Here's the first of my posts about Malta. The holiday was lovely, I was a last minute addition to the party thanks to the kind hospitality of Noy, Helen and James, I was able to tag along.
The short notice meant I was left with barely enough time to pack let alone to research and get an idea of the local foods or recommended eateries, luckily James is residing in Malta temporarily for work and knew of some local hotsopts.
We ate out most evenings and my personal favourite eating experience of the week had to be dinner at Tal Familja. A small friendly 'typical Maltese' restaurant, we head here looking for an authentic Maltese dining experience.
We were seated, having arrived fairly late in the day, orders were taken and food arrived promptly. Complimentary white bread rolls were served accompanied by a large helping of garlic butter. These rolls were better than others we'd had throughout the week. Warm and crisp, baked on the premises it seems and the garlic butter was a nice touch.
There was also a selection of bruschetta, commonly this is served alongside the bread in Maltese restaurants, this version was good, richer tasting tomatoes are one of the pleasure of venturing to sunnier climes, these didn't disappoint. Then came a Maltese Antipasto selection consisting of beans, tripe, snails and crackers, pictured below clockwise from top left. We hadn't ordered this, it's generously offered to all diners at Tal Familja.
Noy and I took the plunge and both sampled several of the snails and some tripe, whilst James and Helen stuck to the beans and crackers. All of this was cold which surprised me and did not enhance the taste. The local snails, cooked in wine and garlic were less slimey than I'd expected but a bit tasteless really, earthy like a mushroom with the texture of a mussel. I ploughed through a few more thinking that they might improve alas, they didn't. I'm sure that snails can be done better than this but I'm not mad keen to sample them again any time soon.
Time for the tripe, I've read of many fine tripe dishes sampled in restaurants on food blogs and heard much of celebrity chef's attempts to revive the nation's appetite for tripe, not yet a huge success it must be said. In any case, I was keen to try but this again cold offering, in a gloopy mustard yellow sauce, tasted of nothing, I could not recollect a single flavour in the sauce and the overriding sensation was repultion at the fatty, soft, slippery consistency of the stuff. Not good.
I had intended to eat a traditional Maltese dish but in the end only James from our group did this. He went for the Bragioli. Thinly sliced beef rolled with a meat stuffing and casseroled. This was the best dish of the evening and we should have all followed suit ordering local dishes.
I was not able to pass on the disply of fresh fish which was presented atop a trolley to the table, there was John Dory, Seabass, Red Snapper and Sole, all looked amazingly vibrant and appealing, I went for the Red Snapper, served whole with vegetables.
I liked this, they offered to fillet it for me but I boldly declined and regretted it, about a hundred little bones remained after I successfully removed the middle bone making for fairly tricky eating. The taste was subtle and delicious and it was cooked perfectly. Sadly the same couldn't be said for Helen's Swordfish was was severely overcooked and eventually she gave up.
Helen instead filled up on the accompanying roast potatoes, side salad, cabbage and (bizarrely) onion rings served with all main courses. The onion rings reminded me of some I'd sampled in New York, shoestring thin, deepfried and a bit too fatty. I liked the cabbage very much, unusual but welcome.
My fish came with spinach so there was an abundance of sides for all to share. The side salad remained largely untouched, I am not one of course to complain of too much food being served but it's a bit of a waste. Noy, like Helen, was certainly glad of it due to an abundance of salt rendering her beef stroganoff close to inedible.
Looking back, I really enjoyed the evening, we made a new friend in the shape of one of the local cats, she certainly enjoyed the fish dishes more than we did. The bottle of Pinot Grigio we shared was a hit and the complimentary frangelicos were much appreciated. We were disappointed with many of the dishes but in their defence I think we ordered unwisely, that said, it's a travesty to destroy a piece of sworfish in the way they did and despite all the complimentary elements to the meal the service was a bit lacklustre. €25 each, worth it for the experience, and at least I can say I've had snails and tripe now.