Story and photography by Manos Angelakis
Mdina (from the Arabic al-madīnah the old town) is the old – from the Phoenician times to the early 18th century - capital of Malta. Built on top of a hill, it has a blend of medieval and baroque buildings in a maze of winding, narrow streets constructed from the honey-colored limestone that most buildings are built in Malta, and is surrounded by bastions with crenelated parapets. From behind the parapets, one can see the modern section of the city of Valletta and the Grand Harbor.
We arrived to the Mdina gates, driven in an early 1950s classic Jaguar, beautifully maintained by Joseph Said, a Maltese glassmaker and managing director of the Mdina Glass Ltd., whose handmade and mouth-blown decorative products are very stylish in terms of color and design, and compare very favorably with modern decorative motifs from Venice’s Murano and Burano.
His car participates, every October, in the Mdina Grand Prix that starts with a 2 day classic car racing event around a Mdina street track, plus cultural programs and other activities and a guided tour of the city of Valetta and Gozo Island for the drivers and their guests. Just prior to the race, the Mdina Concours d’Elegance takes place in the Cathedral Square, to showcase the best of the participating exotic classic vehicles.
Following a short journey around the old city, we walked down a steep street to the harbor, to dine at the Barracuda Restaurant, one of the better seaside restaurants of the coastal promenade in Malta’s St. Julian’s Bay.
Barracuda is popular because it offers local gastronomes excellent food and impeccable service, in an elegant and comfortable setting.
We started our meal with seafood -- a small plate of seared scallop with cubed beets, fresh tomato petals and micro-cress; it was then followed by a red prawn carpaccio with radishes, fresh coriander and lime with Mediterranean sea-salt on a black slate slab, Then we continued with a homemade fava-bean and Maltese ġbejna (small sheep’s milk cheese) stuffed agnolotti topped by sage fritters, wilted spinach, and Seville-orange segments.
My main course was grilled sea bass fillet, pea mash and potato fondants with a mussel blanquette. Barbara’s was rabbit leg drumstick on a bed of truffled mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage with a rabbit liver dolma.
Dessert of Vahlrona dark chocolate and chili fondant was served with homemade chestnut ice cream; espresso followed and we were quite content.
Their wine list is quite impressive. In addition to the top Maltese wines that were served to us from the Meridiana winery - Isis (Chardonnay) and Melqart (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) - they have an outstanding selection of Italian and French bottles from top wineries, plus a number of good “New World” bottles, dominated by a nice selection of Chilean reds and whites.
The next day, we had lunch at The Cliffs Restaurant at the Dingli Cliffs, on Malta’s west coast. The view from the restaurant of the cliffs and the bay is stunning. Though the view was good, the food was seriously good, made from very fresh local ingredients. Vegetables and salads include both wild and cultivated produce that are bought from local farms within one kilometer from the restaurant.
The starter was a medley of local sausages, bacon, fresh hand-made ricotta cheese, fried rabbit pieces on toast, and many other bits and pieces served family style. The primo piatto was rabbit ravioli tossed in orange zest, cherry tomatoes, rabbit liver and truffled mushroom sauce.
The main was a seafood medley that included local red shrimp, plus clams, mussels and cockles with white wine, garlic, chili and ginger. The seafood looked almost like a cioppino, without the tomato-based broth. The only thing that was not particularly memorable was the wine served.
But dinner, the same evening was definitely exceptional.
We crossed the Grand Harbor from Valletta to Vittoriosa on a Maltese daghajsa, a high prowed boat typical of the islands. Near the quay, a pair of heralds, a drummer and a trumpeter in renaissance garb, were waiting to guide us to the Colacchio area, where the Knights of Malta had their auberges (communal residences). We walked through the meandering streets of the old city to Palazzo Vittoriosa, considered the top B&B in Malta, where we were having dinner courtesy of the Malta Tourism Authority.
This building was a Knight’s auberge constructed from the ubiquitous honey-colored limestone; it has been totally renovated and turned into a super luxurious rental property by the Dutch owners Jessica and Remco Slik, and is considered as the most special place to stay on Vittoriosa (54-56 Hilda Tabone Street, BRG 1257, Vittoriosa, Malta). The palazzo can host a maximum of 7 guests, if reserved on an Exclusive Use basis. Most of the guests prefer the exclusive option, so they can have all the facilities at their disposal at all times.
Bart Saive, the Belgian chef that catered our dinner, is very good at creating memorable dishes.
We started with a delicious Smoked Duck and Mango Carpaccio followed by a Celeriac Soup, finished with Beetroot.
Barbara’s main course was a Pork fillet, stuffed with Prosciutto, Basil and Walnuts and served with Potatoes Dauphinois and French Beans. Mine was a lovely Pan-seared Sea Bass with Tahini and Curry sauce served with Pommes Duchesse.
Coffee and Chef’s Surprise Dessert were served at the end.
The wines were all local, from Meridiana. The brand is Fenici (in honor of the Phoenicians that spread the art of winemaking throughout the Mediterranean) and it comes in white and red; both created as export, mass marketed wines. The white is a light and bright blend of Vermentino and Viognier, a fairly simple, quaffable wine, designed to be consumed on its own or with light meals. The red is a blend of Syrah and Merlot, harvested from the company’s estate.
These were only a few of the fine meals we had during our recent visit to Malta. In last month’s restaurant section, you will also find our lunch and dinner at Villa Corinthia, the formal restaurant of the Corinthia Palace Hotel, our host on the island.
When you go there:
Lufthansa Airlines www.lufthansa.com
Classic Car Rental and Chauffeur Drive Service: www.johnsgroup.eu
Barracuda Restaurant: www.barracudarestaurant.com
Palazzo Vittoriosa: www.palazzovittoriosa.com
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