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It’s been a decade

Giuseppi’s Bar & Bistro
Salini Resort
Salini
Tel 2157 4882

Food: 9/10
Service: 8/10
Ambience: 8/10
Value: 7/10
Overall: 8/10

While doing some data housekeeping, I found myself going through the folder full of reviews I’ve written. As much as I adore technology, I acknowledge that there are bits of it that are a pain in the neck. Scattered hard drives full of data that doesn’t mean anything anymore are the equivalent of that drawer full of old socks you never get around to tidying up. Only once you throw away the socks can you refill the drawer with lovely, new socks in different colours. What are you going to do with an old hard drive?

I couldn’t help skimming through a couple of reviews while I was at it. It’s slightly annoying to see that a fair number of the restaurants I’ve truly enjoyed aren’t around today. Perhaps even more annoying is the number of terrible restaurants that have endured to torture patrons with awful food, terrifying service, or both.

Then, as I sifted and sorted, I realised that my first ever restaurant column in these pages sprung to life almost exactly 10 years ago. I’m not one for sentimentality or celebration but a decade does tend to make one a little more reflective than usual. I’ve enjoyed meals I might not have ever planned had I not been prodded by a looming deadline. I’ve written more words that I would have, spurred once again by the pressure to turn in my piece before the newspaper is printed.

It’s been one interesting, enlightening, mostly tasty, occasionally disappointing, and always entertaining ride. The meals have been consumed in company, and while the sociopath in me is loath to admit it, humans are occasionally pleasant to have around. The writing is always done solo though, for unlike a piano, this keyboard does not make for pleasant-sounding duets. And time spent alone is rapidly developing into a currency valued for its rarity.

It is also fortuitous that I wrap up the decade with an account of a meal that was an unreservedly pleasant experience. There’s a difference between the quick snack we wolf down half way through our day to make sure we don’t faint until it’s time for dinner, and the meal you plan as a backdrop to a social event.

In this case, the party of four was put together hours before the meal. I was on the line with the man you all ought to blame for my existence. We had something we needed to talk about and I thought that making myself understood over the poor hands-free connection in my ancient vehicle wasn’t the right way to do so. “Let’s meet for dinner later on,” I suggested. A couple of hours later we were parking outside the Salini resort, the one I knew since childhood as the Coastline hotel.

Giuseppi’s is called a bar and bistro. I like my bars to be just bars but I do love the idea of a bistro. To me it means a brave chef, one who is sufficiently acquain­ted with local produce and blessed with the creativity it takes to create meals on the fly, changing menus as often as one sharpens one’s knives. A bistro is a restaurant that never gets boring.

The décor is welcoming and has a nautical theme that’s warm and friendly and tasteful. Painted wood panelling, navy blue upholstery, wicker and wooden furniture, and carefully planned lighting makes for a smartly informal interior. Perhaps even more welcoming is the manner of the man who greeted us.

He is evidently the one who is running the front of house and has that elusive set of characteristics that makes any evening quite magi­cal. He is everywhere at the same time without ever appearing hurried, makes time for all his patrons and graces them with a smile and a nice word. He knows the food well, because what is service unless it is your strongest link with the world the kitchen is busy crafting?

A kitchen that seems pretty determined to maintain high levels of quality

Menus start in the best way possible. Well, they do say ‘menu’ at the top and then go on to proudly display today’s date. This is what a bistro is all about. Today’s meal is all that matters. Tomorrow is another day.

The starters are a tantalising mix of what I imagine to be a couple of permanent items and a whole lot of seasonal ones. And they range from roasted bones filled with bone marrow to a lampuki tartare. Pasta dishes like pappardelle with lamb brain and paccheri with pulled beef cheek ragout show that the kitchen isn’t swayed by the desire to give the masses a safe and boring selection of the usuals. Soft shell crab and lemongrass tempura? If they can execute all this to a degree of competence they have a winner.

The main courses are a little less exciting. I couldn’t help feel that this is where the kitchen is playing safe. Mostly the dishes are regional takes on core ingredients, like the veal rib that’s breaded and topped with poached egg and anchovy or lampuki with onions, raisins and pine nuts, just like it’s done in Rome.

A quick tour of the table revealed that I was the only one dead set on two courses. The others wanted a single course. What I really wanted was a pleasant chat over good food, so one course or three wouldn’t make that much difference.

I picked the risotto with tuna carbonara from the starters section because it had been the most tempting dish and it was available in main course portion. The mothership did as she does best, hacking the system and ordering two starters as a main course. Hanging around with her makes me think that when brains were being handed out I must have heard ‘rain’ and ducked for cover.

Our host explained that some main courses could take up to 40 minutes to prepare so we could expect a wait. We had wine and we had plenty to talk about so we just thanked him for the heads-up and resumed the chat.

It probably took less than 40 minutes for our food but we were enjoying the setting, the wine, and the lovely bread and butter and broad bean dip that were in front of us. When our food was served, it was all served at once and every dish went to the right person without the awkward round of questions about who’d ordered what.

My risotto was served like a proper carbonara, with a confit egg yolk on top, only the guanciale was swapped for cubes of seared tuna. The salt from the pecorino and the sharpness of the aged parmeggiano worked wonderfully with the unctuous yolk that I’d carefully spilled all over the dish. I like the rice to have a little more bite to it but I couldn’t really fault what was a really clever dish.

I sampled the spiced saddle of lamb, cooked sous-vide and grilled. It was mildly spiced, crisp on the outside and retaining a juicy interior. The side of triple-cooked chips only made the combination more addictive.

Then I turned to the Barbary duck breast. Pretty in presentation, the duck is served with a slightly sweet walnut sauce that is marvellous but the meat itself had been cooked far too enthusiastically and was practically done all the way to the centre.

Finally, I tucked into the neonati fritters and the crab and lemongrass tempura that were surprised to be sharing a plate like the bride and groom at a hastily arranged marriage. The orchestrator of this union was looking terribly pleased with herself and I quickly understood why. The neonati, sharing the batter with some zucchini that had retained a lively crunch, were served with a fresh, green salsa and had everything you could wish for in a starter – crisp textures, warm inside with a cold sauce, and a harmony of flavours that allowed the fragile neonati to gently make their mark.

The softshell crab was cooked with the heat of the tempura batter that was also concealing sticks of fresh lemongrass. I can’t think of a better way to add a zesty fragrance to the delicate crab meat. Of course, you wind up discarding the more fibrous parts of the lemongrass but only after they’ve served their noble purpose.

We skipped dessert and paid €140 for the four of us. We’d only had one course each and I imagine that paying twice that would be a more reasonable estimate for the whole Giuseppi’s treatment. It is on the higher side of dining, but then you’re getting a location that’s out of the way of the madness that the rest of the island has become and you’re treated to a kitchen that seems pretty determined to maintain high levels of quality within a constant cycle of reinventing itself.

The service is on point and the ambience is pleasant, too. It’s taken a decade for me to get round to trying it out but what a pleasant way it was to launch the next 10 years of writing about eating.

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