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The “worst of” wining and dining in Malta…

“Worst seafood and pasta”: It’s got to be George’s Seafront in Bugibba. Lured by its fantastic view over the bay and the mix of international people inside, and a cheap menu, this place turned out to be a shocker. Can you really go wrong with bruschetta and bolognaise? Apparently, yes. The bruschetta looked like it was made out of the leftovers from the fridge with three pieces of tomato, four pieces of raw onion and some scrapings of what looked like the bottom of a jar of olives. The bolognaise wasn’t much better … the pasta was stuck together like glue and the sauce a gooey mix of meat and tomato that had probably looked better in a previous life. The frozen/tinned shrimps with garlic were worse again – on a bed of plain rice, the only flavor came from the garlic cloves. Still at EUR 4 for a bolognaise and EUR 8 for the shrimps, I guess you can’t expect much!

“Worst Asian experience”: I’ve eaten in Wagamama in Copenhagen(threw up one hour after leaving); in Dublin(my food was served cold and dry) and in Malta. Each experience just gets worse and worse. I decided in Malta to give it another chance and ordered the fried rice with chicken. For EUR 9 I got two meals of my choice as they had a buy one get one free offer. Good value BUT the dish consisted of eight pieces of chicken, some half-cooked onion, some corn and slices of peppers thrown in for a splash of color and not much else. Good for kids who have fun with the chopsticks and like eating something different than McDonalds.

“Most overpriced café”: Café Cuba is trying to be the “Starbucks” of Malta but it’s grossly overpriced by Maltese café standards. I love the décor and concept but it’s just not worth
the money. Expect a coffee and sandwich to set you back around EUR 8 while at most street cafes you can get a decent coffee and pastizz or cake for half the price.

Great view, nice spot, comfy seats ... lousy coffee!

“Worst cup of coffee”:  Without a question, the Radisson Blu Hotel in Golden Bay. A large pot of coffee-flavored water probably made with one teaspoon of Nescafé.

Twenty Two: up in the clouds ... in more ways than one!

“Most expensive cocktail”: Twenty-Two on the top floor of the Portimaso Tower
is trying to be Malta’s “sky bar” concept with a view. Unfortunately, it’s smoky inside, the drinks are overpriced and it feels more like Moscow than Malta. High yes, but I personally think the view at Valletta’s Waterfront is more impressive.

Note: These “worst of” tips are my personal opinions based on several visits to these establishments.

Related article:
The “best of” wining and dining in Malta …

The “best of” wining and dining in Malta …

May 24, 2011 4 comments

Tourists sometimes complain that the food in Malta just isn’t as good as in neighboring Mediterranean countries. Others are thrilled to see Italian favorites like pizza and pasta on almost every menu. Meanwhile, Anglophones, who like their home comforts, are always happy to see an English breakfast and fish and chips popping up here and there.

Tucking into the Seafood Tower at Grill 3301 at the Corinthia San Gorg Hotel. Most Maltese restaurants have a good selection of fish dishes.

Like any other place which has a heaving tourism industry, for every good restaurant there’s a not-so-good one. Stick to the tourist-beaten track and you’re sure to be disappointed. I’m referring to tourist traps like Paceville and Bugibba  … many restaurants here just don’t try hard as they know that their diners will come once and never return, regardless of whether they get good food or service … or not. (Of course, there are a few good restaurants in both places but if you’re not in the know, it’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack to find a Michelin-star-worthy one.)

But what is good about Malta is that there is a restaurant for every budget, age group and taste. The challenge is to find them!

Over the past ten years, I’ve built up a list of my firm favorites to which I always return, found some that have become regular hang-out spots and tried some new ones that, for sure, I will never revisit.

My “best of” list:

Lupanara by evening. Romantic and secluded.

Best romantic spot: Lupanara is a cozy cellar-style restaurant/wine bar built into stone fortress walls on the waterfront in historic Vittoriosa. Intimate and atmospheric, it’s the perfect setting to enjoy a cheese platter and bottle of wine with your other half or close friends and family. It recently got new management so hopefully, nothing too dramatic will change.

Best value for money:  You just can’t beat La Cuccagna in Sliema for good food at a price that won’t break the bank. Unpretentious and “simple” décor and the kind of food you could imagine an Italian mama cooking up at home. Their avocado, ruccola and prosciutto salad, with bruschetta as a starter, come highly recommended.

Best hidden secret: Wedged in between a dodgy-looking Chinese restaurant and a rowdy bar, don’t be put off by the entrance to this restaurant, or by its childlike name. Snoopy’s serves up a great steak and has a cozy wooden seating area upstairs, a nice bar downstairs.

Gululu. A colorful twist on typical Maltese food.

Best to impress foreigners or visitors: Touristic? Maybe. Kitschy? Yes. But Gululu is a great place if you want to eat Maltese food in  lively and pretty Spinola Bay  … it’s the perfect
spot to bring foreign friends or visitors to taste Maltese food. Their selection of dips for starters are delicious.

Best view, regardless of the weather: This can be a thorny issue but, personally, I like Surfside on the Sliema waterfront. The food’s so-so here but they have a great choice of pizzas and pasta, all named after famous footballers. There’s a large sun patio on the roof, a side balcony, and indoors, large glass windows giving you a panoramic view of the waves crashing on the rocks underneath. An all-weather venue.

Best “local” hang-out: Peppi’s is a well-established and classic spot on the waterfront, a stone’s throw from Balluta Bay. From the outside it looks a bit like a kiosk but they have plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The no-frills menu is basic but broad. Their pizzas – especially the Capricciosa – are well worth checking out, or, if you are a bit more conservative, their half-roasted chicken and chips are a safe bet. Friendly service, low prices and, if you’re a football fan, plenty of TV screens.

Best to cure indecisiveness: If you’ve walked up and down the seafront in Marsaxlokk ten times and still can’t decide on a seafood restaurant, why not try La Ruelle. They have all the usual fresh fish of the day, a good choice of seafood platters, classy water bottles and a nice rustic décor inside. Their wraps are also good.

Best café: Without a question, Mint in Sliema is my absolute favorite. The food display is always changing so even if you go there every day, you’ll never get tired of it. Great coffee, mouth-watering cakes and tasty lunches (especially their chorizo hot dog and quiches). There’s free wireless internet, some magazines and papers, and toys for the kids.

Best Sunday lunch spot: If you don’t know Marsascala you probably make a beeline for the waterfront like the tourists, but Tal Familija despite its more rural setting has actually some of the best seafood in town. Especially their seafood platter which they can customize according to your preferences. The perfect place for a leisurely Sunday lunch with friends or family. Outdoor seating, though, is limited.

Rabbit is pretty common on Maltese menus. Eat it as a sauce over spaghetti or whole.

Best “home away from home”: Feeling like you are sitting in your own home, Vino Veritas in Sliema is understated and cozy with a great selection of pasta dishes and friendly service. It’s good value for money and if you want something traditionally Maltese, their rabbit is supposed to be pretty good, according to the locals.

Best “trendy” spot: The flickering flames on the roadside on the Sliema waterfront mark La Rive, a great watering hole for after work drinks and casual dinners. Always attracts a young, professional and lively crowd right through the week.

Best view in Valletta: It’s got to be the tucked-away Café Deux Baronnes underneath the Upper Barrakka Gardens. The outdoor café has a great view over the Grand Harbour, super-friendly staff, a decent menu for lunch or just a coffee break and is much more reasonable than some of the cafes on the city’s larger squares.

A bird’s-eye view of Malta

May 21, 2011 2 comments

Our seatbelts are fastened, the engines rev up, the smell of fuel wafts through the windows and there’s a splash and ripple of waves as the seaplane lifts off from the terminal in historic Valletta.

Harbour Air's seaplane moored in Valletta.

I’m one of 14 passengers and am sitting in the first row of Harbour Air’s DeHavilland DHC-3 Turbine Single Otter plane for a 30-minute aerial tour of Malta. Even though I’ve flown in and out of Malta hundreds of times, this is the first time I’ve really seen the island properly from above. Travel experts always say to really know a country you need to see it from the water, by road and from above. I’ve seen Malta several times already from the sea, on the charming but rickety old yellow buses and now, finally, from the air.

It’s a well known fact that Malta is a densely populated and rocky island, but this is even more obvious from above.

After veering northwards, we enjoy a spectacular view of the historic and breathtaking capital of Valletta with its large harbors and fortified walls. Once we’ve reached our cruising altitude, we’re high enough to avoid turbulence but low enough to get a great view of the crowded buzzing areas of Sliema and St. Julian’s before seeing the choppy waters of St Paul’s Bay, the tourist mecca of Bugibba and the quieter coastal town of Mellieha below us.

Our pilot on the job focusing on safety and pointing out the sights.

I’m not a big fan of small planes or turbulence but the flight is relatively smooth apart from the odd bump when we cross from the land to the water and vice versa. Our pilot, a 30-year-old French Canadian is one of the few qualified seaplane pilots in Europe. He tells us that there are very few seaplane companies in Europe, compared to Canada. He’s competent and friendly and is keen to share information about the plane and sights along the way.

Once we are over the north of Malta, the concrete jungle landscape below us changes to a more rural mix of low stone walls, limestone house of characters and, to our far right, we see the sheer drop of the Dingli Cliffs.

The turquoise-colored waters of the stunning Blue Lagoon.

After a bump it’s out over the aquamarine-colored waters of the Mediterranean before flying a bit lower over the stunning Blue Lagoon and small island of Comino before reaching Malta’s second largest island – Gozo. The contrast between Gozo and Malta never ceases to amaze. Locals often say that Gozo is like stepping back to how Malta was fifty years’ ago with its sleepy villages, old men sitting smoking in roadside bars, fields with sheep and goats and potholed roads. Gozo is also very quaint in its own way with its distinguished villas and beautiful architecture which, luckily, have not been knocked down yet to make way for characterless sky-high apartment blocks like what has happened on Sliema’sTower Road.

We take a sharp left and swoop low over the Azure Window, one of Gozo’s key attractions and one of the most stunning sea arches in the world.

Final glimpses of Valletta before landing back at the sea ferry terminal.

All too soon, the 30 minutes are almost up and it’s time to head back to Valletta. We nosedive down, and land smoothly with a splash, gliding along the water before coming to a standstill at the sea ferry terminal.

If you live in Malta, or are holidaying, you’re sure to spot Harbour Air’s seaplane flying overhead several times a day. Besides offering scenic routes over the island, it also offers daily scheduled flights between the islands of Malta and Gozo. The scheduled flight takes just 20 minutes and is a good alternative if you don’t fancy the ferry crossing between the two islands or if you are strapped for time.

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