Temple Restaurant Review : Ristorante La Vela (Temple Magazine Issue 2)
Pieta is the small town just before Valletta that boasts beautiful views across the lagoon and the Pieta Marina. Set well back from the road and backing on to the marina is a square white building - that sparkles blue white at night - and would fit beautifully into Puerto Banús or Monaco. This is Ristorante La Vela. Officially recognised by Ospitalita Italiana and winner of the Definite(ly) Good Guide 2016, Ristorante La Vela is in the vanguard of the Maltese restaurant renaissance currently sweeping the island.
From its opening in 2008, Ristorante La Vela has been under the same ownership and management and has consistently proved itself as an innovative, stylish and quality restaurant serving exquisite food and wine. Michelle Muscat, the charming and highly professional patronne who would not be out of place in any of the famous European 5* restaurants, is very welcoming as we arrive at her beautiful white wood and glass restaurant.
Other clients arriving with us are greeted by name and ushered to ‘their’ tables both inside and on the terraced deck outside. Clearly Ristorante La Vela is home to many regulars: from the cheerful yacht agents getting stuck into their Barolo at one side of us, to the ‘beautiful people’ at the table behind who looked like they had stepped out of a fashion shoot, the restaurant was already humming at 12.30 on a stormy and overcast Thursday lunchtime.
We knew instantly that this was going to be one of those restaurants that you never tire of. Crisp linen, sparkling glasses and gleaming cutlery, attentive staff who are there when you need them but never hovering, our expectations were building.
We decided that we would pursue a fish based menu and Michelle recommended a crisp Felanghina organic white wine from the Polvanera winery. Made 100% from the felanghina grape, it is a welcome change from the ubiquitous sauvignon blancs whilst still having an intense bouquet, delicate fruit and long finish and was just delicious. Organic wine is not commonly available in Malta and Ristorante La Vela has the import rights to this. The wine list otherwise is varied and all encompassing. From €500 Château Angelus 2013 to a Villa Antinori at under €15.00 there is no shortage of choice.
The food menu itself is not extensive but it is comprehensive. Starters, mains and pasta cover vegetarian, pescatarian and carnivore. The names of the dishes are in Italian and the description and ingredients in English.
We started with Tartar di Salmone con cubetti di Avocado e Aceto Balsamico de Modena A salmon tartar with avocado cubes and Modena IPG Balsamic drizzle. The first thing you notice about this dish is how beautiful the colours are. Served with a spectacularly fresh, whole red langoustine, glistening bronze roe, a swoosh of dark pink, sweet beetroot purée and droplets of golden hued house made tartare and finally a delicate green gherkin to add salt and pizzazz and not just colour. The salmon and avocado are mixed and shaped into a mound; the salmon was fresh and mouth melting and the avocado had a beautiful firm texture. Portions are the usual Maltese generous size. A side order of excellently fresh Maltese bread and sundried tomato infused butter made this a memorable opening statement. We were impressed.
For our pasta course, we were served Ravioli di Gambero e Astice Servito con Bisque di Crostacei Prawn and lobster ravioli with Red Prawns Bisque We noticed this was a very popular choice for many of our fellow diners and rightly so. Silky al dente house made pasta was stuffed with the freshest lobster and prawn meat. Delicately minced to create texture and ensure that no flavour was lost, the addition of a little lemon, chives, parsley and egg white to bind it together was stunning. The ravioli was presented on exactly the right amount of bisque, which was a smooth concoction of ultimate luxury. Delicate but definite in its prawn flavouring and with hints of brandy and cream, it was a perfect accompaniment to the pasta. Unusually, but working beautifully, was the addition of a ‘smear’ of pesto to create an additional layer of complexity and saltiness. The finishing touch was two perfectly cooked and presented giant red prawns as garnish. The word ‘succulent’ was invented for these prawns. The whitest, sweetest meat gave the finishing touch to this simple but luxurious dish. Michelle advised us that every day she visits the fishermen (not the markets – she wants first choice!) and personally selects the fish for the day’s menu.
Her eye for the best is unerring and the main course deserved a standing ovation. Pesce Fresco del Giorno was Salt Baked Whole Silver Bream Spectacularly delivered to the table in a coat of salt and en flambé - nothing wrong with some theatricals at lunch in our book - the fish was removed and expertly filleted before being served with some exceptionally good house made sauce tartare and chopped pistachios.
The signature swoop - of squash purée - and a sliced lime and gherkin garnish all worked beautifully together. The fish however was the star. Silver bream is found in Maltese waters and this fish was the freshest and most perfectly cooked we have ever tasted: certainly in Malta, possibly in the world. We actually stopped talking to concentrate fully on this pescatarian perfection and pay respect to the expertise of the chef. A very Italian side order of roast new potatoes and a selection of chargrilled vegetables: courgettes, mushroom, aubergines and yellow peppers were fabulously firm and fleshy with precisely enough garlic and olive oil and complemented the fish perfectly.
You would think that we would have stopped there but, professional reviewers to the core, we pushed on to the dessert menu and ordered not one but two:
Bis di panna cotta e crème caramel con sorbetto di mango e colpo di Pina Colada. Bis of panna cotta and crème caramel with mango sorbet and Pina Colada shot. Perfectly rich and creamy panna cotta as you would expect from an Italian restaurant and the crème was a light concoction of yolky eggs and sugar. The ‘shot’ was coconut heaven and the scattering of flaked nuts – almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and walnuts provided a very satisfying crunch. The mango sorbet stood out with its intense burst of flavour as a contrast to the smooth creaminess of the custards.
Mileveli di Cioccolato – a concoction of tempered chocolate layers on a ricotta and pistachio mousse and vanilla crumble This lovely layering of taste and texture with very high quality, high cocoa content chocolate is a perfect dessert with an espresso, a little brandy or digestif of your choice and a lot of time to linger. The graininess and slight dryness of the cheese with the sweetness of the pistachio works amazingly well against the intensity of the chocolate. The crumble provides a lovely crunch and again just enough sweetness to counter the chocolate.
In all, lunch at Ristorante La Vela is an event, a spectacular feast and a pleasure. Attentive and discreet waiting staff add to the overall joy of visiting the restaurant and it is easy to stay for a three hour lunch with no feeling of time passing. Many restaurants seem to be angled to a particular customer: the business meeting over food: the ladies-who-lunch; the romantic dinner à deux and so on. Ristorante La Vela is a phenomenon as it caters for everyone; the only criterion? An appreciation of the finest.
Ristorante La Vela, Triq Ix-Xatt, Pieta
Tel +356 21 230 336
Published TEMPLE Magazine 2017/18
Copyright: Temple Concierge Ltd.
Images Copyright: Temple Magazine