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Fine dining or a 'crude affront' to Valletta's iconic shoreline?

Owners say it's all kosher, but city mayor and Din L-Art Ħelwa are not impressed

An evening shot of the newly-opened restaurant has raised plenty of eyebrows. Photo: Facebook/Keith Seychell

An evening shot of the newly-opened restaurant has raised plenty of eyebrows. Photo: Facebook/Keith Seychell

All eyes are on Valletta as it prepares to assume the European Capital of Culture crown next year.

But judging by the above photo, anyone eyeing the capital city from across the water in Sliema might find themselves squinting. 

Recently-opened restaurant Capo Crudo offers diners fresh fish and seafood with views across Marsamxett harbour, with its bright lights and prominent sign meaning it has little trouble getting noticed. 

The structure stands in stark contrast to the 500-year old bastions it sits beneath, and its brightly-lit presence has alarmed architects, angered heritage activists and upset Valletta's mayor. 

But restaurant owners have insisted that their new venture is in line with all planning regulations.

Restaurant owners have said they have adhered to all planning regulations. Photo: Facebook/Keith SeychellRestaurant owners have said they have adhered to all planning regulations. Photo: Facebook/Keith Seychell

"These things should not happen," one prominent architect who spoke on condition of anonymity said. "This sort of brightly-lit structure completely dominates Valletta's coastal profile."

While the structure would not look out of place on the Sliema coastline, another architect said, "there's nothing white about the Valletta side." 

Din L-Art Ħelwa executive president Maria Grazia Cassar was even more damning, calling the redeveloped restaurant "a crude affront to the elegance of the Valletta bastions" that marred the city's "iconic vista."

A Unesco World Heritage site, Valletta is considered an urban conservation area (UCA) in its entirety. 

Planning regulations for UCAs state that any development within them must be "in harmony with their historical context" and explicitly prohibits developments "which would obstruct a panoramic view from or to a UCA". 

'Everything is in line with planning regulations' 

Restaurant co-owner Marvin Schembri blamed broken bastion lighting for making the restaurant appear brighter than it is and told Times of Malta that the restaurant was not white.

This is a crude affront to the elegance of the Valletta bastions- Din L-Art Ħelwa executive president

"It's been finished with stone paint," Mr Schembri said. "The light is bright because the lights that lead to the bastions are all broken. Everything is in line with planning rules. We want to stick to regulations," he said.  

Mr Schembri did not answer further questions about the restaurant signage, and a series of aerial photos posted to Facebook by his business partner Keith Seychell did little to assuage concerns that the restaurant struggled to blend into the Valletta coastal vista.  

Co-owner Marvin Schembri said broken bastion lights (left) exacerbated the restaurant's brightness and said the structure had been finished using stone paint (right).Co-owner Marvin Schembri said broken bastion lights (left) exacerbated the restaurant's brightness and said the structure had been finished using stone paint (right).

'Someone looking at the city doesn't want to see that' - Valletta mayor

Capo Crudo opened its doors last weekend with a glitzy opening night that included live entertainment and a water jetpack show. 

Built on the site of the old Marsamxett regatta club, the restaurant appears to be thriving, with Facebook posts boasting that it is fully booked and plenty of photos of diners on tables. 

But the eatery is unlikely to count Valletta mayor Alexei Dingli among its patrons, with the mayor telling Times of Malta he felt the structure was not a good fit for the city.

"Views of Valletta have to be preserved from neighbouring towns and should not be affected by modern development," he saidadding that the Planning Authority's piecemeal approach to assessing developments "is ruining the city."

"Someone in the Sliema area doesn't look towards the city to see that restaurant but they want to admire Valletta," Dr Dingli said.  

He acknowledged that the city's bastions lighting was inadequate. 

"It's faulty and the whole system needs to be replaced. I know the government is working on this," he said. 

Valletta 2018 Foundation chairman Jason Micallef was also reluctant to defend the restaurant. 

"Other government authorities are responsible for such developments," he said.

"Personally speaking, but also on behalf of the Valletta 2018 Foundation, I would have thought of a better design in full respect of the area and its surroundings," Mr Micallef said. 

A Planning Authority spokesman said enforcement officials would be dispatched to the site to verify the situation and declined to comment until they had done so. 

11am correction: A previous edition of the article incorrectly stated that Mr Schembri was the owner of Sciacca Grill. He is no longer affiliated and the two establishments are distinct of one another. The error is regretted.

Another aerial photo used to promote the restaurant on Facebook. Photo: Facebook/Keith SeychellAnother aerial photo used to promote the restaurant on Facebook. Photo: Facebook/Keith Seychell

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