The problem with luxury in the world of gastronomy is that it is not a scalable model. The designer brands that churn out their ware in six-digits, and yet manage to have only-too-eager customers line up (in more than mere 6-digits) and it still baffles economists and pragmatists worldwide. To try and do the same with food (or wine) would simply convert the place into the equivalent of an elaborate cafeteria.
The best of restaurant seem to work best when the covers are limited to no more than 60, the average time to reserve a table is no sooner than two months, the main courses are no bigger than tasting portions, and the chef spews forth no more than five polite words a day. That, mesamis, are the requisites for defining a true fine-dining establishment. Well, almost.
Recently, I was invited to the opening of a new restaurant in Macau at the swanky new Sheraton. This was their way of celebrating their 75th anniversary, launching a hotel with 3,900 rooms or so, something so big that it took me almost three days to figure out the way from the room to the reception without detouring via the casino!
But, back to the point, the question that I was seeking an answer to, was pretty much, pun intended, to be found here. The hotel has three restaurants, each bigger than the next. They could seat over 300-plus people in most (the Italian one ‘Bene’, meaning good, may have capped it at a close 290) and yet resembled nothing like the interiors of an industrial fast food outlet. The wine selection was nothing too extensive but carefully appointed to ensure that it suited pockets and palates. There was variety enough to last through dinners worth a week-long stay.
At Xin, their Asian hotpot outlet, each counter was set-up with a small stove, where the soup of choice could be set up, and into which one could, pardon the choice of verb, dunk ones choice of meat or veggies and let them simmer till they felt ready enough to withdraw and eat. There was an array of all sorts on the buffet, from lean strips of fatty bacon to healthy pakchoi, from chicken morsels to lettuce shreds. One would imagine a team strong enough to fill a stadium to keep the stalls replenished but never once did the restaurant feel overwhelmingly large or callously cold. The managers in their respective stations kept a close eye on their guests, anticipating needs before they became apparent. The process was well-oiled and this was a brand new restaurant. It sure wasn’t fine dining but it was definitely a good few notches up from your local kebab parlour.
The Venetian was another such case in point but not the only other; just about everywhere else in Macau the idea of size was not once allowed to interfere with the delivery of a fairly fine dining experience. To someone who is used to complaining about service in restaurants a fifth the size, the execution here was baffling. Add to this the fact that food is only gambling yours truly indulges in and you understand why I was so noticeably pernickety. Other people, between their slot rounds and craps tables, would be a lot less conscious of the mammoth machinery behind the scenes.