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Chukka's

The horses might be great, but Mona Farrugia finds that the food just isn't, at Chukka's.


 
Chukka's
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For the past week, I have been trying hard - so hard that I risked mental haemorrhoids - to dislike Norah Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck.. When I saw it on the shelves I thought: oh great; a book from the very successful When Harry Met Sally author, battling with all the signs of ageing, but in a funny way. Should be fun. Ephron is over 60 yet, as expected, in her photo, where she is pulling up a large black polo neck over half her face, she looks stunning.

There’s nothing funny about ageing. The book is practically an autobiography of how women of Ephron’s age feel and think. There are some wonderful, intuitive thoughts like, ‘anything you think is wrong about your body at the age of 35 you will be nostalgic for by the age of 45’. So the fact that I cannot, for the life of me, identify with Ephron’s experience is a godsend and a relief. I will hand it over to my mother: all good books deserve to be passed on. Especially to someone who can appreciate them better.

Of course I’m scared of getting old(er). Like any irrational fear, such as being on the verge of crying on most flights and thinking we might drop out of the sky any minute, I cannot really explain it.

Sometimes this petrifaction manifests itself, because I’m female and superficial, through clothing. It starts from size. “I can’t understand it,” I confided to a good friend, “Why do I continue trying to get into the tiniest of jeans, hold up too short dresses in front of the mirror in shops, and wonder why I don’t dare take them into the changing room? I’m convinced I’m happy with myself, and I am, really, but I want to be thin. Thinner.” “No,” she replied, sanguine as ever, “You just want to be younger.”

Oh God she’s right. But clothes are sometimes unforgiving. And so, sometimes, are the just-barely-legally-adult salesgirls hired to supposedly ‘serve’ customers.

Our thirties, with their conspicuous consumption of bags and shoes are much more fabulous than the twenties, with their angst, their teetering between suicidal teens and ‘growing pains’. The thirties really do seem to be the time when a woman gets to grips with herself. And considering that our sex drive is meant to shoot up, with others too.

Yet, take one shop I was in last week. It’s a British chain, known for its ridiculously cheap, almost throw-away, clothes. I was doing my kamikaze shopping: grabbing twenty items, buying only if the size I think I should be wearing looks like it will fit, waiting to pay, waiting to leave.

There were two cashiers behind the counters. Both angst-ridden, both treating the last vestiges of acne. One of them could hardly serve customers, so pent up was she complaining about everything and everyone under the sun. The other one ignored me - me, who was buying half the shop – for the best of five minutes and then she looked at the pile and said “Do you want all of these?” She packed them up with a sad shrug, rang the till, and quickly got back to mentally totting up her wasted life.

Compare and contrast to Zara down the road, possibly the only shop on this Prada- and Chanel-barren isle whose salespeople and managers - mostly in their thirties - can handle women (and men, and children) of all ages with aplomb, professionalism, and some sort of enthusiasm.

I have over the years probably driven some of these people crazy. I’m always exchanging things because they have a fabulous no-quibbles system which encourages me to not notice my Visa melting. I buy loads of stuff without trying it on, then obviously have to return half of it. I have never heard a single one of them complain. The ones behind the cash, possibly contemplating the onset of varicose veins from so much standing up but never letting on, always have a smile on their face, are always simply but beautifully made up, always have gleaming, clean hair.

Most importantly though, they have never made me feel old: most of them have been there from day one, and since we thirty-somethings already show signs of not enjoying change, this makes us feel good. . I don’t turn up, yet again with some strange request, only to have it thrown back in my face, such as when I asked for high-waisted jeans at a cool denim shop and had the twelve year old ‘advisor’ tell me that high-waisted hadn’t been in fashion for years like she was faced with Kath from Kath and Kim. Duh! I screamed ‘Read Vogue!’. ‘Those fashions take a long time to arrive in Malta’ she replied, looking sorry for the deranged-looking woman toting a Gucci Indy and wearing too-high heels in front of her.

La Losco - who still wears 3 inch skirts and gets away with it - introduced me to one of the Zara managers when the shop had just opened and the man (a Malcolm, since you ask) remembers it until this day and calls me by it (like I remember his). Some of their female managers are awe-inspiring, so chic are they in their everyday work clothes. In other words, they have hit the nail right on its chi chi head: to inspire without intimidating, to accommodate without making anyone feel patronised. No wonder that these days I can hardly be bothered going into any other shop.

I feel very much at home in that place. And when the posse of ladies and I turned up at Chukkas for lunch, I thought that everybody else seemed very much at home too. Their home. Although they were mostly young, Chukkas, the restaurant at the Polo Club, caters for the horsey, rugby, louche, hanging-out-at-the-Marsa-Sports-Club kind of crowd.

Chukkas, you see, is more like a club than a restaurant. Polo people need to have money pouring out of their eye-sockets like slot machines. Horses don’t come cheap (I should know, since my dad had a few as pets), but in a polo environment, they also come with a social ambience. Every single man in the place - and amazingly, when we turned up, they all were male - seemed to have been born with Marks & Spencer rugby shirts on their backs, and a nice little trust fund in their hearts.

Moreoever, as the ladies and I noticed, none of them seemed to have been brought up speaking a word of Maltese. Yet, they all were. Maltese, that is. Although I grew up with people like this, and they don’t faze me in the least, I am still slightly perplexed when I’m in the midst of too many of them.

The guy who runs the place seems to come from the same thoroughbred stock. He is what keeps people going back to this place, with his friendliness and his chilled-out attitude. He was explaining his food: mostly meat-based, and some of it barbequeable. Argentinean beef, the most macho of them all, does not impress me that much, and nobody else at our table seemed to want it. So, being ladies, we chose sausages.

These were herby, salty and very spicy in turns. They were meaty and Maltese, and totally manly. They turn up in a sizzler, one of those cast-iron pans which some Asian restaurants love for their theatrical effect, accompanied by a pesto-like paste - made of real basil and olive oil - which was original. Mustards, English and French in a rugby tradition, are available, and so is that horrid Bangor mayonnaise in a squeezy bottle.

The Zoologist joined us, all the way from London. He chose spaghetti with basil and what seemed to be roughly chopped bits of mozzarella and raw tomato. I thought it was colourless. He loved it. But then he would since he comes from a land which almost annihilated hundreds of years of Italian pasta heritage. He also had a cappuccino after lunch. We had to forgive him but only because he’s English and they don’t know better.

Our kick-off of bresaola and mozzarella was a dire disappointment. The former came from a supermarket, sliced thinly and practically tasteless. The latter also, sliced halfway through, and with none of the weeping milky gorgeousness that you’d expect of a quality purchase.

The antipasto of parma and other charcuterie was again, dull. The bread, on the other hand, was pure Maltese, crusty as cracked lips halfway through a cold, and a good exemplar that we could show off to the Zoologist. The Graphic Designer had some baby swordfish: all two tiny slices of it. He seemed happy, but possibly, this is because he’s halfway through a torrid affair.

Our desserts were also disappointing: the panna cotta devoid of flavour, and with texture that comes from heated milk rather than full-fat cream. The ‘brownie’ was a flat cake, with too much flour and too little real chocolate.

We had specifically booked a Saturday because there was supposed to be a polo game on. I recommend this eye-candy to anyone, but especially ladies and gay men. Sadly, the game never materialised, which was absolutely no fault of the owner. Halfway through lunch though, a pony ran away on the track and much mirth ensued from watching six hapless man chasing it. Still, that was it as far as entertainment is concerned.

Many people ask me how on earth I can justify my star ratings. I think the best recent example was of Ali Baba getting 5 stars, with its horrid environment, its Bronx-like setting, but its to-die-for food and top-notch, down-to-earth service from Mr Ali and Mr Baba. It is a true example of how a 5-star rating comes from how an outlet makes you feel, rather than just be some kind of formula of food+service+ambience=stars.

Chukkas though, presents a terrible conundrum. The ambience is cool, with its minimalistic cum saloon ambience, its simple wood tables and its complicated-looking cutlery. Yet the regular crowd can be intimidating to some, and absolutely welcoming to others, namely the young crowd they know. Going in could feel like intruding on an extended rich family’s confirmation party.

The food, at the end of the day, is not that zippy. It’s acceptable, but not amazing. The sausages were good, but I could cook the same thing at home, or, as Louboutin Man said later, at a barbeque. For the crowd that regularly hangs out there, the food must be the bee’s knees and its spleen too and they’re willing to pay the higher-than-normal price tags for it.

For us, regular punters with our completely different lives where the closest we get to horses are Gucci’s history of saddlery, I guess it did not feel like the kind of club we would want to subscribe to. Maybe we just felt like odd ones out. Maybe we’re just growing old. Er.

Additional Information

Location

Address Marsa Sports Ground, Polo Club
Town Marsa
Country Malta

Restaurant

Cuisine Grill

Contact Details

Contact Number 00356 21228476
Contact Number 00356 79808093
 

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Mona Farrugia
September 27, 2010
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