2013 in review | The best meals on the island They are a glorious ten – ten of the best dishes available from some of the newest, and oldest established restaurants and eateries to suit everybody’s pockets. Lobster tagliatele at Dolce Vita
What sort of a top 10 list would not include lobster? This one pairs it with tagliatele. Pasta with lobster is a little hit and miss. If not done well, you’ll find a heap of pasta covering up a piece or two of lobster. This was not so with a meal early this year at Dolce Vita. Half a lobster including the claw lay on top with a langostine on the side for good measure.
Ristorante Dolce Vita, 159, St George’s Road, St Julian’s. Tel 21388600
Rachel Zammit Cutajar
25 December 2013, 12:00am
Ed eats – Dolce Vita, 8 St George’s Road, Spinola Bay, St Julian’s – Tel: 2138 8600
Food: 9/10 Service: 9/10 Ambience: 9/10 Value: 6/10 Overall: 8/10
’Tis not the season to be a chicken breast. You’ll end up on menus, suffering all sorts of torture. I have received ‘Christmas’ menus that claim to have tossed, oven-baked, pan-fried, and even enhanced chicken breast until it bears no more resemblance to the freezer whence it came (and where it spent most of its life). Adding senseless words to a menu only causes revulsion at this point. No amount of verbs will make me want to buy your set menu at a special price that includes “a half bottle” of nameless red wine. If I want to save money on food, I have plenty of very tasty options available to me that have not been subjected to this malarkey. Have you ever seen “oven-baked pastizzi” or “flame-grilled kebab” written anywhere at your favourite supplier of sneaky calories? I thought not. Eating out at this time of year is quite trying. Too many restaurants seem to be peddling food they’ve been dying to get rid of all year, choosing mildly inebriated revellers out for an office party as the ideal victims.
A Monday night is usually perfect at this time of year and you’re better off moving slightly upmarket to avoid the more raucous crowds. The desire to visit the new Dolce Vita started when I first saw the sign upon the wall that indicated that its rebirth was complete. It is a restaurant that has been around long enough for me to remember visiting when I was young enough, and agile enough, to run underneath the tables without causing them too much harm. My parents and their friends enjoyed the food, the wine, the view, and the thick cloud of cigarette smoke that tried to mess with it all. I just looked at them and looked forward to growing up, so that I could visit a restaurant and finally act like a kid. When it closed down and was replaced by Meat&Co I was ever so slightly sad. When I realised they’d actually moved Dolce Vita up a floor, I was ever so slightly happy. The first reports I heard were a mixed bag so I thought I’d let the place settle down a little before giving it a shot. And the perfect time just presented itself. The place would be quiet on a Monday and is probably too pricey for random office parties so off I headed.
The initial greeting is a good indication of the level of service one can expect. The ground floor is a tidy little bar with fancy seating and elegant lighting, run quite efficiently by a young lady who greets patrons and makes arrangements for their seating over the phone with the maître d’ upstairs. She then guides you into the lift and waves you up with an enigmatic, little smile. Upstairs, the theme is maintained. The décor is elegant and understated, using light grey and white and natural materials to exude an effortless chic. The view over the bay at night is gorgeous, even if the word LOVE in the distance was partly executed when the stencil was lying on its flipside. We were greeted by a man who, dressed the part, is evidently the maître d’. He is polite and efficient, stiff almost, and is very, very proud to be doing what he does. I rejoice when this happens because it is heart-warming to meet a man who considers his job a fine art and tries all he can to display this. He presented menus and this was the first little fly in the ointment. They are a single sheet of card that has become tatty over time and this doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the experience. The wine menu was even worse – a little office file with plain printed sheets. But the man who took care of us that evening is an artist and I should not have forgotten this. He quickly apologised for the menus and said they were having them done to match the new wines in their cellars. I might have looked sceptical so he offered to show me the wines and I followed him closely into a climate-controlled room that contained, by my estimate, around 300 different wines. The selection is quite impressive and intended to suit all pockets, including some of the bottomless ones. No wonder they’re redoing the menus. The food is thankfully very simply described on the menu. There is no fuss here, and this leads me to believe that the food will speak for itself. The special Dolce Vita antipasto immediately seized the attention of my better half because it described at least five different ways with fish, most of them raw. She’d follow that with a tuna steak. I took a step back and decided upon the antipasto of carpaccio and tartare, hoping that the emphasis will mean more raw fish than that on the more varied platter. For main course, our host strongly suggested fresh fish.
Once again my doubtful look was picked up before it had done the entire tour of my face and I was invited to take a look at the fish on display before deciding. “We only buy the very best,” I was told, “and it has been a good week.” Once again, I stood and followed our host to the area he indicated. The fish looked very fresh and was artfully laid out on that sort of chilled display that is visible from the dining area and has direct access from the kitchen. I picked the loveliest looking cippullazza and scooted back to my seat feeling very smug. We were presented with three different kinds of bread and some really lovely olive oil, but no amuse-bouche. Our antipasti were, however, served very quickly and the bread was excellent so I agreed with this omission. The special antipasto lives up to its name with prawn from two different areas being served in four different ways, all raw. There were also raw langoustine, fish fritters, swordfish carpaccio, tuna tartare and salmon carpaccio. The dish is generous, varied, and the fish was very fresh across the board. I might not have agreed with the way the swordfish was treated, for instance, but could not quibble with the raw materials. I quickly realised that female intuition had led to the better choice. My fish was also very fresh, even if the selection was slightly narrower. I still had excellent Mazzara red prawn, local white prawn, swordfish and salmon carpaccio and tuna tartare but decided I’d go for the real deal next time.
The tuna steak was served rare, beautifully crusted with poppy seed, and with a selection of sauces that had very thoughtfully been placed in individual bowls around the plate. This makes for an interesting experience, where it is up to you to mix and match the unlikely combination of liquids that included, quite bizarrely, a hoi sin sauce and a citrus marmalade. Strange as they might sound to some, they work perfectly. The star of the night, however, was my fish. Outside my brother’s kitchen, this was easily the best fish I’ve tasted this year. It had been treated so kindly to a simple preparation in seawater and with only the cooking broth as accompaniment. As I ate, I ran out of superlatives so I just shut up and consumed it in rapt silence. The chef popped out of the kitchen at one point, and asked whether we were pleased with what we’d eaten. He is a quiet and unassuming Italian man of impeccable manners, and he was almost self-effacing when I praised his handiwork. He then insisted that I try a dessert, which I did. His deconstructed cannolo is a plateload of sin, with crema and honey and pistachio all in a swirl that hosts a tepee of cannolo pastry. It is simple, effective, and wickedly irresistible. We paid €60 each, and this included one of their more humble bottles of Sancerre. Having said that, we were treated like royalty, were fed very good food, and had the luxury of sharing a lovely dining space with other tables who also seemed to be out for a quiet night. So if you’re up for a bit of the dolce vita, reserve your table and prepare to be treated.
Hello, I feel I need to contact you to say thank you for making our visit to the Dolce Vita on the 30th September 2014 a wonderful experience. I first enjoyed the Dolce Vita many years ago when I would visit Malta often and I was excited to return after such a long time. I was not disappointed, the decor is beautiful and the atmosphere very welcoming. We felt that we were greeted warmly by all and were made to feel very special. Service from the well presented team was attentive but not ‘too much’. The food/wine was delicious and pleasing to the eye. We particularly liked the lovely man who served us, he engaged in polite conversation and when asked informed us that he was from Hungary, we don’t know his name but we hope that you will know who we mean and be able to thank him on our behalf. Our only disappointment was that we were unable to have a table on the Terrace over looking Spinola Bay, but one day we will return and hopefully be able to enjoy that experience Thank you once again for creating a beautiful memory for us at your Dolce Vita.
Oh I forgot to say we loved the fish who kept us company while we enjoyed our meal.