The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

Marie Beniot's Diary: Food on the menu

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 12 February 2019, 08:59 Last update: about 4 months ago

Sundays in winter often mean a pleasurable lunch out en famille. Providing meals every day even just for yourself, let alone for the family, can seem more like a chore than anything else by the end of a busy week. This is especially true for those women who are working, have no substantial home help and have to balance 'jellies, babies and love' not to mention a hundred and one other things. So no wonder Sunday lunches are popular as, for once in the week, lunch can be enjoyed without all the chores that go with it. You present yourself at an already laid out table, choose what you are going to eat and then leave without having to clear away anything. And if the food is very good, it is an even bigger treat.

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Many of the hotels advertise buffet lunches in winter at a relatively good price.  They are usually standard fare: pasta, cold cuts, a variety of salads, roast beef, chicken and pork, and a range of desserts guaranteed to give you a heart attack if, as some people do, you pile up your plate with them.

Perhaps in our mind's eye the prospect of eating in one of these hotels on a Sunday is not always so enticing. What pops up is images of patrons helping themselves to an over abundant buffet with plates brimming over with far too  much food and more often than not, a mixture of meat, fish and pasta, as they are determined to get value for their money. They don't seem to realise that you still get value for money if you eat them separatel instead of behaving  like a mechanical shovel. However, let me say, that I still find it a treat to get away from the kitchen and enjoy one of these Sunday lunches.

The Corinthia Palace in Attard is doing it a little differently. This winter it opened the doors of its Villa Corinthia, its elegant dining room, for Sunday lunch.

I was invited with several other media people - or influencers as we are called these days,  a word I don't like -  to a tasting lunch. This Sunday lunch as everything else at the Corinthia Palace is for the discerning. Don't expect to get slice upon slice of mortadella and salami here, rolled or unrolled.  We were presented with a world of flavours and exciting dishes; temptation in the making.  The Corinthia kitchen is also catering for those with gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian diets which seem to be on the rise. I have a number of veggie friends but I have an intolerance for all things tofu but of course I button it when I feel the urge to rant about it.

These days it has become so much easier to entertain outside the home than within it because so many have developed food intolerances.  Perhaps it has to do with climate change and some, I am certain, would even blame it on the Prime Minister!

Many restaurants cater for those with a special diet but trying to organise a lunch or dinner party at home these days has become difficult... so it is so much easier to invite people out and I doubt whether it turns out to be that much more expensive.

The tasting menu at the Corinthia that lunchtime was far from ordinary.

I loved the steamed asparagus, burrata with a chive dressing starter, one of several starters on the menu. The crab and avocado salad with new potatoes was also delicious.  Another favourite of mine was the smoked salmon, buttered crumpets, poached egg, bacon with hollandaise and crisp pork skin. I am afraid I did not touch the cardamom-roasted carrots, mung beans and quinoa salad but I am sure vegetarians thought it excellent.

I am not a great red meat eater however the roast striploin of aged beef with port glazed shallots and served with Yorkshire pudding and pan juices was eaten with relish. You can of course eat roasted beets, red miso, creamed tofu and so on, instead. Why anyone should want to eat that sort of food for the rest of their lives is a mystery to me; rather a shorter life but eating more interesting food as far as I am concerned.

For anyone who has a sweet tooth like me the 'interactive ice-cream and dessert bar is a huge attraction. First of all because it looks so pretty and enticing. Secondly because there is a good variety of desserts.  Anyone with a sweet tooth is going to have to be dragged away from this 'bar'. In my case, I am ashamed to say that my love of anything sweet triumphed once more. To my horror I found myself having second and third helpings and finishing them off with ease and delight.

I have known most members of the dining room staff at the Corinthia for many years. They have oomph and zip are warm but never get familiar. Stefan Hogan leads a happy and well-trained band of excellent men in his kitchen. What more could one want?


LUNCH AT RISETTE

Risette, the Casa Ellul restaurant in front of the Carmelite church, are offering a fixed price lunch;  Euros 30 for a three course meal with coffee, tea and petits four. The ambience is soothing which is such a plus in our hectic lives.   I went there with a friend who wanted to try it out, preferring something quiet to the mostly overcrowded restaurants in Valletta and wanting to get away from the pizza/pasta/salad brigade.

I enjoyed my butternut squash velouté with a herb oil. There is something wonderfully restorative about a steaming bowl of soup. For main course there was a choice of two dishes. I ordered the tagliatelle with lamb belly and truffle butter which were perfectly cooked. My companion, after the soup, opted for the pork cheeks with cannellini beans and heritage carrot, which he declared 'nicely prepared.' Dessert was roasted pineapple parfait with peanut ice-cream.  Chef Andrew Borg who until fairly recently was at the Black Pig also in Valletta, is truly creative but never goes to the extreme of presenting you with beef garnished with strawberries which I have come across abroad. Of course, dinner at Risette is an experience worth having in one's lifetime.

This lunch menu changes regularly. Sometimes just one dish is replaced so regulars will not have the chance to get bored. It all depends on the fresh ingredients available that day.

LA PIRATA

I have to put a word in for La Pirata in Paceville. I was invited there by Vicky and her son James a couple of nights ago. As we entered it was encouragingly busy. At first we were given a table in a very noisy part of the restaurant where the television was on. I have never understood how anyone can enjoy even a sandwich in such a noisy ambience. We couldn't even hear ourselves speak. But James soon took matters in hand and asked the waiter to find us a table in the front part where there was no TV or noisy diners and he did. Bliss.

Everyone was satisfied with their choice of main course. We opted not to have dessert as a considerable act of self-denial, but the waiter brought us three little tartlets with Nutella which we scoffed pretty quickly. The meal ended with a glass of frozen limoncello. I have no idea what James paid for all this good food but judging by the fact that La Pirata was pretty fullup on a week day it must be reasonably priced. As we know there is no such thing as a cheap restaurant.

 This was a lovely evening in a bustling and unstuffy resto in congenial company.

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