TEMPLE Restaurant Review. Ta' Frenc 2017
Opened in 1982 by the late Ino Attard and Lino Cefai, Ta' Frenc was ground breaking and not just within Malta and Gozo. The renaissance of an ancient Gozitan farmhouse into a rustic French-style restaurant offering good food and wine with impeccable service was hugely exciting and, over thirty years later, Mary Grace Attard, the Attard family and their team are still wooing and wowing their customers with their innovation and skill, both in the kitchen and front of house, under the expert eye of highly-skilled and experienced restaurant manager, Joseph Tabone.
The restaurant is a beautiful building in classic Gozitan style: stone facade and arched windows set in stunning and lush grounds with towering trees, colourful riots of Mediterranean flowers and tidy box hedges. Tables beckon behind swagged and tented areas and a covered terrace provides a perfect inside/outside location. Bi-fold glass doors around the covered courtyard provide another opportunity for inside/outside dining and partying or protection against hot summers and windy days. Inside, stylish comfort rules: sinkable sofas and velvety chairs, crisp white linen and subtle lighting.
Having brought classic French cooking to Malta and Gozo in the 1980s, Ta' Frenc today offers an exciting and fresh take on both menu design and cooking. A traditional à la Carte menu innovates through offering dishes by main ingredient, including the Fassona Piedmontese specialising in artisan beef from the Oberto region. The Tasting Menu, in the style of grand masters Arzak (Juan and Elena) and Ferran Adria, was introduced at Ta’ Frenc some years ago by Mario Schembri and is now being interpreted by head chef Matthew Sammut. The style and service remain the same as courtesy never goes out of fashion.
Matthew is well travelled and highly decorated (19 Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals by age 27, including Silver at the 9th Edition Gastronomy Festival in Istanbul for his Confit Rabbit Shoulder and 'Trompette de la Mort'). He is a true fan - of food, of cooking, of Malta and Gozo and his passion shines through. The Market Menu has long been a popular feature of Ta’ Frenc and this latest one reflects his creations and we happily took his recommendations for lunch for two.
Fillets of line caught local fish marinated with mild garlic and chilli, red pepper and citrus dressing, petite salade. If you are looking to be impressed, then this marinated fish dish is a winner. The fish changes according to the catch: the day we ate at Ta’ Frenc we ate ‘dentici’, a delicate but firm white fish, impeccably filleted with a gentle heat and soft scent of garlic. It melted in the mouth. The oh-so-casual but utterly precise amount of diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes and fresh cress adds a crispness and sweetness for balance and is well named as petite salade. Delicious and moreish, it is the sort of food that makes you sigh with pleasure after you have finished eating.
Linguine squid ink pasta fresh mussels and saffron cream, smoked paprika coral
Hand-made squid ink linguine makes for a stunning colour arrangement in this dish as well as being beautifully cooked. Fresh firm little clams are given the lightest cooking technique to preserve their softness. Clam liquor is incorporated into the golden saffron cream to maintain the lightness of the dish and avoid any cloying taste that can occur with cream-based pasta sauces. A delicately flavoured paprika tuile provides a fabulous slash of colour on the dish as well as a crisp crunch to counterbalance the firmness and softness of the pasta and clams.
Grilled boned quail, warm quinoa salad, orange and carob liquor
Using traditional Maltese ingredients such as quail and carob but with modern Maltese cooking lifts this dish into the extraordinary category. Juicy, tender and meaty with a subtle gaminess: butterflying the birds then grilling the outside ensures moist tender meat with a crisp skin. Served atop warm quinoa, the orange and carob liquor provided an explosion of flavours which were both individually distinctive as well as a huge complement to the quail meat. Beautifully presented, with the sweetest Sicilian carrots perfectly cooked, this apparently delicate dish was extremely satisfying and robust.
Red snapper poached fillet, cauliflower purée, baby spinach, spirulina mayonnaise
Red snapper is a justifiably popular fish in all culinary cultures and with all diners. Low in calories, high in protein, it has a satisfying texture and poaching it ensures the delicious moistness of the fish is locked in. Ta' Frenc's take is to poach the fillet in butter and then a flash in the pan moment to crisp the skin, giving a lovely counterbalance of texture. The cauliflower purée was satin smooth and glossy whilst retaining full flavour.
Spirulina mayonnaise is one of those great culinary contradictions. Weight-conscious diners may avoid the richness of this gorgeous emulsion when homemade but the addition of superfood spirulina makes it healthy! The correct construction of a true mayonnaise is a never-ending battle between chefs, food critics and writers but it doesn't stop it being a delicious accompaniment and now Ta Frenc's version is making it a power surge of a dish. Spirulina is a naturally occurring algae with allegedly outstanding health benefits. One of the new superfoods despite being around 3.5 billion years old, expect to see it appearing regularly on future menus.
Risotto truffle scented rice, melted casutin and foie gras
The simplicity of this dish again belies the effort, love and care that goes into every element of Matthew Sammut's cooking. The intensity of the flavour married to the delicacy of the textures with each grain of rice individually coated bears testament to the skill and hard work behind this risotto. The earthy perfection of the mushrooms both in flavour and texture is a delight and the truffle oil contributes a richly aromatic layer to make this dish almost voluptuous in taste. The threading through of the melted Italian cheese, Casutin, provides a balance of stickiness and a third distinct strand to the flavour. This is more than comfort food; it is soul food.
Frozen espresso coffee orange mousse chilli of sweet chocolate and orange, paprika and white chocolate gel, coffee essence
No meal is complete without pudding and this dessert put us into raptures. The leitmotif of cooking at Ta' Frenc' is the subtle but intense layering of flavours and textures to create an extreme result in relation to the normality of the ingredients. Coffee, chocolate and orange are, as we know, well suited together to make a lovely pudding. But, what pastry chef, Emanuel Rapa has done with these ingredients is to lift them to a new plane that first silences you, then makes you wonder why it is so good and then to discuss - quite animatedly in our case - HOW someone can make something taste that good. Starting at the bottom with a flourless chocolate 'sponge', followed by a chocolate and orange infused crème anglaise and finally a coffee infused anglaise. Caramelised pistachio finishes the dessert with colour, sweetness and texture. The sauce is a divine concoction of sweet chocolate and orange with the slight bitterness of the coffee for balance and the spicy kick of paprika and chilli. This is time to forget diets and calories and think about the simple pleasures in life.
Ta' Frenc is a lynchpin in Maltese fine dining, a destination and a pleasure. Malta and Gozo are undergoing remarkable change in terms of diversity and opportunity currently with new businesses, people and ideas arriving every year. Ta' Frenc is still at the top of its game and more than able to hold its own. It's nice to know that, like good manners, good food and good service are always in fashion.
Ghajn Damma Street
00356 2155 3888
Images: Supplied by Temple Team
Published in TEMPLE Magazine Issue 1 2017/18
Copyright 2017/18 - Temple Concierge Ltd