salts, so in an effort to retain calcium, crayfish form these little gastroliths, or even eat the old exoskeleton.

Check out the strange story of what my friend Eddie unexpectedly caught in his crayfish trap.

Friday Mushrooms

zvampHas it really been almost four years since I blogged about mushrooms? This afternoon me and my wife repeated our September 8, 2010 expedition to the hills between Lakes Lundsjön and Trehörningen and picked almost a kilo of mushrooms in a bit more than an hour. We got:

  • King bolete, Stensopp/Karl Johan, Boletus edulis
  • Bay bolete, Brunsopp, Boletus badius
  • Orange birch bolete, Tegelsopp, Leccinum versepelle
  • Birch bolete, Björksopp, Leccinum scabrum
  • Entire russula, Mandelkremla, Russula integra
  • Two kinds of red or brown brittlegill, mild-tasting and thus non-poisonous. Scandyland has more than 130 species of brittlegill, none are deadly and luckily there’s a simple taste test for which ones are good to eat.

Deservedly Forgotten Swedish Drink

Sweden used to have its own version of Irish Coffee: kaffekask. It was big in the 19th century and I believe it dropped from favour during our 1917-55 period of liquor rationing. Nobody seems to drink kaffekask anymore.

A kask is a type of helmet like the ones worn by English bobbies. But that’s apparently not the etymology of kaffekask. More likely it comes from Low German karsch, “harsh”, “abrasive”.

Kaffekask consists only of coffee and 40% (70° proof) potato schnapps plus optionally a sugar cube per cup. Swedish schnapps (brännvin, “burn wine”) is usually flavoured and does not to my knowledge go through the barbarous vodka process where you distill nearly pure alcohol and mix it down again with water. But that is not to say that it is anything like Irish whiskey. Brännvin nowadays is an old folks’ drink taken only at a few ritualised feasts a year to the tune of old drinking songs.

Should you still want to try this blast from the past, there is a traditional way to get the proportions right. You put a silver coin and a copper coin in your cup. Pour coffee into it until you can’t see the silver coin anymore. Then top up with brännvin until you can see the copper coin again. It will be harsh.

Bread and Microbes


I found some slightly mouldy bread in the cupboard, cut off the mould and made toast. And I thought about bread and microbes.

For flavour, not as a raising agent, I make sour dough. My method is simple: I mix rye flour with water in a glass, cover it with cling film and put it on the countertop for a week or so. Lactic acid bacteria soon colonise the mix, lowering the pH to make the environment cosy for themselves and deter any other opportunistic microbes.

When the sour dough smells like vinegar I make bread dough with it, adding a second microbe: yeast fungus. The yeast eats sugar in the flour that the lactic acid bacteria haven’t had time to gobble up, and then it emits carbon dioxide gas, causing the bread to rise. (Rubbery gluten protein in the flour makes sure tenacious bubbles form instead of the gas seeping out of the dough.)

Then I bake the bread, which kills off the bacteria and yeast. After 50 minutes at 225 C, the bread is sterile. And delicious! But after a week or so, the bread gets recolonised by microbes, unwelcome ones. This time its another group of fungi, blue-green mould. Tastes awful, so I cut those bits off.

And my toast? I ate it all, sending it straight into the greatest throng of microbes it had ever encountered: the symbiont bacteria in my gut.