The Rice Empire is an excellent restaurant serving a selection of favourite tapas, rice-based dishes, rice noodles and desserts from many Asian countries. Pho from Vietnam, Chicken rice from Singapore, Nasi Goreng from Indonesia, Katsudon from Japan and Rice in Hot Stone Pot from Korea are just some of the varied items on the menu. The restaurant is tucked away in a very quiet corner of the huge Sands Cotai Central Complex, away from the hordes of noisy, chain-smoking tourists from mainland China who descend on Macau by the busloads practically every minute of the day. To locate this hidden gem of a restaurant, look for McDonalds/Mc Cafe on Level 1 of the upmarket Shoppes at Sands Cotai Central Mall and walk straight till the end of the passageway and you'll find the Rice Empire.
The restaurant has a serene ambience with dark wood furniture set against pristine cream coloured walls adorned with pictures of paddy plants. The two English-speaking restaurant captains lead a small crew of waitresses who render prompt, attentive but unobtrusive service. The food is carefully prepared and scrumptious; the appetizers deserve special mention for tasting like the native version served in their country of origin and for being attractively plated. Individual portions of the main courses are big enough to serve two adults, and prices are a steal with most main courses priced between MOP68 (USD8) to MOP98 (USD12). The 10% service charge is waived for Sands Rewards Club members.
My dining companion and I shared an appetizer, a salad and rice dish (see photos). The chef transformed the plebeian Vietnamese rice paper rolls (MOP38) to a wholesome tapas with an irresistable contrast of textures with the addition of shredded beetroot, blanched plump prawns and generous slices of Thai honey mango. The rolls were served with a tangy spicy dipping sauce, as is done in Vietnam, but I found them to be excellent even without the dip.
The Thai Pomelo Salad was served in a deep bowl with big shrimps, plenty of fresh crabmeat and shredded kaffir lime leaf. I was happy the chef had a light touch with the chilli flakes, ground peanuts and fish sauce, allowing the distinct taste of the fresh ingredients used to delight the diner.
The Stone Pot Rice was topped with a chunky piece of flavourful and juicy pork loin that had been sauteed with minced ginger, julienned scallions and white pepper. The rice had absorbed the hearty gravy and scrambled egg, but the acid test came after dinner - we did not get thirsty at all, so we can vouch that this dish is MSG-free. As my dining companion was a member of the Sands Rewards Club, we paid only MOP48, ie half price, for this dish. (Each Club member is restricted to only one order from a list of four promotional priced dishes per visit.)
It was a pity we 'discovered' The Rice Empire on our last night in Macau or we would have had all of our dinners here. We are likely to stay on the Cotai Strip on subsequent trips to Macau so we'll definitely drop by again. It is great that this place stays open till 11pm, with no reservations required, at least for the time being.