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Restaurants Malta - Paradise Found

Paradise Found

Marley's

It went from a bar eulogising the king of reggae to a seedy joint popular with pre-wedded men to the 'best place for traditional rabbit'. Mona Farrugia ponders our supposedly national dish, produced by a Bulgarian and served by a bevy of Eastern Europeans.


 
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The Writer called in the decorators. We live in a village so the decorators happened to be one foul-mouthed, rabbit-hunting yet kind-hearted guy and his assistant, aka, his brother.


‘Will you supervise on their first day?’ he asked me, needing, as people do, to work. ‘Sure thing’ I replied, not even glancing at my diary. These people look ‘strange’ to outsiders but are very protective towards us and I feel very comfortable around them. Nonetheless, if I had checked the date I may have noticed that on the day I would be horrifically pre-menstrual.


So the decorator – let’s call him Chaliee – turned up promptly at 7.00am. Now I wake up very early every day, but when I have taken a day off, waking up to the sound of our ear-shattering doorbell at that hour is nothing short of a recipe for murder.


Chaliee walks in, shouting his ‘Bongu Fiona x’jismek hi!’ His brother, seemingly in the same daze I was, follows. They start to ask me where they were supposed to paint. ‘Did you not discuss this with TW?’ I ask, not having a clue. But no, they want my take on it. So I call TW. We argue on the phone: how does one justify coupledom if everything goes smoothly when workmen are around?


Finally, thirty minutes after they originally turned up, we have some kind of project plan at hand. They had no plastic to cover our furniture with and were not interested in using the stuff I had bought specifically for this wonderful occasion. They want to go get their own: it turns out to be filthy from so many other houses. Ma jimpurtax.


We spend another fifteen minutes discussing what kind of paint they need to buy. I know our house: it’s old. When we first started fixing it up, we had a part of the ground floor finished in gypsum, as suggested by the contractor in whose interest it was to leech as much dosh out of us as possible.


Three months after it had been done (‘wow – doesn’t that look fabulous?’), and three weeks before we had moved in, the living room finishing cracked open like mud in Arizona and caved in. That experience made us nothing short of experts on cement and naturally-occurring salt. The guy who finally sorted the situation out had restored Palazzo Falson in Mdina. Old Maltese houses need specialists and ours, bizarrely, had to be British.


So we know that most paints, even if called ‘water-paint’ are not just useless, but actually cause damage. I write the name of the brand Chaliee needs to buy, give him the sheet of paper and an old bucket of the same brand (for reference, just in case the ironmonger could not read) and tell him which shop stocks it. Fifteen minutes of shouting later and he leaves to buy it.


He comes back with a completely different brand of paint. In the meantime, his brother is swiftly dispatching kilos of dust from the used plastic sheets around the house, ensuring it goes into all crevices and soft furnishings. ‘Why did you buy this?’ I ask, trying to hide the kitchen knife behind my back while pointing at the stuff he's heaved in. ‘It’s the same!’ he insists, ten times over. It turns out hat in true village mode, he does not speak to the guy I originally sent him to so he went to the other ironmonger’s: the one who never has anything in stock and who usually leaves me waiting for ten minutes for a couple of nails as she has long discussions with mysterious children, on her mobile phone. At least I hope they’re children, anyway.


By noon they have splattered everything with white paint. A priceless chaise-longue, most paintings (yes KZT – yours too, including all the rude ones) and every single surface of the double shower, complete with (and this must have taken some doing) the base of the huge shower heads and all the tubes and unguents necessary for a gleaming body.


I call the maid/housekeeper/surrogate mother to come over. ‘Please!’ I beg. She lives a couple of streets away. When she walks in (‘Hawn tfajla ghalik!’), they flirt with her, shout at me in front of her to impress her with macho credentials, and eventually leave. She and I spend the next three hours prostrate on the ground, scrubbing off seven thousand two hundred and twenty four dots of paint like a couple of, well, maids.


The next day I can sleep in as TW  supervises but I wake up early anyway, spend two hours reading in bed to avoid the scene unfolding downstairs, put on some clothing, and go down to make myself a cappuccino. ‘Bongu Ramona!’ they shriek. ‘Bongu’ I mumble back, wondering why they are staring at me practically open-mouthed. Do I look so awful?


‘Take your skirt out of your pants’ TW say as soon as I enter the kitchen. ‘My what?’ ‘Your skirt: it’s tucked into your pants. You’ve just made Chalie and Manwel very happy’.  He can't help laughing at me.


Village life, if you know how to live it (that includes not moaning too much about petards and baned) (and the blocked garage due to festa stuff) (and huge diskows of the yuuf) can be great. I lived in Sliema for many years and decorators cost twice as much what they do here, where all they have to do is pop up the road. The maid house-sits every time we’re away. There is only one issue I cannot fathom: nobody really seems to appreciate genuine food: the ‘local’ is a McDonalds. Otherwise, it’s quite fantastic.


The kazini (we have around five) throw iljieli Maltin (Maltese nights) and serve cikkin and bergers. What happened to rabbit? What happened to rabbit everywhere? These days, rabbits eat ewrofak (‘food’ pellets) not grass and their meat tastes of every single other animal which eats the same thing. Chaliee goes out hunting for rabbit, which possibly, is illegal, which, of course, does not faze him or anybody around in the least. Most ‘rabbit’ restaurants make it as far as cooking the rabbit but then disappoint with those effin’ packet chips, which I really detest.


So The Architect took me and TW out for ‘some real rabbit’. ‘Mona’ he said ‘this place is amazing. The rabbit is fantastic. And the chef is a fifty-something Bulgarian’. Short of sounding nationalistic, I find the whole concept of ‘the best rabbit restaurant in Malta’ being cooked for by somebody from another country, bizarre.


The owner of Marley’s is Maltese. I called to book and asked her if we could have real chips. ‘Oh’ she returned, hesitating for a moment ‘Well, if that’s what you want, why not’ as if I had asked for songbirds wrapped in plastic and roasted.


When we arrived, the outside seating – their unique selling point, apart from the meat - was packed and she tried to convince us, over and over, to ‘sit inside in the air-conditioning’. It didn’t seem that many people wanted to do that and I don’t blame them, for reasons explained later on.


Although our table was waiting for us, nobody seemed to know where to seat us. The service is haphazard, Eastern European (Romanians, Bulgarians and all of that – there was not a single Maltese waiter) and female. All of the service was decked in hot pants and where available, boobs and v-necks. I’ve never seen anything like it except on the telly. None of them smiled. I understand this is may be another USP for some.


Ordering was somewhat bizarre. ‘What wine you want?’ one of them asked. ‘Do you have a menu?’ ‘Oh…yes’ she replied, again, surprised anybody would ask for one. The cabernet was a cheap(ish), €10, local and awful. We all decided to go for the spaghetti rabbit and rabbit as mains: after all, this was what we were at Marley’s for. The alternative would have been chicken and more burgers.


When ordering, I told the waitress that the owner had promised me real chips ‘not from a packet’. ‘Oh did she now?’ the waitress replied, refusing to take any kind of note. I insisted, three times. She ignored me and left. I spoke to two other waitresses (the owner was inside - we did not see her once after our first few minutes of arrival – where she was possibly adjusting the sound system on what had turned out to be a club-like atmosphere) but it was clear that the issue of the chips was a non-starter.


There were no appetizers, that stalwart of the Maltese rabbit places. Oh sorry, forgive me, there were: eight galletti and a Benna peppered gbejna cut into cubes. They took all of thirty minutes to arrive.


We waited for almost an hour to get the spaghetti, and this turned out to be exactly the spaghetti rabbit I remember: unctuous and sharp tomato sauce, bits of rabbit meat, a good dose of garlic and fifteen tablespoons each of the cheapest grated kefalotyri (gobon tal-hakk) known to these islands. Perfect.


Literally ninety seconds after we had placed the fork on the plate and expressed a ‘that was worth waiting for’, the bowls of rabbit turned up. Now this was a surprise. It turns out that Marley’s does have the best rabbit I have tasted in months: a very thin film of crisp on the outside from the roasting, bits of well-burnt garlic attached, caramelised cheap wine giving off a whiff of vinegar (sounds odd, but is essential: no Maltese rabbit was ever cooked in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), flaky, crumbly meat, ever so slightly dry liver, gravy (which could have come from a packet: another local tradition) and a huge bowl of…frozen chips.


‘Are you sure they’re from a packet?’ my companions asked, questioning (how dare they?) my expertise. ‘I will bet you thousands’ I replied, not specifying the currency. ‘Go to the kitchen and ask her to see the peels’ The Architect said, tongue (and rabbit meat) in cheek .‘Yeah, and tell her we need them for compost’ TW posited, getting into it now.


Of course, they later had to eat their words. There is a very simple trick for sussing out the packed from the freshly-peeled: the former remain puffed and golden even after they become cold, the latter become hard. Simples. Actually there’s another trick; it’s called ‘watch and see if the kitchen gives a flying fug’.


We later went in to wash our hands. The chef was sitting at the passe looking completely dejected: I felt truly sorry for her. The ‘restaurant’ still had a few diners dotted around, all, honest to god, couples looking extremely depressed. The music was house and thumping. The rest of the ‘patrons’ were odder-looking non-eating couples and a serious imbalance of single, less than attractive, men. Marley’s had a reputation for many years, and it had nothing to do with its rabbit. I’m guessing it was not unfounded. The lighting was bizarrely (for a restaurant) neon and the atmosphere decidedly seedy.


For this reason, and due to the people I saw enter the place, I am making it public that if anything happens to me over the next weeks, months, and later (that includes odd phone calls from people I do not know) TW and all of my friends know who would have gone to the Marley’s owner to tell them they ‘know me’. There is a strange underbelly in this country, one I wish to not have anything to do with, which sometimes crosses its regular ambience into restaurants and which makes normal people like myself feel distinctly uncomfortable. In Maltese, we call it tahwid. Like hamallu, it’s practically untranslatable but means everything.


Back outside, dessert was practically inexistent unless we wanted ‘vanilla, chocolate, strawberry’ ice cream and the shrug from the waitress these came with. Eventually they remembered to give us eight cubes of helwa which turned out to be soggy and soft and according to The Blonde ‘Tal-Egizzjan, mhux tat-Tork’. Again, untranslatable, but quite hilarious. The espresso was miles better than that we’ve had in some seemingly high-level restaurants on this island.


It is a sad, sad situation when the national dish of a country turns out to be best cooked by a Bulgarian lady in a club which would make the Sopranos’ Bada Bing look classy. If that’s your scene, you’re welcome to enjoy it. Give me a real kazin any time.

Additional Information

Location

Address Xatt il-Palm
Town Bahar ic-Caghaq
Country Malta

Restaurant

Cuisine Traditional: Rabbit
Opening Hours Evenings

Contact Details

Contact Number +356 21376201

Map

 

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Mona Farrugia
August 18, 2010
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Giselle Scicluna
August 30, 2010
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It has come to this, hasn't it? We've lost our identity a long, long time ago, but our 'fenkata'...whatever next?

 
 
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