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Gozo with a touch of Malta

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I'll start with the big island (Malta) and the one dinner we had after a day of sightseeing and grotto visiting on Malta. We've eaten at this restaurant a couple of times 3 years ago and specifically ended our sightseeing in Valetta so we could have dinner before racing to catch the last ferry to Gozo.

Legligin - 119, St.Lucy Street, Valletta. Tel +356 21 221 699

A beautiful snug cellar location 1 block off the main pedestrian shopping street in Valetta, with rustic tables, mismatched crockery, french music playing and no food menu, but a very good wine menu. Chris (the chef/owner) has changed things up a bit since our last visit where his tapas style dishes were listed on a board and you could select from around 10 - 12 dishes per evening and around 30 wines. Now if you choose a dinner sitting (as opposed to dessert or cheese board) you select your wine (still around 30 local, old world and new world wines) and then Chris starts bringing you a wide selection of small plates and bread.

Our dinner started with Gozitan olive oil and salt, with pepper for dipping bread, then came olives, a selection of home made dips before we got into some "heavier" items: local smoked sausage, sundried tomatoes, egg plant parm, stewed rabbit and potato, and a myriad of other small plates including a notable beets cooked with sesame, balsamic vinegar and gorgonzola. I note the beets last as I don't normally care for beets, I've tried them all different ways at different times in life but never cared for them... but Chris's variation was truly a turning point and for the first time in memory I enjoyed (relished) in a beet dish.

Off to Gozo...

We didn't eat out every day as we had a kitchen in our farmhouse and I will note there is a new food market in Victoria (capital of Gozo) at the Duke shopping centre. Unfortunately it's not a great addition or carrying anything new/exciting. We stuck primarily to the Arkadia food centre (when we could get parking). Arkadia did add a very nice fish counter, with local and imported fish, and a nice fellow who would clean/prepare the fish in whatever way you needed.

Grapes Wine & Bar - San Gorg Sq., Victoria

A nice little outdoor wine bar/restaurant looking on to St. George's cathedral in Victoria. I had the classic Maltese rabbit stewed in red wine with potatoes and my wife the fish ravioli. The rabbit was well prepared, tender and moist, but the sauce a little sweet for my taste. The ravioli was nice and fishy but the dough a bit thick and the texture fairly tough. Nice place for a snack and a glass of local wine, not a prime destination for food.

The Boat House - water front, Xlendi

We had actually wanted to have lunch at the Stone Crab but it was closed for some strange reason when we drove over to Xlendi. The Boat House was packed with mostly locals so we took a menu and selected two of the day's specials: stuffed calamari and lobster pasta... then we waited, and waited and waited. Lots of other food came and went to other tables but ours ended up coming almost an hour after ordering. We were told the calamari took 45 minutes to cook, hence the delay, unfortunately it also tasted like it was cooked for 45 minutes and was tough and rubbery. The lobster pasta was far too heavy with cream and cheese and the lobster (what little there was) was totally lost in the sauce. Disappointing specials and a disappointing lunch, won't be rushing back.

Ta Frenc - Triq Ghajin Damma, Victoria (actually halfway to Marsalform on the road out of Victoria)

Ta Frenc is generally recognized as the best restaurant on Gozo and has previously been awarded best in the Maltese Islands. We've been here before and previously enjoyed our meals. They have a nice tradition when you arrive of seating you in the lounge, giving you menus and a cocktail and letting you pick your dinning choices while nibbling an amuse bouche. Once cocktails and menu selection are done you are shown to your table. On this occasion there was no tasting menu option and the menu had not changed a lick in 3 years. We started with a seafood bisque and a fiery cannelloni, then moved to red prawn flambé and lamb two ways.

The bisque was good, could have had more seafood and the cannelloni was outstanding although so freakin’ hot it took forever to eat. The flambé is done table side and had a cream, tomato and Pernod sauce which my wife enjoyed greatly. The local lamb was also done very well and there were no complaints on the preparation.

The only criticism I'll give Ta Frenc is they seem to have plateau'd. In the 5 years we've been going the decor has not changed a bit and the menu only a fraction. The ambiance is still outstanding, the service very good (by Maltese standards) but I would have expected some changes to the menu or at least some specials on offer. Ta Frenc is expensive and I don't really think the value for money is there any more.

Oleander - 10 Victory Square, Xaghra (Gozo) Tel +356 2155 7230

Oleander is an old favourite on Gozo primarily because of their Aljotta (fish soup). They have a beautiful broth with tomato, onion, garlic and fresh herbs that they then add delicate pieces of local fish to. We had dinner here twice and the Aljotta both times.

As for main courses the first time we had the house made cheese ravioli and the grilled king prawns; the second time a pasta with tomatoes, local cheese and herbs and the braised lamb shank with roast potato special. Everything was great for all the mains, the prawns were fresh and perfectly grilled over charcoal, the lamb shanks generous and wonderfully braised, with a nice reduction of sauce and both pasta dishes very tasty and also generous.

This is a great place on the main square of Xaghra and worth the visit to watch the locals doing their thing as well as lots of foreigners on holiday. We've never been disappointed here and will go back as often as we can.

Ta' Tona - 16/17 Emanuel de Vilhena St., Mgarr, Gozo +356 2156 1967

Ta' Tona is just off the commercial harbour in Mgarr and packed in tightly with a number of other small fish restaurants that we've visited in the past. I will note the service at Ta' Tona was very good, I think the years they spent in Australia (based on accent) helped to overcome some of the usual gruffness Gozitans/Maltese can have.

We had the Aljotta (of course) then two local grilled fish, the lampuki and the sea bream. The fish soup was very good, a bit heavy on the onions but with a nice amount of properly cooked rice (ie: not mushy). The lampuki did dry out a bit in the grilling and perhaps would have been better sautéed in white wine and herbs as the staff suggested. The sea bream was moist tender and well seasoned. I will note here the side of roast potatoes and "grilled" vegetables was quite lack luster. I'm sure the potatoes were McCain deep fried and the vegetables not grilled but sautéed in butter. The veggies were good (marrow, carrot, eggplant) but not exactly as described. Another good option in Mgarr after the requisite "sundowner" at the Glenneagles pub overlooking the harbour.

Ta' Pawlu - 4 Triq manuel de Vilhena, Mgarr, Gozo +356 2155 8355

Ta Pawlu is just up the road from Ta' Tona and is right up against the wall above the harbour. Of course we started with the Aljotta and then switched our fish dish orders but stuck with the same species (lampuki and sea bream). This time the lampuki was cooked in white wine and herbs and was very moist although very boney and a bit of work. The sea bream was grilled with no complaints from my wife, not sure about the fish though. Once again the potatoes were McCain and deep fried, the veggies were grilled but not very well and didn't interest us too much.

There's also a nice little bar upstairs from Ta' Pawlu, the Monkey's Fist, that we've been to 3 years ago but didn't get a chance to visit on this occasion.

Another relaxing trip to Gozo with great food, both in our kitchen and at some of the restaurants we visited.

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