The Malta Independent 18 January 2020, Saturday

Marie Benoit's Diary: A Michelin-starred Dinner to end 100th-anniversary celebrations for Marsovin

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 14 January 2020, 12:54 Last update: about 4 days ago

An invitation to De Mondion, at The Xara Palace, the only Relais & Chateaux hotel in Malta, does not come my way every day and certainly not when a two Michelin starred chef is at the stove.

The Xara Palace is a truly fabulous 17th century property the walls of which form part of the city walls that make up Mdina's impressive medieval bastions.

The French Military engineer Charles François de Mondion was not only responsible for the building of Fort Manoel, the foundations of Floriana and other grand projects but was commissioned by Grand Master de Vilhena, to rehabilitate Mdina.

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The Xara's Palace's De Mondion restaurant is named after the gifted military engineer.

The Xara Palace was built during the late 17th Century, and served as a residence for the noble family of Moscati Parisio. It was used by the British during the war and in 1949 it was converted to a hotel, and run for many years until it fell into decline. I remember dropping in for tea and cake with sisters and friends after a long walk in the Rabat countryside when we were in our late teens and early twenties. I also remember the beautiful Sciortino sculpture of a horse which appears to have been stolen never to be found.

In 1996 the property was purchased by the Zammit Tabona family who restored it to its former glory and added so much more to make the place modern without destroying its character. Justine Zammit Tabona is CEO and runs it all, including wedding receptions, with great precision.

 Two dinners were held at De Mondion to celebrate Marsovin's 100th Anniversary this being the last of several grandiose events held throughout 2019 in celebration of such an important landmark for Maltese wine and for Marsovin.

 The two-star Michelin Chef Emanuele Scarello and resident chef Kevin Bonello, who has won De Mondion restaurant a mantleful of awards over his 18 or so years of hard work there, put their many skills together and gave guests a truly excellent culinary experience.

Emanuele Scarello is the chef of Agli Amici, a Relais & Chateaux restaurant in the small village of Godia, a few kilometres from Udine. This family run restaurant goes back to 1887.

Chef Kenneth Bonello needs no introduction. He has been running the food side not only for De Mondion but also for the whole Xara group. He has won several awards not only in Malta but abroad as well and has made De Mondion one of the most respected restaurants.

The evening started at The Atrium, the central courtyard,  which is kept so beautifully, a true oasis,  and where we were greeted with Marsovin's Cassar de Malte Methode Traditionalle sparkling wine served from 1.51 Magnum bottles. Very impressive. We then went upstairs to De Mondion (happily by lift!) and the feast started. The six culinary creations were paired with Marsovin's premium and boutique wines, including the limited edition 100th Anniversary wine which, on this special occasion, was served from a 5l bottle.  

The evening was hosted by Jeremy Cassar, CEO and the great-grandson of the founder of Marsovin, Chev. Anthony Cassar. I sat at Jeremy's table. Unpretentious, amusing he is a relaxed and competent young man. The combination of Irish and Maltese blood certainly worked well in his case.

Jeremy's delightful Irish mother, whom I had not seen for some time told me she is still painting and is also busy enjoying her  grandchildren. On my right there was Bernard Muscat, wine specialist of Marsovin who spoke to me about the wines served that evening - six of them accompanying the delicious six course meal.

Not only was each morsel eaten that night delicious but each was light. However the apparent simplicity of each dish should fool no one. It takes years in the kitchen to come up with an Organic Risotto, Oyster, Sea Urchin and Champagne dish which looked and tasted divine. The lightness of touch really impressed me. The balance between delicacy and robustness is maintained on a knife edge as we know. What looks easy generally isn't.

 I  loved the Beef cheek, Girolles, Celeriac and Black truffles which tasted perfect accompanied by the 100th Anniversary Wine.

The Veal Fillet, Anchovy, Capers, Egg was knockout stuff. Now veal is one meat which I cook regularly as I dislike red meat. I tend to cook saltimbocca or veal with a lemon sauce but this combination was different. And no, I am not going to try making it in my small kitchen.

As to the Brie de Meaux, what a treat. I had it once, so many years ago. It was once declared Le Roi des Fromages. This was France of the stomach and of the spirit. If anyone ever asks me again what I want for my birthday, if I make it to the next one,  I shall say some Brie de Meaux followed by a handful of statins. And at Le Mondion it was served with Pear, Hazelnuts, Jerusalem Artichoke accompanied by a 2018 Guzé Moscado wine. This dish really showed the skilled and precise crafteman working quietly in the kitchen behind that dinner.

For first course we were served Pork Sausage, Shrimp, Milk and Horseradish. Now who would have considered that combination delicious but it was.

Both chefs are clearly gifted originals. The technique, the flair, the balance... it came across in the six courses.

This is cooking which has excelled in its elocution lessons. It speaks posh and it is.

Every dish was a treat including the dessert - Valrhona Chocolate, Sea Salt Caramel, Blackberries, Clementine. Put drily listed in this way it doesn't sound exciting but every mouthful was, I assure you.

It is unfortunate that I shall not be here to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Marsovin, let alone their 200th. By then I shall have turned into compost for my grandchildren's vegetables. However, how fortunate to have enjoyed such a diversity of events to celebrate Marsovin's 100th anniversary. This dinner was truly the tops and the celebrations ended with a bang.

I wish them all well. Indeed very well.

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