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Thursday, Apr 24th

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Restaurants Malta - Paradise Found

Paradise Found

Rebekah's

See later review for improvements.

 
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This week I realised that every single person around me is either on leave, returning from leave, or planning to go out on leave. Since I can never see the point of going on a sun and sea holiday when here we’re exploding with both, I tend to stick to the island during this period.

Nevertheless, I still get sort of taken over by a wave of envy at other people’s golden brown skin, since mine is applied each morning with a brush. One colleague walked into work after five days off with the most glorious suntan I’ve ever seen, the kind you can only get on a yacht with layers of bedrooms and never-ending sundecks. Another one was completely incommunicado on the sister island.

Obviously, everybody forgets about their own hols once they’ve gone by, which is why The Writer always has to remind me that in March we were shuttling all over South Africa. He especially does this when I start leaving copies of Conde Naste Traveller and the Emirates Holidays brochure conveniently lying around where he can trip over them, do himself some uncalled for damage and consequently be forced to take a break. Preferably abroad.

In reality, why go away when everybody else is? I enjoy the surreal hue which the offices take on during the Santa Marija period. Work is almost expected to slow down. How ironic, when you think that Malta’s mainstay – tourism – is supposed to kick off during these months, and we’re supposed to be working more, not less.

My fellow journos are also affected. Public relations stunts calm down inexorably in summer, so they have less to report about some minister inaugurating the ‘opening’ of a statue. Sometimes I wish we had gutter press; at least we’d find out about who was going away with their loved one, rather than their wives. The papers get slimmer and we end up reading books, which obviously only does us good.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t get the piles of magazines popping out of the papers. One of them told me, some weeks ago, to visit some sixty different restaurants around the archipelago. According to whoever wrote the ‘reviews’, all of them, without fail, were fabulous – even the ones that haven’t even opened yet.

So last weekend, TW and I ended up driving all over from north to south, where – according to the write-ups – Bugibba was meant to have spawned excellent eateries in the space of a few weeks, and Vittoriosa had unearthed another amazing outlet. Thinking that we’d somehow missed out on some sort of transfiguration of our national tourist trap into a new Umbria, we realised – once we’d got there - that it was exactly as we’ve always known it for the past ten years.

We drove back pronto to the south and as expected after several unanswered phone calls, the Vittoriosa outlet didn’t even have a sign yet, let alone a functioning kitchen. Possibly the entire island is harbouring under an incredible delusion: if we can’t improve, then we may as well invent the improvement.

So when yet again we were on our way to Rebekah’s in Mellieha, and I found myself excited at the prospect of a discovery, I had to chide myself mentally. I do that sometimes. It felt like the moment when the estate agent calls you – after you’ve been traipsing for months to find the house of your dreams – to tell you that ‘this one is perfect’. You get your hopes up, almost crash in order to get there quickly before everyone else puts in an offer and gazumps you, then you realise it’s yet another dump with two holes for rooms and ten overlooking neighbours, two of which armed with shotguns.

So hurrah! It wasn’t. Actually, Rebekah’s is a great conversion job to begin with, and not just in the construction stakes either, although it is now more than twice the size it used to be. When TW and I had gone some years ago – after yet another dud recommendation of which we get loads – it was such a sad experience that I knew they would close in a few weeks’ time. For ever. They did, which is why I was relieved I hadn’t reviewed it.

Now, there are two large inner rooms, one of which is dedicated to smokers. Then there’s the courtyard, which right now everybody wants to sit in. We did too, so we sat waiting in the bar area until the early diners finished and left.

The menu is simple: not very exciting but simplicity doesn’t have to be. It was a joy to see that the chef had eschewed the flowery language and the ‘jus’ and ‘reductions’. This is Mediterranean food almost the way it should be, and the owners have managed to blend the age-old farmhouse conversion with the fare in the plates. Pity that outside, development is rampant. This old bit of Mellieha needs preserving, not more maisonettes.

Whoever did the write up in the previously-mentioned magazine, obviously went announced. Which is why they got a ‘perfectly lovely amuse bouche, Pezzotteli filled with tomato and parmiggiano and fried in cornflakes and polenta’ and we got a pot of bigilla, four galletti and three well toasted slices of bruschetta topped with herby tomatoes. Ah, the joys of dining undercover.

While waiting for our table, we had chance to observe. Which is how we noticed that Rebekah’s has managed to get its hands on some great servers. The barman was friendly and super polite, even at phone-call stage. One older guy made us giggle by his shuttling to and fro – the kind that leads you to think he’s really doing nothing but looking busy. And then there’s ‘Claire’. I don’t know if that really is her name (TW heard someone call her) but let’s say it is. Claire: you are quite wonderful; an excellent waitress who does her job from the heart, with efficiency, great stress-management, smartness and plenty of smiles. If there were an award for waitress of the year, I’d nominate you.

Ok, back to the food. My starter of fried octopus salad had all the right tricks up its sleeve – well-cooked octopus dipped in flour (an unnecessary extra) and fried, hand-shredded leaves in different hues and textures, and a simple yet pleasant dressing. Yet, it was lacking soul. It took you where you want to go, but didn’t give you the trip in the meantime.

TW had the spaghetti with seafood. He didn’t like the fact that it had too much octopus in it (he was expecting shellfish and prawns) or the fact that instead of an aglio olio base, it had a tomato-paste heavy tomato sauce. I disagreed. But then I can’t say I blame him: I simply enjoy both things he happens to dislike. The menu description should be clearer that’s all, or maybe they should just call it spaghetti polipo like everybody else does.

Rebekah’s does have a lovely cellar. The wine list is therefore extensive and truly value for money. I get the feeling that before opening they called in a couple of consultants – at least a chef and a wine guy - and they did well. The Pinotage we chose – we’re still on our South African wines joyride – came chilled to the right degree. In South Africa itself, reds come to your table icy if you ask for them. That’s the good thing about the New World; there’s no dictatorship in your enjoyment of anything.

I also loved their soft cotton napkins embroidered with two R’s and their tablecloths, ditto. This is possibly the best attired ‘converted farmhouse’ I’ve seen since Giuzeppi’s, down the road. They do details. I like that.

We didn’t feel like any of the meats on the mains list – the usual duck, steaks and chicken – and since the magazine writer had waxed lyrical about the fresh fish being grilled on lava rocks ‘which bring out an amazing flavour!’ we opted for fish. This is because they had also written that the fish served here ‘have never seen the inside of a fish farm’ which is fabulous news to me, and saves me from having to ask each time, which I do. It wouldn’t harm if somebody wrote it on the menu: I’m sure nobody is a stickler for detail like me, reading every single review on the island before setting out to try them for myself.

The fish-in-restaurants situation in Malta is dire, and farmed (read: confined and eating pellets – much like battery chickens) fish is probably why most restaurants have extensive lists. Here they only had cipullazz and pesce san pietro on the night. By the time we ordered, the latter had gone to another table. So for once (I usually make it a point to give you readers a choice) we both had the former.

Its presentation on the plate was a tad dull. We had never asked for it to come deboned, but it did, and it was piled on the ‘peperonata’ which we had asked for. Generously, the cheeks and therefore the most succulent part of the fish, were placed on top. They were gorgeous, and so was the fish: meaty, soft, milky and strangely devoid of saline. The pepper mix was too heavy on aubergine, and both vegetables should have been roasted more to bring out their sweetness.

The ‘garlic roast potatoes’ on the side were a disappointment: too par-boiled and not roasted enough. A trip down memory lane to our patata l-forn bil-buzbiez or with rosemary wouldn’t go amiss, Chef. Punters love that kind of thing and you can carry it off, I’m sure. Leave the faffing around for the meats.

Desserts are a decent and extensive list, with a Bailey’s pannacotta and a crème bruleé listed. TW’s chocolate ice-cream on a chocolate brownie (which tasted more like a pudding) was the kind of dessert that sends you straight back to a childhood where we never thought of expanding thighs. My imqaret were perfectly fried but the vanilla ice-cream was synthetic in taste: it should be switched to some home-made stuff, regardless of where the ‘home’ is.

Call it summer madness, or just the fact that I haven’t gone on holiday like everybody else, but I’m giving Rebekah’s four stars, instead of the three they deserve due to the LM40 expense. One, because stars don’t cost me anything. Two because they really deserve it: in the current climate of ‘it’s so hot – who cares?’, the staff, the chef and the owners here do. And for that, they should definitely get a big pat on the back. And your holiday money.

Additional Information

Location

Address 12, Tgham Street
Town Mellieha
Country Malta

Restaurant

Cuisine Mediterranean

Contact Details

Contact Number 00356 21521145
 

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