For goodness’ sake
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For goodness’ sake

Madoka
Triq San Ġorġ
St Julian’s
Tel: 2701 1440

Food: 9/10
Service: 10/10
Ambience: 8/10
Value: 7/10
Overall: 8.5/10

I very rarely tend to eat Asian food out. To me it’s always been more of an “in-front of the TV” sort of affair, but I’m not going to lie. The main reason I avoid dining out is my inability to make up my mind. Crippling indecision plays a major factor when deciding what to order, especially when a menu is quite varied and it all sounds so darned good as is the case with most sushi and Chinese takeouts.

But when ordering in, that problem becomes solved instantly. Because the delivery driver doesn’t know how many people are sat in my living room. They are unaware that within the giant bags containing five sets of chopsticks, only two are really required. You see, I get around my indecisiveness by ordering pretty much anything that tickles my fancy. Asian food is, after all, king of the leftovers (with pizza a very close second).

Now one could argue that you don’t have to necessarily do that in the confines of your home. But shame plays a big role in the matter. Waiters will always awkwardly try to figure out a way to explain to me that I may be going overboard and fellow diners have often let out literal gasps as the fifth plate of food has been brought to our table often accompanied by the awkward song and dance of shuffling glasses and dishes around in an attempt to find a space for it. But the cuisine lends itself to a meze style of tasting and sharing and being able to eat it in a judgement free zone makes it all the sweeter. 

However, when I heard of Madoka, I knew that this is the kind of food you have to experience fresh. Japanese cuisine is traditionally a “serve it when it’s ready” kind of food as opposed to it being brought out in courses. And so dear readers, for your sakes and enjoyment, I fell upon my spoon and booked us a table.

A quick look at Madoka’s facebook page and it is clear that their unique selling point is offering a service and product that is as close to authentic as our island can get. It is almost fitting then that their premises is where the once popular Blue Room Chinese restaurant once was in St Julian’s. I absolutely love stick to your ribs Western Chinese food, but we all know that as far as authenticity goes, our favourite sweet and sour pork is a lie. A delicious, fluorescent, MSG coated lie.  I was looking forward to sitting down to a meal that offered a lot of promise.

Just setting foot through the doors was an experience in itself. I have never received such a warm greeting in my entire life. I felt like I had returned to the island after clinching the Eurovision Song Contest title with a song that moved the nations to resolve World Hunger. Hands were shaken, smiles were in abundance and I don’t think there was a single member of the staff that didn’t greet us without an enthusiastic “Good evening!”.

The restaurant is nice and spacious but sparsely decorated. Warm lighting and neutral colours give off a very homey feel but the thing I noticed immediately and loved the most was the comfortable amount of open space on the floor. There could easily have been 10 or so more covers crammed in but what we got instead was plenty of space for the staff to navigate comfortably as well as enough distance between tables for privacy.

It’s nice to see the right side win out in the Need vs Greed battle.Menus in hand we set about making the agonising decision of what to order and what to forego. Our waitress was kind enough to quickly run us through the more traditional Japanese dishes, not only explaining just what they are but also how it is prepared and why it is important to Japan culturally. Forgive my little rant, but I have to make clear just how excellent the service was that evening.

The dishes were delicious and packed with flavour

I am a firm believer that when dining out, the service provided is as important as the food itself. There are establishments I have stopped dining at for either reason but the waiting staff tend to be on the front line and if there is a “fire” they need to be the ones to put it out. And I know this because I spent the better part of my formative years busting tables. I love the service industry and I especially loved knowing that I could make someone’s evening a perfect one.

The staff at Madoka work with a sense of pride I have seen in few other restaurants. Scratch that, few other businesses in general. It got us very excited for the meal to come. We got our standard bottle of water, placed the order for buckets of food and I even opted for a Lemon Chu-hi to get me started. The food made its way to our table in a timely manner. We started off with some beautifully cut sashimi. It came with a nice piece of Shiso leaf, something I had never had the pleasure of experiencing before. Citrussy and herbaceous, it is a perfect accompaniment to the fresh raw fish.

The gyoza were disappointing. I recognise the store bought brand and considering the authenticity the rest of the meal provided, this was a black spot on the experience. At €7 for a portion of four, I felt a little hard done by (which sadly, becomes a running theme throughout the meal). That was quickly made up for however by the Kakuni; braised pork belly in a rich broth.

The pork was tender, the fat had a marshmallow like quality to it but that broth. Depths of rich umami flavour had us fighting for the scraps. This created a “taste memory” I will have for a very long time and I can assure you that if it ever begins to fade, I will be coming back for more.

The “Zangi” followed, seasoned deep fried chicken thighs, a series of words that can do absolutely no wrong. They were juicy and tender and every bite was a literal burst of flavourful fattiness. I find it cruel when restaurants serve five pieces of food to two diners but the battle was well worth fighting (I lost if it matters). We had a Ginger Pork special and Chicken Curry Rice to follow. The menu allows you to custom order your dishes whichever way you please, but we just opted to stick to the classic recommendations.

The dishes were delicious and packed with flavour. The ginger pork did what it said on the box and delivered sharp, sweet and spicy ginger notes to very tender pork. The chicken curry was the epitome of comfort food. It’s the kind of meal I want to have served to me in a bottomless bowl at home on a cold night.

However, both these dishes again left me feeling like the price tag was hard to justify. At €14 each, I was expecting the leftovers whose virtues I extolled earlier to be in abundance. But the portions were extremely disappointing not only because of the hefty cost, but because I was left wanting more. Far more in fact.

The Okonomiyaki was the last of the main courses to hit our table and what a way to end it was.

A traditional Japanese “pancake style omelette”, it was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. Cabbage, eggs and flour form a dough that is pan-fried with calamari and topped with thin slices of pork belly, then covered in Japanese mayonnaise, sauce and bonito flakes. This is an experience for more adventurous eaters to consider as it completely encapsulates hearty, honest Japanese cuisine at its best.

We finished off with the tiniest slice of lemon cheesecake and a couple of “Japanese dollar pancakes” with a side of anko (red bean curd) accompanied by a pot of green tea and a cheeky shot of sour plum Umeshu on the rocks.

Overall, at a hefty €110 it makes it a treat for only the most special of occasions but I will definitely be placing Madoka on my top ranking restaurants list. If you want to experience a real taste of Japan as well as a look into how service should be provided, look no further than Madoka.

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