Which way to steer

Which way to steer

Patrick’s Tmun
Europa Street
Tel: 2156 6667

Food: 7/10
Service: 6/10
Ambience: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Overall: 7/10

For there to be an elephant in the room, it has to be one very large room. Every time I’ve heard someone say they need to address the elephant in the room, it has been a titchy boardroom with hardly enough space for a pony. Had there been a pony, however, we’d have had to address it. What’s a pony doing in a boardroom?

The pony I’m referring to is the fact that, as you’ve seen from the title, this week’s column is about the much-fabled Patrick’s Tmun in Rabat, Gozo. Yes, there is another Tmun in Mġarr, Gozo. This isn’t it.

So much has been said, so many awards have been bestowed, such is the legendary status of the restaurant that almost anything written about it could be considered moot. Inevitably, once a reputation has been striven for and won, very little can be done to dislodge it.

But a restaurant’s story and its delivery are intertwined and this serves the discerning diner in good stead. I qualify the diner because the person who knows little about what they’re eating is at a position of great advantage. The story will do. The food is but a trifling cameo that’s very easily ignored

There’s this one time I recall when we were sat at a restaurant that was, by its own claim, one of the only fine dining experiences in Malta. After waiting for an hour for our main courses, the waiter delivered our food to an adjacent table. The couple next to us dug in and ate a third of our main course before the same waiter returned with their actual dishes. He swapped the duck for a steak and the pork belly for a fish fillet. Our neighbours had both been eating the wrong animal and they hadn’t noticed. They are blessed. They will walk away as happy as ever, no matter what food was on their plates.

This is not the diner that Patrick’s Tmun is hoping to attract. There is more going on and the restaurant is aimed squarely at those who appreciate good food. The biggest clue about the way this restaurant is positioned is its wine list.

Much can be said about this list. It is encyclopaedic in scope, spanning the globe and heavily focused on the Old World as, in my arrogant opinion, every self-respecting list ought to be. If they carry every wine on the menu, and one always presumes they do, then the wine stock is a veritable treasure chest. There are plenty of wines that are listed in the high three-figures and also those with four figured prices. This is a selection that every person who loves wine ought to peruse at least once.

It is the kind of list that one could easily save up for, aiming to enter the restaurant once in a while and picking any wine you like because you’ve carefully ferreted away a couple of thousand Euro for the occasion. And you would be wise to do so. Life is short, we’re all going to die, there is no universal plan, and wine is a shameless indulgence.

The last time I visited, I was in the company of a handful of gourmands. Ordering an aperitif at the bar was comedic in the way Fawlty Towers was. We smiled at the arrogance of the lady who snapped at us and attempted to educate us on matters where she was clearly out of her depth. In the end, we managed to obtain the drinks we wanted though so all was well.

A tiny jolt of imagination could take the safety away from this place and turn it into one of the most interesting places one could possibly eat at

When we were shown to our table, a young man told us that there were specialities of the day and that these were on our menus. Thus enlightened, we sought inspiration, looking at the food first before attempting the wholly more daunting wine list. I gave this task to the man to my right because he is significantly better versed and because it would take me two weeks to reach a verdict.

The service is at odds with the wine list. When faced with such a choice, I’d expect a sommelier at hand to help navigate those wonderful waters. Then again so are the food menus at odds with the wine list. They play safe with dishes in the core French tradition and by the time we get to the main courses there’s chicken breast and salmon there, two dishes that tell me the kitchen is trying to please the most conservative of diners.

My mind contorts when trying to reconcile that magnificent wine list with chicken breast. I specifically avoid being hospitalised for fear of being fed something as dreadfully mundane as chicken breast.

The focus, however, is on the steaks and there is a wonderful selection here so we were in business. So long as one shies away from add-ons like ‘gorgonzola cream sauce’, one is spoilt for choice of beef.

After we’d placed our orders, we were presented with hummus, butter and fresh bread. The bread was happier with the beautiful olive oil that we had at table. Soon after, an amuse bouche turned up and this was an Illy-branded espresso cup with a shot of leek and potato soup in it. It is a simple enough way to get our palate ready for what lay ahead. 

I’d picked the veal carpaccio because I liked the idea of Parmesan and black truffe shavings. The photo on the menu really looked the part but the dish in front of me was but a shadow. Instead of shavings, the truffle was grated very sparingly and the ‘carpaccio’ had been cooked through. I picked at a couple of rings and left the rest.

Happily, my partners in crime were still eating so I turned to their food. The foie gras was quite lovely, seared simply and served on top of a slice of brioche that had a wonderful texture but too much of the rosemary it was infused with. I didn’t taste the cheese scones. They’re prepared with a chive crème fraiche and smoked salmon and the concoction isn’t something that tickles my fancy. The ladies, both of whom had ordered this, seemed quite pleased with their pick so I’m guessing it does the trick.

Our main course was by far the star of the show. Two of us had shared a Tomahawk and this was carved at our table by a man who knew exactly what he was doing. Carving a Tomahawk was a dangerous game at this table because there were two pairs of eyes ogling the choicest parts of the large hunk of meat. The man who was doing the carving did an impeccable job of sharing the different regions of the cut among both plates.

The meat is great. It had been butchered well and cared for, bought by someone who cares deeply about the condition of the meat before it makes it to the kitchen. It is beautifully marbled and dry aged to perfection. I take personal issue at taking a steak of this level and marinating it in this slightly sweetened concoction. I’d rather have a choice. Then again, the marinade is the chef’s signature and is what people return to a steakhouse for when all meats are equal.

Also, the marinade is subtle when the steak you’re eating is almost two inches high. As steaks go, this is up there with the glittering best. In the name of research, I also tasted the Barbary duck and the New Zealand Kobe-style rib-eye.

The duck was fine, cooked to medium as requested, and served to the rather complicated chorus of sweet corn and raspberry and berries and a wine reduction. They all sang their hearts out but I think I’d have preferred a simpler duet.

The Kobe-style steak is possibly an even finer cut of meat than I’d been enjoying. It is a slimmer steak, though, so the marinade is more pronounced but it remains thoroughly enjoyable. The meat is beautifully marbled so I’m guessing they’re growing one of the Wagyu breeds in New Zealand under Kobe conditions. Neat.

We drank an inexpensive wine and ordered just one dessert and our bill was of around €40 per person. By the standards we’ve got used to, this is a very fair price for the food we’d been presented with. I’m not stoked on the starters but the steak is really worth returning for and the wine list could be a journey to explore over a few years. Which is a pity in a way. A tiny jolt of imagination could take the safety away from this place and turn it into one of the most interesting places one could possibly eat at. As it is, it can win awards for consistency. I’ll watch and see which way Patrick steers it.

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