Updated: Feb 8, 2018
'By keeping it simple, you let the flavours work together and keep the main ingredients as the highlight of the dish' Chef: Kevin Bonello.
Located in its own square as you enter through the archway and 'drawbridge' of Mdina, Malta, the Xara Palace hotel has a history all of its own. A justifiably famous destination among the cognoscenti since the 1960s, the Xara Palace has been beautifully designed to meld old world elegance and style with every luxury for today's traveller. As part of the Relais & Chateaux organisation since 2001, de Mondion Restaurant at The Xara Palace more than adheres to the promise of elevating 'art de vivre' for guests and placing restaurants and food at the heart of its refined hospitality.
We ate at de Mondion on a beautifully blue and windy June lunchtime. From our arrival in the elegant and airy reception of the hotel and up the wide, shallow staircase to the roof terrace expectation was building and de Mondion did not disappoint.
The long terrace overlooks the Maltese countryside stretching out to the Mediterranean sea: the sense of timelessness and peacefulness is palpable.White linen covered tables are ready and waiting against the bastion walls. Fragrant shrubs and herbs in planters grow through the railings next to them and all is set under a shady, vine covered pergola. It is hard to imagine a more perfect place for lunch or dinner. There is also an inside area decorated in cool shades of grey-blue and dusty pink and providing an oasis of calm and serenity. Discreet lighting, thick carpets and generous spacing between the tables adds to the aura of luxury.
Head Chef Kevin Bonello is a chef's chef as well as culinary superstar. A participant in the Bocuse d'Or, a protégé and admirer of Regis Marco (he of 5 Michelin Stars across two restaurants), Kevin's vision is for Malta, not just his restaurant and he led the Maltese National Team of Chefs to win Silver in the 2016 Culinary Olympics. A Xara man for seventeen years, he has contributed to the vision and success of the restaurants and was instrumental in the organisation of the Relais and Chateaux Congress held in Malta 2015. Kevin's mantra is fresh, local and seasonable.
'By keeping it simple, you let the flavours work together and keep the main ingredients as the highlight of the dish', he explains.' Traditional Maltese ingredients such as rabbit and sea urchin are unbelievably good and our fish is second to none. However I learned from Regis to search and research suppliers always to get the best super quality ingredients. You can see and taste the difference immediately'
de Mondion is justifiably famous within Malta as well as with visitors to the island.
Kevin and his team are constantly alert to new trends and fashions in addition to ensuring that favourites stay on menu. He claims the Mediterranean Sea Urchin for one of his staple ingredients, citing its diversity of use across dishes from pasta to canapés or as condiment or dressing for carpaccio and this brings us nicely to the day's menu.
We began with the sumptuous sounding Lobster filled Cannelloni with Squid ink Tuille. This rarely found dish is the epitome of exquisite fine food. The silky handmade pasta was delicate and the lobster sweet, succulent and bursting with flavour. The buttery, creamy lobster sauce was light and fragrant and held the cannelloni together beautifully. The dish was finished off with a square of the most expertly grilled lobster meat and a fan of squid ink tuille . The tuille was snowflake perfect with a satisfying crunch. It was possibly one of the most delicious dishes we have eaten in a very long time. The presentation was elegant and portion size just right.
A Duo of Braised Pork Cheeks and Crispy Belly, Salsify Three Ways and Wilted Kale followed and, again, the combination of texture and flavour was very well balanced with each flavour distinct. The pork was superb in both cooking - with the cheeks being succulent and juicy and the Crispy belly was crispy crackling covering mouthwatering meat you could cut with a fork - and presentation. A geometric arrangement of perfectly rectangular belly pork next to the cheeks with a luscious glossy reduction skiming round to the salsify was finished to perfection with verdant wilted kale providing colour and texture.
The balance of pureed Salsify together with both roasted cylindrical batons and julienned and lightly fried twists provided a trio of texture and elegance. Salsify is a less well known root vegetable and makes an innovative alternative to potato or parsnips. Giving the three varieties of cooking style provided a filling but very sophisticated touch and greater variety in texture.
Baked Local Grouper with Fresh Dill, served with Sea Urchin and Asparagus. The fish course was another opportunity for the kitchen to show their mastery, not just of style and presentation but cooking. Baked fish is the healthiest, simplest way to consume your omega 3s and protein but it does also give some chefs the opportunity to over cook the fish. For a 'simple' recipe, the stunning complexity and layering of flavours in this dish show the hand of a master at work. Served atop perfectly mashed potato, creamed to a level of silkiness that requires patience and effort and layered with lushly green steamed asparagus that tasted like it came straight out of kitchen garden in Tuscany that morning and probably did.
Perfect roasted cherry tomatoes, a golden jus fragranced with Kevin's star of the show, the sea urchin and the delicate roe of the urchin on top. Sea urchins have a long tradition in European cooking - supposedly the food of gods and served at the wedding of Hercules to Hebe, Greek goddess of youth. Sweet and salty simultaneously with a delicate and slightly musky aroma, the sea urchin was the finishing touch to a superb dish.
And finally to pudding; Lime Leaf Mousse with Mandarin Jelly, Coconut Tuille and Compressed Mango. This is a dessert to make you go weak at the knees. Each tiny element of this beautiful concoction has been carefully, almost obsessively chosen. From the perfection in shape, taste and perfume of the single raspberry and blackberry garnish, the satiny finish of the Mandarin Jelly, the taste of which was an explosion of orange; the compressed mango which packed such intensity of flavour into such dainty squares to the main feature, the mousse. A seemingly simple dessert, the complexity of the mousse's creamy density, texture and flavour belied any reliance on the other elements. The question was - how can something so light taste so good? A delicate Coconut Tuille added the final élan to the dessert with a delicious sweetness and softness. The Wow factor to this dessert was also enhanced by the surprise addition of a tiny scatter of popping candy.
de Mondion is both a benchmark and a byword in Malta for fine dining, culinary innovation and exquisite presentation. It has no pretensions; it is refined and elegant food served discreetly and with courtesy in beautiful surroundings. Definitely it's worth it.
De Mondion Restaurant, Mdina, Malta
Published TEMPLE Magazine 2017
Copyright: Temple Concierge Ltd
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