The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Distinctive and creative dishes on the menu

Marie Benoît Wednesday, 7 August 2019, 10:02 Last update: about 3 months ago

Doesn't she do anything but eat, you must be saying to yourselves. It is far too hot to sit and enjoy a concert especially when parking is difficult. Accepting an invitation to a restaurant is different as there is the enticing prospect that I would not have to cook. Much as I enjoy cooking, in the summer months it seems less attractive. But nor do I want to eat a perpetual diet of  pizza, wraps, pastizzi and hobs biz-zejt (much as I love the latter two). Nor do I want to be constantly reaching out for the tin opener or purchase pre-cooked frozen dishes, which are generally awful.

ADVERTISEMENT

And who buys those tins of English-made spaghetti with sauce Bolognese for goodness sake?

So when Lea Hogg, the blogger and vivacious TV presenter invited me to dinner at the Fork & Cork on Saqqajja Hill, in Rabat, I accepted with alacrity and we met there last week.

There are now no less than five restaurants on the steps of Saqqajja Hill, one next to the other.

I was born in Rabat and therefore feel a certain attachment to it. I find it a very attractive town full of historical interest, and now restaurants too.

Karl Zahra who is chef patron came to meet us and explained that the restaurant occupies the lower section of what was once a 19th century family estate with more than one family occupying it. There is the patina of age on its walls and I found the wine cellar especially atmospheric. There are passageways that  interlink and lead to Mdina. They were used by the families living on the estate to escape or shelter during the war. The walls, Karl explained, require frequent treatment to preserve them. The typical Maltese double wall construction ensures coolness in the hot summer months. They build in concrete now. Let me say no more.

Before the entrance to the shelter there are three or four tables where you can sit and drink in a quiet ambience.

I especially admired the galletta plant which is as perfect as any plant could get. It had found the right home, all the shade a galletta likes and did not have a single blemish.

Karl explained that this cantina led to a shelter and a passage to Mdina. Think what adventures Enid Blyton would have concocted with this as background not to mention that spinner of detective stories, Agatha Christie.

Karl also pointed out not without pride, the chandelier he had made himself of wine glasses and forks, which is  worthy of being exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

This restaurant has many facets. Apart from the wine bar there is the main dining room. If you are sitting at the right table there is a stupendous view. For this restaurant is perched above the road and enjoys views of the surrounding countryside. Such a bonus to see so much greenery and yes, the trees leading to Rabat which have created so much controversy. I see that no one has remained tied to any of them. Now that tree hugging act was nothing if not theatre.

Sitting outside on the terrace if it isn't too hot has its own pleasures. There were several al fresco diners not only at the Fork and Cork but at the other restaurants too.

There is also a private dining room which seats 14 people and is a perfect place for private or corporate meals and ideal for special occasions.

The evening we were there it was in use and from a couple of glimpses inside when the door opened, it looked like a hen party was going on. Not that the diners were cackling. Just an educated guess.

I asked Karl about his working background. He worked at Corinthia San Gorg as chef at Grill 3301, the a la carte restaurant of the hotel. The restaurant closed and Karl decided to go it alone. So in 2014 he opened the doors of The Fork and Cork, two doors up from the current location. "Having my own restaurant gives me the opportunity to be creative and to enjoy watching people savour and enjoy my food," he told us.

In 2017, the demand increased in such a way that the restaurant moved where it is now. It is larger, offers opportunities for private dining and caters for both indoor and outdoor dining. The courtyard lends itself nicely for small private functions, with views of the wine cellar.

Chefs used to reach the pinnacle of their career when they were awarded a Michelin star. But these days chefs themselves have become stars thanks to social media and because good and interesting food has become important in our lives. Restaurants have been for a few years the new entertainment.

Karl has for a long time admired Michel Roux and Marco Pierre White "because of their classic cuisine which respects all culinary traditions. Recently I have been following Chef Daniel Humm, a young chef in New York. His dishes are neat, original and inspiring."

We let Karl decide on what we were going to eat that evening.  It turned out to be a four course meal. I noticed that apart from the fish, the dishes were more evolved, less innocent. The first course was a melon cannelloni with fish tataki, melon sorbet and puffed fish skin. Summer ingredients which Karl twisted in his own way. It was unusual and interesting and I enjoyed the combination.

The beetroot risotto, was distinctive. Made of Acquerello carnaroli rice, creamed beetroot and chevre royal, a fatty goat's cheese, the crunchiness of the caramelised pumpkin seeds on top were an excellent touch. However, I have to say that although I am ready to try anything new - apart from sheep's eyes and frogs' legs - this was far too 'different' for me. But then, food like so much else, is a matter of taste. The fish with fennel was my favourite dish that evening.

I didn't have a single empty corner left in my stomach and only ate the icecream at the top of the dessert. This was because I loved the dips and fresh bread so much that I allowed my greed to run away with me. My punishment was no dessert.

I would like to emphasise apart from a few creative dishes, the menu is never short of classic dishes and if you are a devotee of rabbit, it is on the menu as well as a host of other dishes.

The waiters gave us good and discrete service which further enhanced our dining experience.

Well who would have thought that Saqqajja Hill would be transformed into an eating and drinking hub? But then I don't have a crystal ball.


SUMMER BBQ BY LIFE NETWORK FOUNDATION

Join the fun on Friday 9th August at a private Buskett farmhouse at 7.30pm

Menu consists of an antipasto plus a starter, a selection of meats,  a cold buffet and a dessert.

Price adults: Euros 25; Kids 12-16: Euros 12 and kids under 12 do not pay.

RSVP by 6th August.

Bookings:  77115433/[email protected]

SUPPORT LIFE

 

 


  • don't miss