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19 October 2022

Malta & Gozo: food, wine and beer.

Not surprisingly perhaps, given their history and proximity to Sicily and southern Italy, Italian cuisine is commonplace in the Maltese islands in all its forms and price ranges. We discovered the particularly good family-run restaurant ('for three decades') Il Galeone in Sliema, a short ferry-ride across the water from Valletta (35 Tigne Seafront: galeonerestaurant.com). Highlights included the chunky Duck Liver Paté starter (€8) and Panciotti Ravioli, stuffed with scallops and prawns (€15) (pic. below and above); the only slight criticism of the later was the otherwise tasty bisque-style sauce being a tad salty.

There's an unpretentious restaurant bar café on one of the main flows near the bus station in Victoria on Gozo called Coffee Break Café & Bistro (Triq Taħt Putirjal: www.facebook.com/CoffeeBreakGozo), which serves a couple of well-made well-priced risottos. Pic. below are the Salmon Risotto (€10), also with prawns, zucchini and sundried tomatoes; and Truffle Risotto (€9.50) with various mushrooms. A good place too for refreshing smoothies and freshly made juices, such as Berry Blast (€4) and Ginger Grapefruit Apple and Orange (€4.50).

Back on Malta, for generously topped (and cheap) takeaway pizza in Rabat, look no further than Crazy Cook (100 Triq Santa Rita: facebook.com), such as Al Tonino (€7) or Funghi (€6.50). Another Maltese snack speciality seems to be hot pies - you can find them everywhere - made with either shortcrust or puff pastry, including, get this, a mushy peas pie!
Local sausages are definitely worth trying too: the delicious platter below was shared in Chapeau Bistro found below the Townhouse hotel in Victoria (Triq Giorgio Borġ Olivier Ir-Rabat, Għawdex: facebook.com/ChapeauBistroGozo). The Gourmet Homemade Sausages 'to share' (€17.95) come as two of each: herby, smoked chilli and garlic-thyme.

The lavish ricotta and nut cannoli below, bought at the bakery in Green's supermarket in Victoria, brought back memories of Eli Wallach's character in Godfather 3, Don Altobello, being fiendishly finished off by Connie, played by Talia Shire, poisoning his favourite treat at the opera. As she says to the two bodyguards: "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." These two though were totally non-poisonous and scrumptious.
The Maltese also seem to be good at making apple crumble, if the example served at the grandiose restaurant and bar Bottegin Palazzo Xara (Triq San Pawl, Rabat: bottegin.com.mt - facebook.com/botteginpalazzoxara) was anything to go by (€4); nicely accompanied by a pint of 'smooth and creamy' Blue Label (see beer talk at the end).

Another easy-to-find main dish in Malta was maybe typified by the 'Local Rabbit' served as a flavoursome winey stew (€16.50) at Aurora Bistro Café, set in the airy lobby of a theatre on Triq Republika, Ir-Rabat Għawdex (Victoria, Gozo): aurorabistro.com or facebook.com/aurorabistrocafe, which features lots of tasty-looking photos of their dishes apart from the rabbit, as far as I could tell! Downside was the time we had to wait for the food.
Also in Victoria, a short bus ride or longer walk just out of the centre, is a recommended Indian restaurant called Trishna (Triq Fortunato Mizzi: Trishna Facebook) serving hearty portions of good food. The Onion Bhaji (€5.50) were pretty classic; the unusual rich and spicy Kerala Pepper Beef Fry (€14) was really tasty and different (apparently many of the Indians who've settled in Malta are from Kerala in the far southwest of India), as was their Tawa Fish dish (€15).

Here are some bad photos of a few of the Maltese wines that were tried and tested. Most of the vineyards are on Malta but there are a handful of small wine estates on Gozo too. Palatino is a well-made mid-quality range produced by Cassar Camilleri based in Paola on southern outskirts of Valletta. Their 2021 Chardonnay was an enjoyable unoaked juicy fruity example, and the zestier yeast-lees edged 2021 Vermentino resembled a version from Sicily say.
There's a tasty Palatino rosé too as well as Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet on the red front. They are widely available there for about €5-€6 a bottle. Camilleri's parent company Marsovin produces the easy-going Verdala rosé above (€4-€5).
Medina is a label produced by one of if not the biggest family wineries in Malta, Delicata whose cellars are 'located on the waterfront in Valletta's Grand Harbour.' The company sources grapes from 300 independent winegrowers farming mostly small vineyards lying in various sites around Malta. The flavoursome 2021 Grenache Rosé is reminiscent of a southern French or northern Spanish dry rosé; and the Sangiovese red is fairly soft and fruity with dried cherry and liquorice flavours in a southern Italian style.

Farsons is Malta's most visible brewery as their beers and lagers (they also brew the popular Cisk lager) are sold just about everywhere; the two in the photo above come on draught, in bottles or cans. The Blue Label amber ale was probably my favourite with 4.7% abv and smooth creamy fruity flavour. The Double Red strong ale (6.8% abv) is also recommended if you like a fuller richer malty style beer.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.