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Loving local

Townhouse No.3
Rabat

Food: 9/10
Location: 8/10
Service: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Overall: 9/10

What they are doing here is an absolute joy.

Feast your eyes on the likes of turmeric gnocchi in a squid ink bisque or collar of local pork stuffed with a fruity Maltese sausage. This is a menu that reads beautifully. Concise and enticing, it is a collection of dishes that has been thought out with sensitivity and care. Be warned, it will leave you as indecisive as ever.

The fish pasta is a generous, gregarious mound of plump tortellacci, curvaceous and shapely and crammed with local red snapper and red prawns. They are wonderful.

All too often packed with an indistinguishable mushy pulp, invariably an insipid shade of grey, these giant tortellini cut beautifully, the fish falling away in large, firm flakes. There is only the slightest hint of sweetness from the prawns present. 

Finished off with ripe cherry tomatoes coming apart from their skins, softened leeks and thinly sliced asparagus shavings that lend a clean earthiness, this is a dish of beautiful textures, executed to dazzling effect.

The casarecce pasta with a four-cheese fondue is a triumph, and one of incredibly cheesy proportions. It is a layering of lovely things. Holding everything together is the cheese sauce that coats each individual pasta swirl, clinging to every curve and contour with silky glossiness. The sauce is creamy and headily pungent – there’s definitely a mouldy cheese in there somewhere.

Everything here is a temptation

There is also the addition of the crispiest pork belly lardons that are chunky, fatty and salty, dripping with flavour and juicy meatiness. And in the background is the faint sweet warmth coming from a hint of sundried tomatoes.

The pasta is crowned with a tangle of kale, which fabulously lifts the sauce’s fatty richness, the curls of kale crisps bringing crunchy texture to the dish. Oh, the slinkiness, the slipperiness of it all. There are few things more moreish than this. It is cheese heaven and it is lip-smackingly good. We fight for that all-important last, perfect forkful.

Gorgeously plated, the chicken ballotine, the fancy word for boned, stuffed chicken, is a dish bursting with flavour. We are presented with three filled rounds of local chicken, each wrapped in gossamer-thin strips of salty speck.

These rolls of chicken, unctuous and insanely tender, are texturally sublime. There is a fricassee of oyster mushrooms that is quite sumptuous. A full-flavoured, creamy Chardonnay sauce wraps itself around the chicken, complementing the meat beautifully. It is a brilliant dish.

The spiced chump of lamb, redolent of the Saharan heat, has been rubbed with heavily fragrant ras el hanut, the North African spice blend used extensively throughout the Maghreb. This often overlooked cut of lamb had a satisfying bite; the boneless, thickly-cut slices served a glowing pink.

Lamb chump is not as tender nor as lean as the fillets but is nonetheless juicy and satisfying. The accompanying mound of fluffed couscous is aromatic, studded with sweet sultanas. A fresh, slightly acidic sauce vierge nicely garnishes the dish.

Any critique? The lamb has been arranged on a bed of smoky baba ganoush that is far too salty and not creamy enough in consistency. But apart from this last point, the dish is deep and satisfying, mildly spicy and beautifully seasoned. I love every element here.

There are żeppoli and a chocolate fondant to finish. Żeppoli, a variation of the Italian zeppole, are those soft beignet balls made of deep-fried, slightly sweetened choux pastry.  I adore them. 

Traditionally reserved solely for the month of March where they mark the feast of St Joseph, żeppoli are big in Rabat. They are still on the menu the evening I am there, on a night in April. For this we are most grateful.

The żeppoli here are crisp and fluffy having been  fried in plenty of hot oil until puffed and golden. They arrive sitting squarely in a touch of custardy crème anglaise, all bounce and pertness, full of promise. These pillowy darlings are divine, bursting at the seams with a delectably creamy sweetened ricotta filling that is studded with drops of dark chocolate. They disappear within minutes.

The dark chocolate fondant is intense and indulgent, smug in the knowledge of its classic sophistication. Anyone who loves this dessert ought to try this. A gloriously spongy chocolate cake exterior holds its slightly crusty structure until the lightest contact with a spoon cracks it open.

The entire thing collapses inward into molten loveliness.  The dark, melted centre is unleashed; oozy, sweet and rich. This molten loveliness  spreads out to smother everything on the plate –  a strawberry and vanilla compote and some beautiful ice cream made from local milk. This chocolate fondant has depth, it has meaning. Mouthful after mouthful, it is judiciously spooned away. 

Located in an alley in the very heart of Rabat, the decor of this converted townhouse is not entirely to my taste. This is a purely subjective observance of course. And, perhaps, some further refinement in the service is necessary – not because it is so terribly bad, but in order for it to match the quality and the excellence achieved in the cooking.

At the end we are offered a freebie glasses of liqueur. We gladly oblige.

The kitchen had not failed to impress.  I feel a profound love for the food here. It is genuinely good food that is proudly local, and fiercely so. Deep consideration has been given as to the provenance of each and every ingredient.

Here are dishes that are made, for the most part, from locally produced or locally grown ingredients. This distinguishing factor certainly adds interest to the menu and will always result in a unique and authentic dining experience.

The resulting menu is naturally a very seasonal one, constantly changing and evolving, reflecting its environment and the Maltese raw materials available. With locally-sourced food there is the promise, the assurance one hopes, of freshness and quality. There is good produce to be had in Malta and, left in this kitchen’s capable hands, the quality of each well-chosen ingredient shines through.

Everything here is a temptation.

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