Belly-filling and self-indulgent

Belly-filling and self-indulgent

Stanjata Cafe
Valley Road, Birkirkara

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

I am the happiest of eaters here.

I am sitting down to lunch at Stanjata; it is one in a long series of lunches. First impressions are crucial and they nailed it from  my very first mouthful some years ago. I am slowly, but steadi­ly rest assured, working my way through their wonderfully moreish menu.

Stanjata sits in Valley Road pressed between garish showrooms. Its presence here is cause for celebration. Do not allow yourselves to be fooled by the location or the bijou-like compactness of the place; there is restaurant quality food to be had here and it’s seriously good.

The buoyant, eager staff are welcoming, efficiently darting about like honey bees as they enter and exit the gleaming open kitchen that is narrowly packed along one wall. 

At Stanjata you can rise and shine with the broadest of smiles in the company of an excellent cup of coffee, a nutritious fruit and vegetable smoothie, freshly-baked bread and eggs; cooked any which way you fancy. There are poached eggs, fried eggs, omelettes and a generously-stuffed breakfast bun that I dream about – a warm brioche bun heaving with a perfectly fried egg, sautéed mushrooms, crisp planks of bacon, avocado and cheese. The warm yolk bursts, the cheese melts and it’s messy breakfast heaven.

Moving over to lunchtime, I absolutely adore Stanjata’s bur­gers. They are shockingly good – colossal, towering masses of burger that instantly make everything feel better. A lightly-toasted, glazed brioche bun holds everything nicely together  without ever falling apart in your hands or going soggy.

The Stanjata cheese burger is packed with an intense, full-flavoured meat patty; moist and seasoned; topped with slices of fried mushroom, ribbons of glazed onion and two kinds of great cheese; Edam and Red Leicester; that all melt away into savoury loveliness.

It is the ultimate juicy cheeseburger and is, without doubt, a burger to die for.

Equally desirable and oh-so-tasty is the bacon burger – a bulky delight of beef and perfectly crisped bacon, dripping with the sweetness of softened onion and a BBQ sauce that brims with depth and smokiness. This is a BBQ sauce that has not been plopped out of a store-bought bottle. The burgers come with bowls of rustling, thinly cut chips that are crisp and wonderful.

But it isn’t just burgers. The salads are bowls of crunchy freshness bursting with goodness and flavour. I particularly love the avocado salad; it is a mound of loveliness served with slices of wholemeal toast.

The saltiness of the bacon strips and the deep sweetness of the caramelised soft onion is the perfect foil for the rich blandness of the avocado and hard-boiled egg. Utterly delicious, this crisp salad is dressed with a good dollop of Greek yoghurt and finely grated lemon zest.

It is, by no means, a complicated plate of food but it is enormously satisfying. The chicken breast salad is also lovely, comprising grilled, free range chicken served on a bed of crunchy apple and carrot, and garnished with parmesan shavings.

In addition, there are pasta dishes to contend with.

Nurturing food set to feed your belly and your soul

The panzerotti with porcini mushrooms is extraordinarily good and a celebration of the hearty richness of this most prized mushroom.

The pasta parcels practically burst at the seams with the pungent earthy nuttiness of the porcini, each coated in an elegant white wine sauce of shallots and an astonishingly aromatic truffle paste. It is quite excellent.

Robustly flavoured, the pulled pork pasta dish is rich and calorific, divinely so. It is full of the meaty savouriness of pig that has been slow-cooked for several hours in a wood burning oven, combined spectacularly with a sauce of cream, baby spinach and meaty mushrooms.

This same flavourful slow-cooked meat with its melt-in-the-mouth quality to it, is packed into the pulled pork baguette; its juices soaking into the butter-basted bread.

The meat is beautifully-complemented by an apple sauce, caramelised onion and plenty of cheese. Delicious. Stanjata’s lip-smacking club sandwich is stacked high with nicely grilled chicken breast, bacon, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes and plenty of mayonnaise; while the hummus baguette is spread thickly with a wonderfully creamy, silky-smooth hummus that is spiced with potent garam masala for added kick.

To finish off there are the likes of chocolate fondant, carrot and baci cake, cheesecake and classic panacotta. With regard to the latter, Stanjata’s offering is no dream of cream.

The flavours are there, but it is all-too-often heavily gelatinised and, thus far too stiff. There is absolutely no jiggle to the panacotta, no quiver as you dig into this chilled dessert with your spoon.

The kitchen has, however, mastered anything that involves chocolate. The baci cake and the chocolate and raspberry fondant are nicely done, made with a devilishly intense dark chocolate.

The baci cake is mouth-wateringly good, deeply moist and packed with the buttery-sweet crackle and crunch of hazelnuts. The fondant is a molten lava cake of sumptuousness.

Chocolate soufflés and muffins, dry, tough and rubbery, have all been paraded before me, ostentatiously purporting to be chocolate fondant. I’ve seen it all. And so it came as a great relief to find that Stanjata’s fondant is ruinously good. The cake caves in and the oozing centre melts away luxuriously; making it even better is the tangy sweetness of velvety raspberries.

Stanjata feeds the monstrous appetite. Stanjata food is not food that pushes at boundaries; there is a delightful familiarity to it all. It is nurturing food set to feed your belly and your soul. It is all manner of comfort foods.

The kitchen does not care to over-fancify its fare, in fact, none of the dishes here are even remotely pretentious. This is good, honest, (and, for the most part, healthy) sustaining food cooked with care and served at reasonable prices.

With an emphasis on fresh and seasonal quality ingredients and a readiness to provide generous portions, it is all gloriously good, repeatedly, time and time again, from the brilliant burgers to the salacious salads.

Long may it continue to reign over Valley Road.

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