Charlo Bonnici @ Trabuxu
Strait Street – once Malta’s red-light district – is now a hive of activity for different reasons. Jo zette ta’ Bomba is definitely not around!
I’m walking down the first few steps of this notorious street, now lit by a soft glow, and heading for Trabuxu wine bar with one of our MPs – Charlò Bonnici. He has found time to meet me after a gruelling day at work at Care Malta for whom he works as human resources manager, and a probably long and boring session at Parliament where Malta’s power players decide our destiny and release some percolating fury.
It’s a few minutes after 8 p.m. and luckily Trabuxu is already open and swinging! I’ve come to the conclusion that when I want to hit a wine bar it is best to wait till 8p.m. because very few open before this time.
Set in an underground cellar which I discovered was built over 350 years ago by the Knights of St John, Trabuxu has an honest-to-goodness style that is comforting in an unflashy way. It probably attracts all the arty people, the young yuppies and their candy-coated lipped girlfriends, and a string of high-flying CEOs.
The atmosphere is pleasant and cosy coloured by a delightful collection of trabuxus just above the bar area, and trombones hanging from the ceiling or hooked to the walls. I count about eight round tables in solid oak, spaced sparingly across the room.
“A table for two, please,” I tell the blonde girl behind the bar as she raises her head from whatever she is doing to look at us. She does not have any microscopic traces of make-up on, and yet, I find her to have a hidden sex appeal that reminds me of the Kim Basinger era.
“Will you be having wine and food?” she asks.
“Yes,” I reply, slightly surprised to be quizzed back like that. I would have preferred to be welcomed by a warm “Hello! Feel free to seat yourself wherever you like.”
The tables are already half taken. Two girls sit at the far end discussing something that seems to be very serious, and a middle-aged man occupies a solitary position at a corner table sipping on his wine and reading. The centre table is more animated, however.
Two foreign men and their collagen-friendly ladies sit chuckling with two local business men giving me the impression that a possible deal is about to be struck. Nothing like a good old wine bar to make things happen!
Charlò looks relaxed in this cosy tranquiliser trap after a stressful day. He removes what looks like a very fine-tailored jacket and gets ready to unwind. The blonde lady with the Kim Basinger looks comes over to us and presents us with a wine menu, informing us that the food selection is written on a board opposite. We both look at the wine menu and I give Charlò carte blanche.
The wine list at Trabuxu is a good one. They must have a selection of over 200 quality wines, and the menu is very well sectioned with a vivid description of the wines. It’s a wine list most wine aficionados will make their bible, as it offers a grand selection of some of the best vintages and raises thrills.
Charlo’s choice is a local wine – A Laurenti Chardonnay priced at €15 and he opts for a mixed platter which is the very first choice on the Trabuxu board. Ironically, the Laurenti is on the first page of the wine list, Trabuxu’s door number is No. 1, so if I have to play the number game I can easily deduct that number one plays an important role in the life of this goal-oriented man.
I want to know if he would rather be successful and sad, or unsuccessful and happy. He thinks about it, puts his hands together as if in prayer, and chooses the unsuccessful and happy option. This goes to show that when it comes to happiness, no man is ready to compromise.
We continue to chat for a while before La Basinger returns with the wine and asks who would like to try it out. I indicate Charlò, and he does it with an elegant demeanour.
He approves, and so La Basinger pours it expertly into our glasses and brings us a wine cooler that latches onto the table. Possibly, the funkiest wine cooler on the island!
After a few sips, and a lighter insight into the world of politics, I ask Charlò to look at the glass and tell me if he sees it half full or half empty? A clichéd question, I know.
“Half full,” he responds in utter confidence, and then cracks a joke.
Kim is back with a platter which really looks like a work of art. Van Gogh would not have done it any better. There is a vibrant bed of green lettuce, thin slices of about three different cheeses and some salamis. All this is decorated with juicy grapes and a slice of orange and kiwi that make the dish even more attractive. On the side we get a basket of bread and galletti.
We set off on our eating spree and Charlò tells me a little bit about his family, his future plans, and some of his creative thoughts. Then, once he has finished, I strike like a hungry panther with my “Dalli” question. “Imagine, you are on a boat and this boat is sinking.”
I try to sound as overdramatic as a Santa Monika character. “There are three other people on this boat: Miriam Dalli, John Dalli, and Helena Dalli, and you hold the only spare life vest…” I pause, just enough for him to conjure up visions of a sinking Titanic with Miriam clinging to John and Helena in distress. “Who would you give the life vest to?”
Faint amusement lights his face. “Miriam Dalli!” he exclaims.
After sharing some more of these light moments and smothering them with the lightly tinged vanilla and spice Laurenti, I excuse myself and head for the toilet. I walk past the CEO types and the collagen-friendly wives. One of them has a dynamite Dynasty-like choker that must have cost the husband at least half a year’s salary.
The toilet at Trabuxu comes in the form of a confessional. It is by far one of the most original I have seen, and this Pandora’s box is averagely spacious and kept very clean. A little note instructs you to wash your hands. It is stocked with enough toilet paper that should keep any diarrhoea-prone person happy.
Since space is sometimes a rare commodity when it comes to wine bars, I do suggest you call in advance on a weekend, as I am sure Trabuxu will be buzzing like mad with post-theatre patrons. There is an authentic charm about it, and its location helps to make it a little jewel in Valletta.
The platter for two cost us €13.80 so we end up paying a total of €28.80, which includes the Laurenti wine. Charlò seems ready to hit the sack.
We get ready to leave, and as I walk out I realise that he has not changed so much since the time I got to know him. He has kept his down-to-earth qualities which is a far cry from the cripplingly turgid style some politicians are associated with.
I’m in a funny mood so before he gets to his car I dig in one last curiosity. Which Member of Parliament of the opposite sex would he crown Miss Maltese Islands? Isn’t it great to see what they all think of each other?!!!! Labour Party’s Justyne Caruana wins the honour!