I went to visit my brother in Leigh-on-Sea a couple weekends ago and was utterly charmed by the little town, yes, by the sea. I loved the old fishing village of Old Leigh and I loved the independent shops and restaurants along the Broadway. And I loved all the food I ate while there. Dinner was at Agostinho’s, a Portuguese restaurant I’d identified as promising and we made a booking for the Saturday night.

Agostinho is the head chef in the kitchen and his very chatty and friendly wife leads the front of house team. Agostinho is from Madeira, which as a fact by itself isn’t odd but what is odd is that the other Portuguese restaurants in the Leigh/Southend area (there are three in total, I think) are all run by Madeirans. The only things I knew about this Portuguese island were the basket rides down the hills and the fortified wine. According to Wikipedia, a particularly Madeiran speciality is fish with fried bananas….. ok, I’d see what else Madeira has to offer then!

Do make sure to book a table – the place was packed when we got there at 9am. The menu is full of lots of tempting things but we decided to share just the one starter when we saw the size of the main courses. To start, one order of their homemade Pasteis De Bacalhau (£5.95). These fried morsels sure beat any of the manufactured frozen pasteis many Portuguese cafes use – these were light and fluffy and full of fish (and boneless!).

Pasteis De Bacalhau

We shared two of the mains. A Portuguese Caldeira De Peixe E Mariscos (£16.95) was a huge warming bowl of a tomato based seafood stew. Various fishes, mussels, and squid were found swimming inside along with chunks of potato and slices of peppers. The dish is perfect for any seafood lover and the broth was fantastic. We had rice on the side to soak up that broth.

Caldeira De Peixe E Mariscos

Rice

We also split an Espetada a Moda da Madeira (£14.75), a grilled skewer of sirloin and bay leaves in a wine sauce with lots of garlic. If this is Madeiran food, then Madeiran food is insanely delicious. The meat was perfectly tender (medium-rare at our request) and I was mopping up that fabulously winey sauce with the equally perfectly sauteed potatoes.

Espetada a Moda da Madeira

I was feeling guilty about the lack of vegetables and ordered a side of Runner Beans (£4.00 for two servings) for us. Simple (well, simple and butter-tossed) and just what we needed on the side.

Runner Beans

Dinner

Despite the both of us feeling pretty bloated, I insisted on squeezing in a dessert, especially when I saw (from a neighbouring table) that they had a homemade Portuguese Molotofe Pudding (Caramel Soufflé), Roasted Almonds (£5.25). This light and truly very airy dessert is like a regular caramel flan but with the texture and density of clouds. I mean, c’mon, it’s mostly air! I don’t think any of the whipped cream was necessary – if it’s just me and the Molotofe, I’ll be happy.

Portuguese Molotofe Pudding (Caramel Soufflé), Roasted Almonds

It was no surprise then that this restaurant was packed that Saturday night. Service was friendly, the food was excellent, the room was warm and cosy. It’s almost the opposite of many of the newer, louder wine bars in the area but I like it very much for that reason!

Agostinho’s
157 Leigh Road
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
SS9 1JF

With just over a week in Hong Kong, we decided that I had time to spend a day in Macau, the former longtime Portuguese colony just an hour away. I fell pretty hard for this island, with its mixture of old Portuguese-style architecture, Chinese buildings and modern flashy casinos. What a mix it is and it describes today’s Macau perfectly. That fusion of Portugal and China can also be seen in the local food culture.

Looking Down on the Old Town

From the ferry port, we headed straight to the old town, bypassing all the casinos and their artificiality, and first stopped at Koi Kee bakery for a Macanese egg tart. The Portuguese influence is pretty obvious here; the tarts resemble the famous Portuguese ones from Lisbon. They’re just as delicious though the pastry was more like puff pastry over the crispier layered pastry favoured by the Portuguese.

At Koi Kee Bakery

Portuguese Egg Tart

If you’re in Macau, the Ruins of St Paul’s are highly likely to be on your list of places to see as it was for me. Next to the ruins is a fantastic little gift shop called Macau Creations where all the goods are designed by artists from Macau. I’m glad we stopped in here as a very kind girl working there took a look at the name of a cafe we were hoping to visit in the afternoon on Taipa and told us that it had closed. Gasp! Where were we going to go for the best pork chop bun?! She had the answer.

Ruins of St Paul's

Macau Creations

Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei was originally on Taipa Island but had closed recently and relocated just down the street from Macau Creations. It’s no longer a cafe but a little takeaway hole-in-the-wall.

Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei

And this is what they’re famous for – their pork chop buns. Again, this is quite the Macanese speciality – there is something similar in Portuguese cuisine but the flavours are a bit different. The chop had been marinated and fried and stuffed in a classic Portuguese bun. It’s simple yet so ridiculously tasty.

Pork Chop Bun

After a wander around the quieter streets with our pork chop buns, we descended back down the busy snack street from the ruins. I can’t remember the name of the street but you really can’t miss it: it’s lined with shops selling Macanese pastries, biscuits, pork chop buns, grilled meat jerkies. There were lots of vendors pushing samples on us and I found myself filling up on them!

These almond biscuits are particularly famous in Macau but I found them a bit too dry for my liking.

Almond Biscuits

The meat jerkies though were delicious but I didn’t buy any. I did leave Macau with a bag of peanut and black sesame cookies though.

Meat Jerkies

For lunch, we headed to a restaurant recommended by my guidebook, a little out of the way place called Afonso III. While the cuisine was defined as Macanese, we found it leaning more towards Portuguese and the restaurant itself could have been anywhere in Portugal. The place was served by the grumpiest Macanese woman but she softened a bit when we thanked her in Portuguese.

Inside

A cuttlefish and white bean stew arrived in a Chinese clay pot and was absolutely delicious. The bread basket came in handy to sop up all the gravy. M fell utterly in love with this stew as it reminded her of one from her childhood.

Choquinhos a Feijao Branco

Bacalhau (salt cod) is regarded as particularly Macanese and we also ordered a bacalhau baked with potatoes and plenty of garlic. It was slicked with plenty of delicious garlicky olive oil and piled high with salty cod and tender potatoes. After a whole week of Chinese food, I missed this kind of Mediterranean food!

Bacalhau a "Comes de Sa"

The portions were humongous and M brought all the leftovers home, cooing over them and spending the rest of the day sniffing the bag in which they were carried.

Huge Portions

We finished the meal with a flan – it was a bit stiff and eggy but still alright. Still, despite the grumpy waitress and the too stiff flan, I loved the place and felt quite at home there. Prices seemed a little stiff to begin with but turned out to be alright when we discovered that each dish could serve three.

Flan

Afonso III
11A Rua Central
Macau Peninsula

We continued our walk around the old town and stumbled upon Rua da Felicidade (a former red light district) without actually aiming for it. There were lots of shops and restaurants within the row of buildings that I’d love to explore more if I ever get back to Macau.

I couldn’t leave without actually attempting to gamble at one of those fancy new casinos but we both failed pretty miserably at the Venetian on Taipa Island (um…there were an awful lot of buttons on the slot machines…). Still, we had a good gawp at the “open air” replicas of St Mark’s Square and the canals.

"St Mark's Square"

Gondolas

The free casino bus was caught back to the ferry port and we slept all the way back to Hong Kong – it had been a fine day in Macau! I definitely recommend heading over there if you have the chance; I’d skip the casinos and focus on the old Portuguese-Chinese fusion evident in the architecture and food.

All my photos from Macau can be found in this Flickr photoset.