Is there anything worse than being sick on holiday? Quality exploring time is wasted and you’re more miserable than usual without any of your usual creature comforts on hand. It’s frustrating for all involved; I know my travel companion has a particularly tough time because yours truly is a particularly terrible patient. I’m one of those stubborn people who avoid the drugs and have faith that their body will defeat it all on its own, eventually. That was quite the revelation wasn’t it because I’m normally so mellow and obliging…
Anyway, this little travel nightmare happened to me on a recent trip to Malta. There were a group of us, we hired a lovely apartment, though it wasn’t outrageously hot, the sun was shining and it was still many degrees warmer than London so we were very happy. Which in turn leads me to be a little lax with applying sunscreen and opting to stay hydrated with wine instead of water. My normally water-guzzling body did not like this one bit and by the evening it was starting to enact its revenge.
I’ve often heard people say bad luck comes in threes… I’m not superstitious but I was starting to believe it at this point. The first strike was a sudden wave of sickness coming out of nowhere, the second was the fact I was actually too ill to go out for dinner that night, an incredibly rare turn of events. Then the third, final strike was not feeling well enough to cope with a bus ride followed by a ferry ride then another bus ride to explore the tiny neighbouring island of Gozo. I felt as though I had completely struck out but… not one to wallow in my holiday misfortune, a certain someone and I took a leisurely stroll from our base in St Julian’s all the way round to Valletta; the sun was out, there was a light breeze and the sea air seemed to do me good.
By the afternoon I was getting rather peckish which to me means things were looking up… I’d noted down a couple of lunch options, casual bistro type things with rustic local dishes and cheap wine but what I didn’t consider was that these places might not be open on a Sunday. They weren’t.
We almost resorted to the greasy lure of the Badass Burger but then spotted Michael’s, a well-known restaurant in the beautiful old Civil Service Sports Club building. I had tried to make a dinner reservation for our whole group, never heard back so assumed no table was available… As it happens there was but things got a little lost in translation. It was nearing the end of service but they must have recognised that distinctive look of hunger and desperation in my eyes and found us a table anyway; this was just the cure I needed.
Around us, large tables of families gathered for their long Sunday lunches, their chatter and laughter gave the restaurant a wonderfully comforting atmosphere. We settled on a local Sauvignon Blanc to accompany our lunch, not as crisp as a New Zealand variety but still very drinkable. The warm bread rolls were welcomed, as were the hot little croquettes.
We started with the seared duck breast with onion puree, foie gras bon bon and orange gel and the cured salmon sardines with tomato foam and salmon roe. The duck was seared perfectly; fat rendered, skin crispy, but was completely outshone by the bonbons. These little balls of foie gras covered in chocolate shouldn’t have been enjoyable but somehow they worked. I don’t think I’d ever pop a handful into my mouth anytime soon but in small doses they are quite sinful. My salmon was lighter and sharper in flavour, but no less luxurious. Each element had its own distinct flavour but it really tasted best when your forkful had a bit of everything – salty, sharp, creamy combined.
Both mains were meaty affairs with me sinking my teeth into a gloriously tender dish of braised pork cheeks with cider, plums, butter beans and jus while a certain someone had the pleasure of eating the saddle of rabbit with pork jowl, mushroom ham duxelle and carrot puree. Served with sides of crispy roast potatoes and steamed vegetables, I can see why all the tables around us are happy. This is sophisticated comfort food at its best with generous servings and bold flavours.
Looking at the time, it was close to 5pm and we were due to meet up with the others for dinner at 7pm so we decided to be good and share a dessert. We were being a little indecisive when Chef Michael came over for a chat, he was so pleasant and welcoming, I have no doubt that he knew half of the patrons in there personally. In the end he recommended some sort of nutty tart with hints of chocolate and orange; far denser and richer than we imagined, it was a satisfying end to the meal.
We paid the bill, a ridiculously reasonable sum may I add, and stepped back out into the Valletta sunshine to walk off some of lunch to make room for dinner. Feeling fully fed and watered, the spring in my step was back, so my advice to bounce back from a bout of the travel bug? Never, ever underestimate the power of a good restorative meal!
So Make a Move
- Ryanair has direct flights from London Gatwick from an average of £100/pp return, once you touch down there are plenty of taxis to take you to your accommodation.
- Take the time to stroll through the streets of Valletta, taking in sights such as the St John’s Co-Cathedral and the Upper Barrakka Gardens.
- Jump on the bus and head to the ancient walled city of Mdina where you must stop for a cake break at the Fontanella Tea Gardens.
- Travel a little further to the small fishing town of Marsaxlokk and marvel at the colourful boats while eating your seafood lunch al fresco.
- Michael’s, 113, Archbishop Street Valletta, reservations recommended.
- If you’re after a bit of upmarket seafood with a view, stop into Barracuda, 194 Main Street, St. Julians.
- If you’re after an oasis from the hustle and bustle of Valletta, stop into Rampila, St. Johns Cavalier, Valletta, where you will be treated to fine food and an excellent selection of wine.