A Saga Tale A

My latest trip abroad has taken me to a few places I have never been to before and one that I haven’t visited for some 25 years. Flying to Malta on a very early flight meant that I had to be up at the ridiculous hour of 3 am. When I was here all those years ago, it was the middle of winter, and to be perfectly frank with you, I can’t really remember much at all. The bits I can remember are it raining, very average food and seeing a half-built film set on Gozo, Malta’s closest island. I do, however, remember eating bresaola that was very good.

This time I arrived on a very pleasant 25C, bright, sunny day, and a very welcome change from the drizzly, dank day I left behind in the UK. By the time I had got my bags and checked onto the ship, it was lunchtime, and I was getting rather hungry. I did manage to do a little bit of research on Maltese food before I left home. I also knew that I had to not only find an authentic restaurant that cooked decent Maltese food but one fairly close to the harbour as we were sailing late afternoon. Pretty much the things to eat were seafood in various guises including a local octopus, pasta and my preferred option, local rabbits. Here it’s a staple and eaten in huge amounts and cooked in various ways. I was looking forward to lunch.

On the way out of the port, I chatted with the security guards at the main gate. I asked them which restaurant should I go to for the best rabbit, they were split over the best some to go to. In the end, they agreed that La Pira in one of the main streets in the old town. They even got a local street map out and marked it out for me.

The main town of Valletta is situated on a rocky outcrop pretty close to the main port, so it’s nice and close, as long as you don’t mind a few steps. You can get the lift, but I needed the exercise! The views from the top are pretty good and well worth the walk.

Exactly as they described, I found the restaurant, a very simple one with a few tables outside and a few tables inside. It was a warm day, so I decided to eat in the main street. The menu is simple and straight to the point, and the restaurant is pretty busy and full of locals, always a good sign in my book.

I opt for Caprese salad and braised rabbit with a nice glass of local white wine (I can’t remember which). The salad looked good but is woefully tasteless, but the rabbit, on the other hand, is very good indeed. The meat is juicy and perfectly cooked, the sauce has a deep flavour, braised with marrowfat peas and carrots. Very simple but straight to the point, just how I like my food.

I didn’t have dessert; I just sat and finished my wine people watching. The staff and owner were busy making sure everybody was happy, always a good thing to see. So I recommend it, if just for the rabbit alone: next stop, Venice.

I have eaten many times in Venice and never really had a duff meal. Yes, you pay through the nose, but that’s just the way it is. I would be here for only a couple of days on this trip, so I thought I’d try a new restaurant, a little more about that later. But first lunch at one of my favourites restaurants Madonna, just a couple of alleyways down from the Rialto Bridge. I found this some 18 odd years ago and purely by chance. We stayed at a hotel right next to the Rialto Bridge, and the owners told us it was the best restaurant close by.

The menu never changes, just good quality ingredients cooked carefully and with thought. I always have the same when I come here, fried eel and scampi with a small salad and a few potatoes.

Like always fresh as a daisy and delicious. We then had a quick coffee in the square on the way back to the ship.

I did a little research on the next location before I left the UK, they seem to have fairly good write-ups, plus they are off the beaten track, more up towards the top end of the island. Riviera – Omnivorous Restaurant is a small, smart place that looks straight out into the lagoon.

I’m not quite sure why they use the omnivorous bit. Perhaps it’s trying to scare off vegetarians and vegans from even inquiring about a table. The website says, ‘ Contemporary take on classic Venetian dishes served in a relaxed restaurant with waterfront terrace’. Fair enough sounds okay.

We eventually find the restaurant, and it really is off the beaten track, thank goodness for Google street maps.

The place is very smart, and I feel rather scruffy as I walk in, but the restaurant has a nice feel to it. The menu is a little bit pretentious for my liking, and I’m not sure Tiramisu is Venetian. However, I order fresh Burrata with fresh white truffle followed by Escaping Cuttlefish. The slightly warmed cheese comes in a deep bowl, and the waiter grates over the fresh, pungent truffle. It’s delicious if a little under-seasoned. The breads are lovely. The main course is okay 2 small cuttlefish filled with white polenta and black ink sauce. As you can see by the photo, they are ‘escaping’ from what I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it’s a vegan diner. Who knows? Lukewarm, nice but again under seasoned.

My friend has beef tartare and prawn ravioli. The beef is difficult to eat, by that, I mean it’s not chopped finely enough and devoid of any seasoning. The pasta looks and is very good, fine as rice paper but the filling again lacking seasoning.

Deserts were equally confusing. My tiramisu came with a hand-drawn map (I still have no idea why), and a raspberry foam (grrrrrrrrrrr) with ice cream was okay. Not what I was expecting, my friend described my dessert as ‘scrambled egg and gravy’ perhaps a little disingenuous, but I can sort of see her point.

Would I come here again? Probably not, nothing to do with the restaurant or food, just not really my bag, but I’m glad I did get away from the crowds, anyway next stop Dubrovnik.

Never been here before, and as we arrive, we have an almighty thunderstorm of biblical proportions. It was so bad I didn’t get off the bus. I just went straight back to the ship and checked the weather forecast.

Thankfully it stopped an hour later, so I set off again in search of a restaurant called Kopun in the old town. My parents came on holiday here years ago before the war and said it was beautiful. They were not wrong. It’s charming and very clean. I wander around for a bit, trying to find the place. After asking a couple of people, I eventually find it. Basically, you walk down the main street then take a right up 6 or 7 flights of stairs, and it’s in a small courtyard by the church of St Ignatius. I had read a few good reviews and decided that I wanted authentic Croatian cuisine; I wasn’t disappointed.

I was early and the first one to dine outside. The menu is small and straight to the point. Incidentally, the restaurant takes its name from the famous bird it serves Capon, Kopun in Croatian.

I had 6 oysters from the town of Ston, just with lemon and black pepper. Ston is less than an hour away and is very famous for its bivalves. They were very nice and similar in size, shape and flavour to a Fowey oyster here in the UK. I soon polished them off pretty sharpish. Even the waiter was surprised and asked me if I wanted another 6!!

Fo the main course, I had the Dubrovnik capon, stewed with wild orange, honey, white wine and gnocchi. This is probably one of the best things I’ve eaten recently, and it was truly spectacular. Chunks of the old boy perfectly cooked and packed full of flavour. The sauce is lightly flavoured with wild bitter orange, honey, soft spices and fruits such as figs. Then interspersed with lovely light gnocchi, wow.

Dessert I had to have Rozata, the local desert a sort of bog-standard crème caramel, with a few local almonds. I thought it was good value with a glass of local rose and a couple of coffees, all for about £50. If you come to Dubrovnik, you simply have to come here.

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