Ed eats

Martinu Garces Street,
Mġarr, Gozo
Tel: 2156 6276

Food: 7/10
Service: 8/10
Ambience: 7/10
Value: 8/10
Overall: 7.5/10

The verb ‘to enjoy’ is a beautifully personal one. A useful example is the transition from ‘Drink Coca Cola’ to ‘Enjoy Coca Cola’. I consider this evolution a rather dramatic one.

The first version is almost a command, one that I imagine barked at me by a strict headmaster. Drink! Or face the consequences.

Enjoyment, on the other hand, is very personal. I can enjoy the drink in whatever manner I happen to choose. It is an invitation for me to take the product and do with it what I will as long as there is enjoyment to be had. I can cool it, boil it, top up someone else’s whisky with it, or wash down a tasty burger with it.

In any case, “Enjoy!” is not a sentence. So when I’m served a dish and the waiter’s parting shot is quite simply, “Enjoy!”, I feel more irritation than enjoyment.

“Enjoy your meal” could be useful. “Enjoy your conversation with the albino, agnostic, insomniac across the table from you” is even more specific.

And yet I insist that ‘enjoy’ cannot and should not be used as the only word in a non-sentence. Decide what it is you want me to enjoy and, for the sake of anything you hold dear, complete the sentence.

A couple of weeks ago I decided I would enjoy lunch in Gozo. It was a weekend in August and that is not normally the best time to ‘enjoy’ pretty much anything in Gozo since getting there is an ordeal and getting back doubly so.

Somehow I was lucky and seem to have picked that witching hour when very few other people were competing for ferry space with me, so I made it across the narrow straits in the company of a graphic novel and Symphony X’s album The Odyssey because I felt the title strangely appropriate.

I remembered why I never listened to the album again (it is like the soundtrack to a 1980s film with Michael J. Fox starring as Odysseus – only no such film was ever made) but it was too late by the time I’d endured it.

Just off the ferry I met the victim who would put up with me during lunch and headed straight to Tmun in Mġarr, expecting the worst.

I imagined the place would be jam-packed and I would have to venture further inland on an empty stomach. To my surprise, only one other table was occupied, so we got to pick a table on the terrace with marvellous views of Mġarr harbour and Comino beyond it.

Trailers of boats that spend their summer in the sea were scattered on the quay, forlorn and abandoned. A couple of dogs lazily yapped at each other. Two men dragged what look­ed like a very heavy contraption out of one garage and into another.

The sun shone furiously down on everything in its sight. The cleverer of the dogs finally escaped it though, preferring the shade of a van’s underbelly to a fight it wasn’t ever going to win.

We were greeted by Mr Buttigieg, known for running the Tmun restaurant in Xlendi for around 25 years, a true stalwart of fine Gozitan dining. Tmun has since split into two, with his son Patrick opening up his own restaurant in Victoria and the Xlendi restaurant moving to Mġarr.

Our host is polite and very soft-spoken with a humility that belies his stature and that makes us feel instantly welcome. He leaves the food menus and a rather impressive wine menu before describing the specials of the day and giving us time and space to decide.

It takes a short while to pick our starters and I leave the choice of main course to when our host returns, having a couple of questions to ask about the monkfish first.

I turned my attention to the wine menu, an impressive affair by any standard. It is somewhat unusually classified by grape variety but still quite easy to navigate the two-dozen pages it spans. I soon give up on ploughing all the way through and pick a prosecco from the first page, wanting the refreshment a dry and effervescent liquid provides.

I’ve asked for a few more minutes a couple of times by now but this does not upset the patient demeanour of Tmun’s patron. I comment about the extent of the menu and his reply is quite simply, “you should see my son’s then!” with a generous touch of pride.

The menu item I was pondering was a speck-wrapped portion of monkfish. I’m dead set on the fish nicknamed the poor man’s lobster but wasn’t convinced about the speck.

I share my concern that the smoky and salty flavour of the cured pork would overpower the lovely fish. The veteran assured me it would add flavour to the outer ring but I could always remove the speck and eat the fish that had been gently flavoured. How could I argue?

It didn’t take long for starters to arrive. The tuna sashimi was served with toasted sesame seed and the chef had opted for the thinner cut, emphasising the flavour of the fish.

I had picked the tortelloni filled with scallops and prawns. The presentation is superb, with oversized tortelloni lovingly formed, covered with a basil-based sauce and topped with artfully julienned vegetables for colour and crunch.

Unfortunately the basil scent is more potent than flavour or smell of the delicate filling. To actually taste the fishy insides, I washed my palate with water and prosecco and it tasted quite lovely, if a little gummy.

What had really caught my attention was the phrase Mr Buttigieg chose before leaving our table after he served our starters.

“Kulu bl-aptit,” he smiled before vanishing into the restaurant. I was filled with joy. What a refreshing break from the annoying “Enjoy!”

The man had bothered to think of a phrase of his own that most accurately summed up his wishes for us and delivered these wishes with a heartfelt honesty.

The main course arrived in the form of mussels cooked in Chardonnay and brandy, a well-balanced and delicately flavoured stew of the imported shellfish. I tried a bite of monkfish and speck vbut could only taste the speck.

I then unwrapped the 5cm-high rings of fish and the result was quite enjoyable, with a salty exterior and the typically firm flesh of the fish tasting more like a crustacean. Call me stubborn but I could have done without the speck.

Sides were in the form of grilled vegetables that couldn’t have been memorable and that were overshadowed by killer potatoes. I couldn’t stop picking at the devilishly delicious spuds, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

We had a lovely coffee to help us progress through the afternoon and paid €65 for the meal. The service was excellent, the location relaxing and quite picturesque, and the food was for the most part highly accomplished.

And while we had not been specifically instructed to ‘Enjoy!’, we’d had plenty of enjoyment.

You can send e-mails about this column to ed.eatson@gmail.com or follow @edeats on Twitter. Or both.

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