We have a confession to make. When there is a new restaurant or bar in Macau, we can’t resist the curiosity to explore it ASAP. The Portuguese tavern 3 Sardines opened its doors this summer, but it has already become the talk of the town and a number one spot on foodies’ must-go lists. We visited them to see if the word on the street is right and it is indeed the hottest spot in Macau.
What is in the name
First of all, why 3 Sardines? The answer is straightforward–because three young Portuguese chefs, André da Silva Gomes with brothers Pedro and Mauro Almeida founded it. They came together to bring their knowledge, expertise, and ideas to the table and establish a spot in town where people would gather to enjoy a good company and excellent hospitality over simple yet delicious food accompanied by fine Portuguese wine.
From Barrio Alto to Macau
Dimmed warm lights, vintage decor, and casual service are what guests see when they enter 3 Sardines. Hands down, the design is one of the main contributors to their popularity. Some local Portuguese say the place reminds them of Barrio Alto, a trendy bohemian Lisbon quarter, a center of gravity with loads of bars and restaurants.
One can spend hours exploring the extensive collection of antiques brought to 3 Sardines from shops in Hong Kong, Portugal, and wherever else the chefs found something old and cool that could fit into 3 Sardines’ quirky setting. Indeed, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure! There is a bicycle suspended on the ceiling, right in the middle there is a large tree, and fishnets hang all over the place, old radios and sewing machines lined up on the shelves. All these random antiques come together in a peculiar but wholesome setting. With so many vintage details, it is easy to forget that this tavern is brand new.
But let’s be frank, people rarely go to restaurants and bars solely to admire the design. 3 Sardines would hardly be fully booked on weekends if it wasn’t for the food. While there are plenty of Portuguese restaurants in Macau to enjoy a full three-course meal, the niche of more casual and laid back bars where you can also grab a bite can use more establishments. So 3 Sardines decided to build their gastronomy concept around petiscos, a Portuguese equivalent of Spanish tapas. Both these terms stand for small plates or snacks and usually go with drinks. At 3 Sardines, petiscos are served in traditional Portuguese terracotta hand-painted plates.
What to drink
Both the food and drinks menu fit on an A4 page. Opt for sangria, beer, and wine or get a taste of Portuguese gin, and whatever you choose would be reasonably priced. The wine list is short, but it shouldn’t be a problem as all the bottles they offer are perfect for pairing with the petiscos on the menu. Notably, the multi-talented chef trio is also working on their home-made craft brew, perfecting it day by day. Ask them when you visit and they would be more than happy to talk about it.
From the land
On the petsicos front, there is hardly anything amiss on the list. Don’t be afraid to order too much because the portions are small; as they should be. So take advantage and try out as many creations as you can!
All the recipes come mainly from the Portuguese North, however, they are not restricted to this geography. You can even see some Spanish favorites, such as pimentos padrão (Padrón peppers). Padrón is a particular type of small pepper usually grown Galicia, fried in olive oil until their skin is blistered, and served with a generous seasoning of sea salt. Another appetizer you shouldn’t miss is jamón Iberico, cured for 36 months. Pairing it with a glass of full-bodied, oaky red is a must, as it helps to fully appreciate the rich flavor of the meat. And while you are at it, don’t forget to ask for the essential Portuguese cured meat, chouríço assado. Savor it with some crunchy white bread on the side. By the way, this bread is imported from Portugal half-frozen and then baked at the restaurant.
There is not much variety for vegans, but meat lovers would not fail to find plenty of tempting options. If you are open to less popular dishes and ingredients, opt for moelas, braised chicken gizzards. Personally, we couldn’t get enough of that rich sauce! Another unmissable meat petisco is escabeche de coelho, or rabbit escabeche. Typically, escabeche is made with beef, pork, rabbit, seafood, or fish, depending on the region or what is available. Its acidic flavor comes from vinegar that a cook uses to marinate the meat before cooking it.
From the sea
But it’s not only about meat. The seafood and fish petiscos are worth the attention, too. We strongly recommend asking for the tavern’s namesake, petingas fritas, aka baby sardines. The fried sardines come in a serving of three. There is nothing extra about them, thanks to the fresh ingredients and excellent preparation, this plate is perfect in its simplicity. One more seafood must-try is polvo frito, a deep-dried octopus, crispy on the outside and juicy and delicate inside.
As the place is still new, the chefs study the feedback, occasionally update the menu with new dishes, and see what works better. They run from the kitchen to the tables to make sure all the guests are happy with their experience, making 3 Sardines such a cozy and welcoming place that you want to come back to again and again! Don’t forget to send them a message on their Facebook page for a reservation before heading there, as they can get pretty busy on weekends.
Photo credits: Ksenia Kuzmina