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Two are better than one

Cosmana Navarra

Cosmana Navarra

Ed eats

Cosmana Navarra
St Paul Street
Rabat
Tel: 2145 0638

Food: 5/10
Service: 7/10
Ambience: 6/10
Value: 6/10
Overall: 6/10

M’Addubbai
308, Naxxar Road
Birkirkara
Tel: 9996 5685

Food: 8/10
Service: 8/10
Ambience: 5/10
Value: 9/10
Overall: 8/10

This week, this column is on sale. Seeing that I eat out, both at lunch and dinner time, quite a few times during the week, I often end up having meals that don’t create enough of a story to warrant a full review.

I also revisit those places I like and have reviewed, eliminating these from the pool of potential review material. This is one of those weeks that had plenty of variety so a double bill is in order.

I’ll start with Cosmana Navarra in Rabat, mainly because it is the first in chronological order but also because I like to leave the best for last. It’s a bit like eating a T-bone. One usually leaves the tenderloin side for last.

I was in Rabat at lunchtime on a day that felt like a scene in an end-of-days movie. It was very still, very warm, and there was practically no one in the streets. I thought I’d missed something in the news about how I wasn’t meant to go anywhere near Rabat that day until they’d rid the place of the giant Cyclops that was terrorising the streets.

Well, I was hungry so whatever peril had vacated the streets could wait until I faced it on a full stomach.

I first tried to have a bite at the beautifully done up cafe at the Wignacourt museum, across the road from the church. The garden inside is really a lovely place to enjoy a light meal and the service has always been spot on. So much so, that when I asked for a table for two I was told to expect a waiting time of up to 20 minutes. It looks like everyone in Rabat had had the same idea. There was no Cyclops after all.

I politely declined and walked back on to the deserted square. I stood in the middle of the road, trying to decide where to eat and spun around slowly until I saw Cosmana Navarra. It was close but I’d been there once before and the gloomy interior and stiff service had depressed me. I gradually moved closer, not too keen but quite hungry, and peeked at the menu.

As if reading my mind, a man sprang out of the main door and told me they had a new menu and that he’d bring it over right away. I was sold on the idea of a new menu and just walked in. Our host indicated that we could pick any one of the smaller tables in the room or even have a look at the space further in and choose a table there.

I automatically walked all the way in but there was no one there and the place was a little dark. Something on the outside had changed though, so I walked out to the tables we’d seen the first time. These are now painted in bright, cheerful colours that somehow work well with the rather classical interiors.

The building is centuries old and has wonderfully high ceilings and large vaulted doorways. The original features are well preserved and the conversion into a townhouse restaurant doesn’t feel quite complete, despite the pale orange and blue that now coat the walls.

The menus are a simple affair, with some pasta, grills and salads as the mainstays. The pasta section sounded quite fancy, with those oversized ravioli and tortellini that rejoice in names like tortellacci and ravioloni filled with enticing ingredients like crab and lobster. Rabbit seemed like something of a speciality here so I went with the rabbit-filled ravioli. The better half ordered a salad with crudo and buffalo mozzarella. We added a bottle of water and settled in.

All it takes to make the list is friendly service, excellent food and a reasonable price

Our food was at table in less than 10 minutes. My ravioli was a bounteous portion and had been served with a rather salty concoction. The stuffing was thankfully quite generous, even if it added even more salinity to the mix. I made my way through half of the dish and was happy to stop there. The salad was quite simply composed of a ball of buffalo mozzarella atop a pile of rucola that in turn sat in the middle of a plate lined with prosciutto crudo. The latter was quite awful, the rucola served naked, and the buffalo mozzarella made up for the lot.

We paid €25 and walked out, hunger pangs postponed, but not quite thrilled with the experience.

• Another day, another lunch, another location, this time far less fancy. I’d heard of the cheerfully named ‘M’addubbai’ a couple of times, both times from pizza lovers. They both spoke very highly of the pizza and skirted the issue of the restaurant itself. They said it was in Birkirkara, in a spot I don’t associate with fancy pizzerias. Every time I asked about the place, I was told to try the pizza. There was only one way of getting a straight answer.

As is the case when I’m not sure of what I’m walking into, I gave M’Addubbai a quick stab at lunchtime. This is nothing like the majestic palace in the Rabat square I’d been to a couple of days before.

It is more like a converted garage in a place where parking is nigh on impossible and even slowing down to try and park is met with angry hooting. Undeterred, I made a couple of drive-by parking runs until a spot was vacated just outside the place. I walked in feeling confident.

The restaurant, for want of a better word, is a simply furnished and well-lit room that is divided roughly halfway by a tiled counter. Behind the counter is a Spartan preparation area and, at the far end, a pizza oven with an enthusiastic flame visible through its open door.

One man stood at the counter, welcoming me to the place with a shy smile. Makeshift signs around the counter had alerted me to the presence of Sicilian arancini. There is no way I’m choosing between a pizza and an arancina. I ordered both.

I picked the arancina with ragout and when it came to the pizza, I simply told the man to prepare anything he liked as long as it was not the marinara. The marinara on the menu was the one with seafood on it and I can’t abide this abomination.

I put the man in a horrible position. He is evidently proud of everything on the menu and I had put him on the spot. He considered my indecision for a few moments, then asked if I liked aubergines, Grana, and ham. It was like he’d reached into my brain and found just what I felt like, even if I’d have never guessed it.

It would take 10 minutes, he informed me, almost apologetically. He explained that they fry arancini to order. How could he possibly have to apologise about delivering such wonderful news?

I sat there and read most of what the owners of the place felt should be stuck to the walls. Everything screams ‘Sicily’ in here, from the unlikely collection of knick-knacks that form the decoration to the witticisms written in Sicilian, sharing wisdom with all who enter.

True to my man’s word, my food was done in 10 minutes. I paid €8 and dashed out, eager to drive to the sanctity of our office kitchen before anything cooled down too much. I made it in time for the arancina to have lost its fiery frying temperature and cooled down just enough for me to take a big bite. It tastes of Sicilian summer and slow-cooked sauce and lots of love and decades of tradition all rolled into one.

When I’d finished and wiped the tears of joy from my eyes, I turned to the pizza. While it didn’t really say Sicily, it was a masterfully prepared collection of beautifully complementary ingredients that cover all of the savoury bases. The base is excellent and dry, yet not overly crisp. The result is one that is hard to put down and that saw the couple of slices I was prepared to give up shared into tiny slivers as colleagues flew to the kitchen, drawn by the scent.

Tough as it was to park, this awkwardly located spot has shot up to my list of lunchtime spots I’ll visit regularly and night-time takeout speed dials. All it takes to make the list is friendly service, excellent food and a reasonable price. And isn’t that what all restaurants should strive to deliver?

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

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