The Malta Independent 13 November 2018, Tuesday

Marie Benoit's Diary: The Barracuda celebrates 40 years of good food

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 21 August 2018, 10:05 Last update: about 4 months ago

We started walking towards the Barracuda,  my young one and I, approaching it with more eagerness than usual. We had been spared the trauma of parking for patrons of the Barracuda can park at Le Méridien courtesy of the restaurant. That evening the restaurant was en fète.  On the veranda there was a champagne bar, red roses and happy people mostly those who were lucky enough to have booked a table on the very night the Cassar family was celebrating 40 years of the Barracuda.

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We were greeted with canapés and Duval Le Roy champagne provided by P. Cutajar who were allocated a table that evening.  This  was certainly not a full blown party.

 After the cutting of the celebratory cake and a shower of gold confetti we were shown to our table. The Cassars have managed to retain the nostalgic flavour of elegance in their restaurant. The family are the Barracuda's pulse and there is always the feeling that they really care for each patron.  They have warmth in a mostly cold world.

The  glass of the windows had been removed and it was wonderfully cool, like being  on a ship with nothing interfering between you and the sea and sky.  I was going to tell you I felt like Kate Winset in Titanic but I know my limitations. 

The Barracuda  has always been  a favourite of ours. It has everything. This lovingly restored 18th century villa, perched over Balluta Bay is in a unique position with a beautiful view. That, plus the food and service make it very popular with both locals and tourists alike.  The menu changes regularly and I really wish to take  my hat off to chef Andrew Pace who manages to be so creative. In fact he has just finished plotting a new and extensive revamped summer menu featuring some classics and a number of new creations with a modern twist.

The feast began with Tuna carpaccio filled with red prawns and wakame seaweed with a coconut milk, ginger and coriander infusion. It was a great combination I must say and a totally new taste to me. My grandchildren do munch seaweed but although I have never acquired a taste for it, I enjoyed every bite of the Tuna carpaccio.

This dish brings to mind a book on tuna, its distribution and the various species of the fish which King Carlos of Portugal published a few years before his assassination in 1908. A Portuguese relative-by-marriage told me about this adding: "He was probably the only reigning monarch who has written a book on fish. Not a bad legacy to leave." Certainly, better than spending your time chasing women and being unfaithful to your wife.

In nearby Sicily I remember a friend telling us of the killing                rituals which take place every year in his country. In spring the fish gather in shoals and migrate in shore to breed. They are then trapped in netted enclosures, which are lifted to the surface to enable the Sicilians to club them to death in a brutal and bloody manner reminiscent of a Mafia revenge killing. It has always seemed so cruel to me. I hope they have changed their methods or I shall ask Moira Delia to go with her team and intervene.

I have always found the Italian dish of vitello tonnato  a rather strange combination. In France one can sometimes eat the Omlette du Curé, which include tuna and named after a poor priest, whom the famously beautiful Madame Recamier was visiting when he asked her to stay for supper.

 I found a recipe on the Internet by Brillat - Savarin which seems simple enough.

We examined the menu in anticipation. Ah scallops. Menus are useful in a number of ways but most of all because they act as a "warning" of what is to come. They tell us how many courses we are going to eat. In this way, if we want to enjoy them all we mustn't wolf down all the bread and grissini we can lay our hands on as if there were no tomorrow. This inevitably prevents us from doing justice to the dishes. No bread basket that evening. Good idea.

Ah the scallops arrived, beautifully presented.  To be precise King Scottish scallops on a goat cheese fondu with black  summer truffle shavings. This was not scallops with some pallid drivel along side it. I've been served that before. The combination was delicious.

Coquilles Saint Jacques is possibly the most popular seafood in France. According to Larousse Gastronomique the Saint Jacques comes from the fact that scallops used to be found in great numbers on the coast of Galicia in Spain where they served as an emblem for medieval pilgrims, who after a long journey, had reached Santiago de Compostella,  the shrine of St James not far inland, which continues to be visited by many pilgrims.

As to the truffles in the dish there is the following anecdote: after the spectacular fiasco of Rossini's  Almaviva,  which was to become Il Barbiere di Siviglia, he consoled himself in a well known letter sent to Isabella "Angelica " Colbran, the soprano who sang in his operas and was eventually to become his wife: " but what really interests me well beyond music, my dear Angela, is discovering a new salad, whose recipe I promptly send you."

 He then gives her the recipe which includes thinly sliced truffles.  "The tartufi will provide this sauce with something similar to a halo, that will send a gourmand into ecstasy. The Cardinal, the Secretary of State whom I met over the past few days, gave me his apostolic blessing for such a discovery of mine. (Quoted from Paola Cecchini In Cucina con Rossini.)

 And of course Il Barbiere was to become one of the most successful operas in the repertoire.

Throughout the first three courses we drank the refreshing Santa Maria wine provided by P. Cutajar.

Ah! Time for the third course - a pan roasted fillet of White Grouper on a saffron and triple citrus velouté. So elegant and delicious. No large bowls of potatoes  and boiled carrots and green stuff, most of which are returned to the kitchen untouched.

What a delicate taste. This was really fine dining. I sent a virtual kiss to the chef.

The meal was reaching its finale and  I had left an empty corner in my tummy for dessert which was sweet ricotta on a nutty crumble, roasted almonds set on a Frangelico cream. Again an inspired combination. Although I am not overly fond of sweet ricotta the combination was just sweet enough and excellent, a word I use about twice a year. Possibly three times.  By now we were enjoying the Moscato Bersano dessert wine and I seriously began to think that I was Kate Winset.

Every single dish that evening scored high. The magic of the Barracuda is in lots of details put together which make the whole experience so very pleasant.  I shall go back to worship at the shrine again and as soon as possible.

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