Waterside elegance with al fresco dining - The Galley, Ta' Xbiex
TEMPLE Restaurant Review. The Galley, November 2017
Ta’ Xbiex is one of those places where everyone, secretly, would like to live. It has wide roads, beautiful mansions - many of them Embassies and High Commissions - expensive looking yachts in the Marina, an elegant promenade with white balustrades and ice cream coloured benches for sitting and admiring the view. The Royal Malta Yacht Club is located on the seafront and next door is The Galley.
This gem of a restaurant is discreetly set back from the road. Its spacious white and grey interior with lovely natural light, is reminiscent of an elegant liner as it curves out to open on to a raised terrace with views directly to Valletta in front and Sliema to the left.
Opened in 2014 by Artisan Foods and currently run by Alex Mattei - a man with a culinary background and an appetite for life – the restaurant is a delightful concoction of waterside elegance and al fresco dining. He describes The Galley as: ‘Mediterranean, a bit Italian. We welcome kids – and pets. We serve pizza and pasta, but we also have some traditional Maltese specialities. We experiment and try only to serve great food.’
The menu is eclectic that’s for sure: a seafood hotpot in tomato and chilli sauce with roast potatoes, slow cooked lamb shank with creamy mash – this is unusual in the Med but hugely welcome. If you’re a carnivore, Malta can seem a little limited on choice but, at The Galley, a homemade burger or a Philly steak sandwich or even a full-on, char-grilled T bone are on the menu daily and hugely popular.
We went to review The Galley and were immediately delighted by Alex’s suggestion of a Gin and Tonic while we thought about food. The average gin and tonic very often is just that. Average. Some places make a bit more effort for this lovely drink but Alex Mattei’s gin and tonics are a whole new world.
Alcohol has fashions and trends: some work better than others but gin and tonic has a history as a medical device - the quinine in tonic water warded off malaria but, to hide its bitter taste, gin was added. Alex’s G & Ts are medicinal only in that they make everything better.
Silent Pool Gin, Thomas Henry Cherry Blossom tonic, a slice of lime and a scattering of edible jasmine flowers over ice was pink perfection. Silent Pool gin has 24 botanicals and was winner of the Gold Star in 2016. This gorgeous cocktail has to be tried to be believed. A beautiful glass of summer nostalgia.
Gin Mare with Thomas Henry elderflower tonic, a thick slice of pink grapefruit, a cinnamon stick and plenty of ice was a wintery wonder making you think of icicles, skiing and firesides. This silvery drink was a clear fresh taste followed by a slow warming.
Monkey 47 gin with Fevertree Premium Indian Tonic Water, a scattering of edible flowers and tiny red peppercorns over ice. Monkey 47 is blend of aromatics but predominantly a Swiss plant of mystical attributes by name of Iva. This, ironically, is also the word in Maltese for YES. And so we say IVA IVA to this cocktail too. Alex, who is a very affable host, then produced the pièce de résistance - the limoncello spritzer: the obvious ingredients are limoncello and prosecco but something else is in this lovely fresh drink, so make sure you order one here as you relax by the sea and contemplate life.
However, we were at The Galley to review the food and not just wax lyrical about gin, so we suggested that Alex should recommend some good meat dishes for us.
We began with a plate of hand sliced Navidul Jamon Serrano Gran Reserva - the king of Spanish cured hams. Glistening with a little oil and some delicate, freshly cut cress, this was a delicious sharing plate as an appetite sharpener. The dry, salty perfection of the ham is usually balanced by a chilled fino but the gin and tonics were a delightful and unusual counterbalance.
A plate of beef carpaccio with a fig dressing and the freshest, grainy parmigiana reggiano shavings was perfection. The carpaccio melted in the mouth and the dressing lent a delicate sweetness. A very pretty and colourful radicchio and cherry tomato ensemble on the side added to the freshness and texture of this lovely dish.
The Galley has a char-grill and can offer the most beautifully cooked meats. Using Irish and Spanish beef, Italian veal and New Zealand lamb, the menu offers the meat with a choice of side orders and sauces.
Malta is famous for generous portions: The Galley goes a bit further and offers substantial portions. We ordered ‘Beef Tomahawk’ – partly because of the name and partly on advice. It is well named: a very large plate was put in front of us. The meat is chargrilled on the bone with roasted garlic and rosemary and just enough olive oil to create a gleam and then studded with cracked black peppercorns. The dry-aged meat is beautifully marbled with fat to give real taste and texture and, despite the thickness of the beef, the meat cut with a fork and just dissolved as you ate. If you like beef you will love The Galley. The ‘Tomahawk’ was not just quality meat but was cooked to perfection too.
Chef Craig Housley knows precisely what he is doing. Ribeye on the bone was another exquisite ‘melt in the mouth’ moment. The ribeye was thick cut; seared, to give that crispy texture to the edges but leaving a deliciously moist pink inside and full of the characteristic smokiness from the grill that makes al fresco dining a hit on all your senses. Beautiful smells wafting up, the glossy brown and pink appearance of the perfectly cooked meat and the taste!
Our third meat dish was veal: again, chargrilled on the bone and flavoured with oregano and garlic, the veal retained its traditional milky white colour with darker gold to the edges. The juiciest, most tender veal - this was extraordinarily good - it fell from the bone to be devoured frankly.
All three meat dishes were served with tiny roasted new potatoes with a crunchy exterior and creamy tender interior; steamed mange tout and broccoli had been ‘flashed’ on the grill to achieve a rich smokiness and slight blackening of the edges; perfect carrots with crunch and cauliflower that held its shape and tasted of cauliflower. It all sounds so simple and straightforward, but many chefs can ruin these vegetables with cooking. Here at The Galley, they were good enough to be a standalone dish.
For the vegetarians there is choice too: from salads to house speciality Parmigiana di Melanzane, asparagus and mozzarella ravioli and risottos.
Our delightful waiting staff gave us time to digest before arriving with the dessert menu. Again, a varied selection of chocolate, fruits, an unusual doughnut trio, including one with Nutella – but then they are nice to children here – and we chose Belgian Chocolate Tart. This is normally served with chocolate sauce, but we requested a raspberry coulis instead which was happily and promptly substituted.
Banoffee Cheese Cake is to the restaurant’s own recipe and comprises a banana flavoured biscuit base with a rich creamy centre smothered in sliced fresh banana and toffee sauce. This is scrumptious and there is enough fruit for you to pretend it’s the healthy option.
The Galley is a lovely restaurant: a cool classy interior and a relaxed, seaside terrace sit side by side, staffed by efficient, friendly and polite people.
Despite the genial and relaxed air Alex exudes, the restaurant is clearly a very precisely run and organised environment with everyone giving 100%. Go there, you’ll love every minute.
Ta’ Xbiex Seafront
00356 7931 8801
Images: Supplied by Temple Team
Published in TEMPLE Magazine Issue 2 2017/18
Copyright 2017/18 - Temple Concierge Ltd