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Paradise Found

Luna di Sera

They wowed us with Caffe Luna. And now they bowl us over with the night-time version. Mona goes to Luna di Sera and loves what she sees and eats.

Since this review, the chef has changed and then changed back again. Due to reader reviews we are switching the rating to 4* until our next review

 
Luna di Sera
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Can the moon appear during the day and other conundrums of life are whirring through my head as The Writer plops the car practically outside Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar.  By night, or in our case, by late evening, the town has quieted down, the 9-6 restricted parking has been released from the council’s horrid clutches and the wardens are nowhere to be seen.

The huge doors to the magnificent palace are closed and we worry for a couple of seconds that it’s closed before it has even opened.  Then we realise that like life in general, with every door that closes, another one throws its flaps wide open, and this little one is beckoning us through a tea-light encrusted couple of topiaried trees outside.  

We make our way through the boudoir-like lounges, decorated lushly in mauves and dark pinks, and are shown the way through by one of Luna’s good looking boys. He’s dressed, quite literally, from head to toe, in black.  Café Luna’s staff may have the most gorgeous linen white and beige uniforms during the day: Sera’s are equally chic, and equally time-appropriate.

We sit down to a series of menus and I notice immediately that my version has no prices.  Ah, the Lady’s Menu: I love the concept of not having any idea of how much my partner is spending, of taking it for granted that the man will.

Only in our case, I happen to be the restaurant critic, so I ask TW: how much is the menu degustazione? It’s €80. For some people, that may be expensive. For others, it’s just perfect; enough to scare the plebs off but not enough to make the patrons feel guilty. That is Luna to a t.

The menu is extensive and terribly inviting.  So inviting, in fact, that it takes us a good twenty minutes to make up our minds, during which time we have no option but to delve into the cocktails, created by Domenico Maura, the Luna Lounge manager. I have a Raising Storm: raisins and pine nuts flambéed in over-proof rum with red chillies, fresh lime and ginger ale. It’s a challenge and with its medicinal and herby overtones certainly not for everyone.


I’m not everyone, so I love it. I embarrass TW no end by hunting for the raisins after I’ve slurped most of it down. He sticks to perfectly-mixed Negroni and proclaims the most alcoholic version he’s ever had; so alcoholic it might make him drunk. TW never gets drunk in Malta; he’s a complete control freak.

I give up on the 15-item choice and greedily go for the degustazione.   TW wants to retain the reigns and he opts for an antipasto, a primo, a main.  Since my version has 6 items, I wonder how chef is going to have both of us eating at the same time without TW spending two of my courses staring into space.


He does, without any prompting from us, by sending him tiny versions of my food for when TW does not actually have a course himself.  This is symptomatic of Luna di Sera’s wonderful organisational techniques: all goes smoothly without the diner having to prompt anybody.


While we’re on the subject of wonder, I may as well mention the décor, which switches effortlessly between daylight chic to evening by using the trick of light.  Here it is subtle and soft and provided by the antique, red-shaded downlighters on the intelligently restored walls. For us ladies, that means looking good even if, like me, you did not have two seconds to re-apply your lipstick on a post-work jaunt.

The chef’s freebie is spectacular: thick creamed foie gras at the bottom, a floating scallop in the middle and lashings of truffled foam on top. Yes, truffle foam has been done to death, but you know me, if it tastes good, I really don’t care.

We ate an ungodly amount, mostly because the portions are large. The ones I had were certainly at least three times the normal portions of a menu degustazione.  Now I’ve had readers telling me not to ‘spoil’ it for them and ask for smaller portions but here’s the thing: a tasting menu is like a step by step build up: if the bricks are too large, the whole thing can come crashing down. Eating little and a lot of different things is the trick.  So those portions need to be reduced.


I kicked off with a terrine of duck foie gras: it was solid and creamy and superbly smooth. The bits of red apple compote, speared through a fork, topping a 1cm bit of terrine and straight through some of the hazelnut brioche was just a divine perfect mouthful.  I offered this to TW but I think he thought I meant I wanted me to snog him halfway through a meal and declined.


Otherwise, he was just really into his trilogy of prawns, all red, all local. They came topped with a crunchy film of grilled coppa di parma. The prawns were resting on a bed of aspic, which, for the uninitiated is a jellied stock reduction. In general, it is like the chef has gone haywire with every bit of kitchen technique he could find: he has enthusiasm and experimentation in kilos you have to love him for it.  I certainly do.


My favourite through the night was the consommé. A sure fire way of testing any chef’s mettle, the clear broth here was zingy and zesty and threw an almighty punch. I love the meat stuffed morelle mushrooms floating in it and the bread dumplings, all 1cm each of them, are adorable.


Sadly, TW is disappointed with his risotto, which here they’re doing ‘alla Milanese’. He was seduced by the pan seared bone marrow and gremolata but the risotto so lacked creaminess and the grains were so split and bashed that the whole dish, sadly, fell flat.


I moved on to the garganelli with rabbit ragout and toasted pistachio, by now slightly alarmed at the sight of the huge portions.  This one would have been big even as a starter on its own: the pasta itself though, was smooth as silk and the rabbit cooked in a perfect, slicked sauce, although I would have preferred it to have been broken down, rather than in sharp cubes.

Because of the sizes of the portions, I did not really enjoy the next course, which was tuna. They call them ‘parcels’ in the menu but I did not manage to find out what the cubed bits of fish were hiding, if anything. The Jerusalem artichoke puree accompanying was pure velvet, and the wasabi cream was way too mild for my tastes.

I thought the pigeon confit was France on a plate, especially as it came accompanied with caramelised onions (not spring, as listed, but shallots): a velvety cross-section of bird. TW did not enthuse about it: he found its homely mix of flavours a little too mild. On the other hand, he adored his ‘chef’s freebie’ while I ate mine: it was sirloin on polenta and a chanterelle mushroom goulash and he pronounced it simply ‘perfect’. Not a man of many words, that Writer, is he?

The dessert was a terrible disappointment: Chef has revisited the tiramisu', jellifying the cream part and the alcoholised savoiardi parts and piling them on top of each other in a cube. I didn’t like it: the whole point of tiramisu' is its very lightness, hence the name: this one was heavy and toppled over like a misaligned local crane on a building site.


Then again, it is obvious that Chef can really do desserts.  That is, unless all of the petit fours were imported: there were lip puckering jellies in two flavours, dark chocolate films surrounding light-as-air ganache and a tear-inducing lemon macaroon. TW and I fought over them.


Throughout staff had been attentive, informed, discreet and in one case, infinitely patient.  At Luna, ‘service in Malta’ has set absolute standards.

With so much food happening, it is understandable that I have forgotten to mention the wine-list.  I should not have. It is incredible, extensive and intelligent, treating its readers as it wants to be treated: with respect. It took me a full fifteen minutes to choose our wine and when I finally did, the appropriate glasses were brought along in an instant.  If I had not drunk most of it, I would have ordered a dessert wine, but as it were, I had to draw the line somewhere.  That is, before TW drew it for me.


Luna Sera is wonderful. I absolutely adore it.  Its kitchen needs to settle in and I am in no doubt whatsoever that it soon will, which is why they get four stars now, and have another one sitting quietly on the horizon.  If they do this, it might very well come accompanied with another star: that from Michelin.


De Mondion look out:  finally, finally, you have some competition.

Additional Information

Location

Address Victory Square
Country Malta

Restaurant

Cuisine Haute Cuisine
Opening Hours Open Monday to Saturday from 7pm to 11.30pm and Sunday for lunch

Contact Details

Website http://www.palazzoparisio.com
Contact Number 00356 21412461

Map

 

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Rating:
 
4.0
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Mona Farrugia
July 31, 2010
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