The Malta Independent 14 December 2018, Friday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Capturing summer at the Corinthia Palace

Marie Benoît Thursday, 12 July 2018, 15:57 Last update: about 6 months ago

The Summer Kitchen, at the Corinthia Palace & Spa in Attard, is in its fourth year. The lush pool area where this moveable feast takes place, is not one of those restaurants in pristine white, stainless steel rooms resembling operating theatres. Sometimes too much hushed opulence and gleaming, burnished prissy chic becomes boring. Here is al fresco dining at its best. And you don't have to put your name down at birth for a table, which I understand is required in some famous restaurants around the world.

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Once you enter the pool area it feels like some exotic desert island and you're in another world. You couldn't fault its glamour.  Could the first parents of the human race, Adam and Eve, whose gourmandise is historical, and who lost all for an apple, be lurking somewhere?

I went to the launch dinner with Professor Jane Somerville, the congenital heart disease consultant, who is still enthusiastically going round the world - including Malta - setting up centres and healing people. We were immediately greeted warmly by David Woodward, the General Manager.  He is charming but it is almost a cliché to say so, so let me say that he makes patrons feel that he and the staff are on your side the moment you enter the door.  

We were also introduced to Adrian Attard who will, in time, be taking over from David.

We were soon offered colourful cocktails - this year sparkling Freixenet wine served with homemade popsicles - which went down well with the canapés. That evening P. Cutajar were the suppliers of the wines which accompanied a great variety of dishes.

It must be every chef's dream not to just feed people but to present something that will make them gasp. Now I have been acquainted with the Corinthia Palace and other hotels in the group for well nigh 50 years, in fact since one of my sisters' wedding dinner was celebrated in the old part which used to be Villa Refalo. I can say, hand on heart, that since then, I have always eaten well.

However, this summer kitchen menu, essentially an abundant  tasting menu, shone and yes, made us gasp. Chef Stefan Hogan and his team managed to put magic in the sultry summer air. That evening the food was definitely distinctive.  Sometimes it was dishes of seemingly myriad ingredients blended together harmoniously. We were given a taste of all the small offerings on the menu, which were so beautifully presented. There were also a number of larger dishes. One of them was squid ink Tagliolini with crab, prawn, Aleppo chilli, preserved lemon and a lobster ju. Now I have never been a fan of squid ink. Mi fa impressione, as a Sicilian friend of ours likes to say. However, what we were served looked so good and appetising that I decided to give it a go. I am now a convert as long as it is not a big helping and the pasta is 'delicate'.

Now in 1930 the poet Marinetti launched his much publicized campaign against all established forms of cooking and in particular against pastasciutta.  He proclaimed it an obsolete food. The debate went on for weeks. Even the then Mayor of Naples, the Duke of Bovino, plunged into the fight with happy abandon. "The angels in Paradise" he affirmed to a reporter, "eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro." To which Marinetti replied that this confirmed his suspicions with regard to the monotony of Paradise and of the life led by the angels.

Well, pasta in all its shapes, is still being eaten and enjoyed the world over while Marinetti's recipes have disappeared from menus.

Chef Stefan said as he introduced us to the restaurant's new wood-fired oven "which has taken our pizzas to the next level", that whether it's "our cocktails or our dishes, we take flavour and ingredients very seriously at The Summer Kitchen. From our premium cheeses sourced from the White Sheep and greens from Renny's Herbs and Salads, to the fresh herbs grown in our very own garden, every detail is important. We believe the result is something everyone will enjoy this summer." This was not mere boasting. The food and presentation were exceptional that evening.

The Kitchen Garden menu also provides sharing plates of grills and salads. Those who do not eat meat have a choice of some delicious dishes. One of them is a mini beetroot burger with a charred cauliflower and kale salad.

I love the modest start of the description of the feast to celebrate King David in Chronicles: "flour, fig cakes, raisin cakes, wine, olive oil." Whoever organised it believed in keeping it simple. But keeping a meal simple is all very well. Simplyfying may be a short cut to sanity, but where's the fun, the sense of achievement  that you get from going all-out? And Stefan Hogan and his team did go all-out that evening and it was evident.  

There came a time when we had eaten more than enough and yet there was dessert still to come. And it did, beautifully presented in an array of small glasses. I had a spoonful of each. Pity I couldn't spirit them home for breakfast the following morning.

You know what it's like. Sometimes a meal is nice except for the food and drink. But this was lovely all round. Food, wine, company (many were bloggers) service - old fashioned discretion and courtesy from the waiters - and a great ambience. And, as far as I am concerned, yet another plus: there is no music so that we could converse without trying to raise our voices above some furious drummer. That really is a blessing in a Malta where loud music, mostly awful, is everywhere. The overall effect of the Summer Kitchen is very soothing.

Awash with good food and wine  Jane and myself made our way back to the car. I skipped coffee. Not because it would keep me awake but because it was late and past my bedtime. I don't believe that coffee keeps you awake.  If you can't sleep after a couple of strong expressos that is because you have not drunk enough wine. The remedy is to drink more wine.

The Summer Kitchen, as they say in Michelin - 'vaut le voyage.' It makes a change from the Continental-pavement-café-esque restaurants which are proliferating everywhere, mostly serving pizza and pasta. And one wants to be outdoors in lush surroundings on a beautiful evening in summer.

PHOTOS: MICHAEL CALLEJA

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