The Bite of Barracuda
Published: September 2006
In the first of a new column, Gareth Davis visits a Maltese classic and finds a restaurant where ambience and cooking combine to create a Restaurant of the Month…
The Barracuda has been going since 1978 though the building it inhabits dates back to the early 18th century. It’s a beautifully situated seafront property just north of Valletta, overlooking Balluta and Spinola Bays. The interior renovation is a la mode Maltese. Rooms are high ceilinged with arches and aged architraves, slightly distressed creamy cushioning spaces where glass and candles twinkle over white linens. You can sit inside or on one of the balconies overlooking the sea – as has the likes of Sharon Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, and Brad Pitt. Barracuda basically is as good as Malta gets.
The place as the name suggests is a fete to fish. Whatever’s swimming that day in the waters below your feet will end up on your plate. It was the end of August and the local lampuki were in season, a soft, tasty white fish the locals were downing in droves. Alongside, the menu was swimming with the likes of tuna, red mullet, sword and scorpion fish. There were also lobsters from €37.95 each. And for once, landlubbers weren’t ignored. In fact, the menu has a sizable representation of meat dishes; beef, lamb, chicken, duck and the Maltese rabbit. The latter are farmed on the islands and are a staple; one cooked in red wine came in at €15.65. There’s also a classic Maltese goat’s cheese as a starter served with sun dried tomatoes and Bigilla (a fava bean puree) at €6.80. Overall however, the style would be described as modern Mediterranean.
Not being a pescatarian myself, I shunned the more orthodox and opted for a starter with an eastern flair, a smoked duck salad with lemon grass, dressed with fresh ginger and coriander dressing at €7.50 and for the main, went local and ordered bunny.
The service here is impeccably attentive though as I sat with my book gazing out at the flickering lights of the harbour, the piped music got on my wick. Why is it so many restaurants, even the better sort, insist on creating an ambience with tired old tunes? I’d arrived at 8pm and for the first hour was alone on my balcony. People here don’t eat until between 9 and 10pm. But there was a certain magic as the skies flared every now and again with fireworks from the festa taking place in neighbouring St Julian’s Bay. The explosions were a bit unnerving. Water off a duck’s back I suppose to anyone who’d lived through the war in Malta.
I kicked off with the amuse bouche, a tiny teacup of Mediterranean vegetable soup dressed with basil oil that was wonderfully warm and comforting. My salad arrived, much larger than I anticipated; a mound of lettuces my main course would’ve made short shrift of in life, and beautifully dressed. The rabbit itself was a sweet, rich thing. This was rustic cooking at its best, no fiddle and fuss, a great Maltese staple.
The only downer was the dessert. The honey crème brulee had definitely given up the ghost as well as its crisp, firm crust. The whole thing was an introverted affair, a damp, soggy depressant. But the local wine which I was tippling at a rare old rate, a Masovin Merlot 2005, got me through; a hefty darkly brambled piece of work like the juice oozing from a tart.
In all honesty this was no meal to note in one’s memoirs; I left as I came, satisfied but unchanged. But there’s no denying that Barracuda has a bite and a lot of life in it. Enough certainly to merit the title Restaurant of the Month.
The Bite of Barracuda
Gareth has been with TRAVEL CHANNEL since its launch in 1994. He has produced and presented on TRAVEL LIVE and THE TRAVEL BUG, produced ESSENTIAL... and reports on TRAVEL TODAY. He is a regular contributor to the website. In 2010 he produced the hit series THE HOLIDAY SHOW which he also co-presented with Ginny Buckley. Gareth’s passions are history, culture, food & drink.
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