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Summer has just waltzed into the room, hardly giving spring enough time to introduce herself. And when summer makes an entrance, there is little spring can do to make her voice heard.
I complained about the heat today, (half) jokingly claiming that I couldn’t wait for summer to be over. I was treated to the glares one gets when he suggests he’d like to eat a puppy.
The same people who complained about the heat, turned on the air conditioning, wore summer clothes in spring, and expressed their angst at the effect moist heat had on their hair, stood up for summer like it was a family member. I never quite ‘get’ people.
Summer is not without its benefits though. The calm seas make fishing a more certain affair, so a fresh bounty makes it to our tables every day.
The vines that spent their winter pressing the snooze button suddenly leap into action, sprouting foliage and bunches of grapes that will give us liquid pleasure for years to come.
And just like lizards head outside at the first hint of sunshine, so do the barbecue sets. I can practically smell the sausages.
Soon, when the evenings warm up and the heat dial has not been turned all the way to 11, the terrace dining season starts.
All those restaurants that have an outside dining area become the only place one should consider because, when you really think about it, our time-window for perfect terrace weather is not that long.
I was in Mdina last week, and as is customary, it was more windy there than anywhere else. Dining outside was not an option, at least not unless I felt like eating alone.
I never get over the experience of walking Mdina’s hushed streets at night. The dim lighting, the perfect silence, the curvy streets and the immaculate house façades turn a stroll into a scene from a silent movie. I even caught myself whispering at one point.
All that was needed was a gravelly voice from radio story shows in the 1970s to narrate our progress, “U fis-satra ta’ dak il-lejl…”
The spell was broken by the welcome sight of a tastefully lit building, one that had been a store in times gone by. It has now been transformed into a restaurant called Sharma that, if the rumours I’d heard were true, is run by the same people who had introduced the erstwhile Shisha in Marsascala.
Shisha brought novelty in two forms. One was the menu that spanned Mediterranean, North African and Indian foods. The other was their approach to wine. All wines on the list were offered at supermarket prices. A flat-fee was then added on top of that.
One was also free to bring their own wine and the same fee applies. I can’t think of a fairer and more democratic way to wine.
Sharma is a much larger restaurant and is decorated quite tastefully, retaining the lovely ceiling beams and all of the original masonry with added cues that help push the ethnic theme.
Nothing is overdone or overstated, and the split levels prevent the large space from becoming a canteen. I have often stated a dislike for massive open spaces that are used to serve food. Unless I’m in a supermarket’s food court, I hate feeling lost in space.
We were greeted and led to our table where a young man beamed at us pleasantly and took our orders for drinks. At the risk of causing offence, I’d pin his provenance to somewhere in the Nordics, especially judging by his excellent English that is delivered with a charming lilt.
He explained the wine system first and it was exactly as it had been at Shisha. I quietly rejoiced. Then he described the menus and they, too, follow the same formula. I liked it back when it was called Shisha so this augured well.
I decided to steer clear of the Mediterranean food. I understand its place on the menu – serving rabbit and braġjoli to tourists is probably a good idea – but I am not here for that.
It is hard to create a menu that will span two massive continents and provide a fair representation of the equally formidable range of styles. Sharma’s menu picks items from the more commonly exported dishes and presents them on separate pages, sorted by provenance.
On our first visit, the most we could hope for was to sample these two continents so we decided to start with the Arabian starters and move onto Indian main courses.
For starters we opted for the helpfully put together Arabian platter. This consists of Embattan (fried potatoes stuffed with beef and spices), Falafel (deep-fried balls of mashed chickpeas), Mahshe (courgettes stuffed with rice and spiced beef) and Dolmah (also known as Wara’ Anab, these are similar to spring rolls in shape but with vine leaves forming the outside wrap and stuffed with rice and beef).
I picked a Gewürztraminer from the wine menu, attractively priced at €12, in the hope that it would work nicely with the Indian main courses. I picked a house I hadn’t tried before and it was sweeter than I could handle. My mistake.
Within a minute of placing our orders, another young man turned up with warm pitta and baba ghanoush. The aubergine dip was just lovely, with a hint of tahini and citrus, working wonders on the warm and toasted flat bread.
The only time I’d tasted baba ghanoush as lovely as this was at the fabled Ali Baba. Needless to say, the bowl in which it was served was squeaky clean by the time it returned to the kitchen.
Our starters were also served very quickly. The bite-sized fare had been carefully lined up on a rectangular plate and every item had been carefully executed so all the earthy spice blended into a delightful harmony. The colours, textures, and flavours reminded me of what I’d loved about Shisha a few years ago.
For main course we had chosen a chicken Madras and a Rogan Josh. I ordered the latter as spicy as the kitchen could reasonably make it. We added pilau rice and plain naan bread. Both dishes were quite lovely but my order for added kick had been sadly forgotten and the Rogan Josh was aromatic but not hot.
To be fair, the red peppers used to add the colour to Rogan Josh are of the Kashmir variety and do not impart any real heat of their own. I will be even more emphatic next time.
I could not resist revisiting the Arabian continent for dessert and picked the item called ‘Arabian sweets’. Baklava, basbousa, and other sweets based on honey and nuts brought the meal to a gorgeously sweet and sticky end. A sweet Arabian tea added warmth and minty goodness to the dessert.
The final sweet surprise came in the form of a bill for €60. We’d watched continents gently collide to serve very enjoyable food in a pleasant ambience within a restaurant in Mdina that probably costs as much as the GDP of a small nation.
And with the terrace season around the corner, I can just imagine adding the view from Sharma’s terrace to the mix. Only I’ll be wiser with the wine next time.
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