Entries tagged with “restaurant”.

Venus Restaurant in Bugibba

Let me start with the top. The best dinner we had during our Maltese week was in the Venus restaurant in Bugibba, the sea resort next to Qawra where we stayed, located by the St. Paul’s Bay, in the area where the man who is said to have given up kosher food for sea food shipwrecked around the year 60AD.  The menu is classical with a local twist, and it comes at very reasonable prices.

Venus - Minestra (vegetable stew)

Venus - Spinotta (bass fillet)

Venus - the desert

Maltese food is not spectacularly inventive. The local specialties seem to be at the intersection between closely geographic Italy and British imperial (and bad food) influence, using Mediterranean ingredients. You will get an olive-based spread with your bread as an appetizer, the Minestra (vegetable stew), Aljotta (the local version of bouillabaisse) or the rabbit stew if you ar adventurous as soups or main course. Fish is good (bass, grouper, red mullet) and probably preferable to the tourist level steaks. Pies or pastries filled with spinach, ham, anchovy, tuna, olives offer an alternative. The best deserts are based on dates and honey.

The Plum Tree

Le Beaujolais Noveau Est Arrive

A couple of other places were quite nice, the food was at least reasonable and the owners or waiters amiable and friendly. The fact that we visited the island out of season helped, none of the places was crowded, and the owners seemed happy to welcome customers. The Plum Tree in Qawra is one of these places, owned by a British couple, and decorated with stylish booze posters including classical Noveau Beujolais announcements from the previous century.

The Overflow

inside The Overflow

‘The Overflow’ is another such place, owned by a Brit named Clancy, who receives appreciation letters from customers and proudly displays them.

the La Valette red

I always try to explore the local wines, and I was guessing that Malta’s climate offers little excuse for local wine to be other than good. I was fortunate to have my hopes confirmed and to discover in the first or second evening a local brand called (what else?) La Valette, consistent, aromatic, and not too heavy, which made everybody at the table happy (even our beer drinker friends).

La Sorpresa

No surprise that the food at La Sorpresa was Italian. I do not remember much about it, but what I do remember was that they had TV sets all around and we could see Messi’s best game ever and Barcelona beating Arsenal 4-1.

The Golden Shell

Yes, we even had a Chinese dinner in Malta. The Golden Shell was located near our hotel, and the food was quite reasonable, as all the staff was genuinely Chinese.

Caffe Cordina - the chocolates stand

inside Caffe Cordina

Caffe Cordina

Located on Triq Ir-Republika (Republican Road) – the main street and topological axis of Valletta, the Caffe Cordina is one of the institutions of the principal city of Malta. While the street restaurant is routine tourist level, when entering the old building you get into a very different atmosphere – classy and elegant. The style and the chocolates stand reminded me Capsa in Bucharest.

food stand

No description of local food is complete without talking about the street food. This is however quite uninspired in Malta, and there is nothing special to talk about, no Belgian waffles, or Arabic falafel, or Greek gyro – maybe a variant of these here or there. The good looking sweet stands attract the tourists, which end by trying the local specialties which are variants of dates pastries, and Helwa tat-Tork which looks lesser than its Arabic halwa cousin and more like a sweet sugary mixture and sesame seeds that can come in various colors and flavors. I was not enthusiastic.


And yet, there is one local treat that I discovered only in the final days of the trip, and whose memory I took with me. Believe me or not – it’s a soft drink! It’s called Kinnie, looks like coke and tastes like a non-alcoholic Campari – a mix of herbs and orange flavors, absolutely charming. This is for me the taste of Malta.

One of my best friends at the IETF meetings is a refined amateur of good food and we made out a kind of a tradition to have at least an exquisite dinner at each meeting, wherever we meet. It always ends in having an unforgettable meal, and almost always also ends in visiting expensive places. Quality comes at a cost. However, this was not the case with Cafe Hiro in Cypress, south of Los Angeles. Quality came here at an unexpectedly reasonable price.

cafe hiro

There is something about the decoration of American restaurants that fascinates me. I do not know if books have been written on the subject, they must have been, but I did not read them. In a culture where eating out is a popular entertainment and a mass entertainment as well, interior decoration reflects the personality of the owner, of the team, and of the chef.

Naki's mural at Cafe Hiro

The art in the restaurant belongs to an artist by the name of Naki whose murals and paintings define the style and the atmosphere. They look a little bit like naive representations of Californian icons. Mickey Mouse’s kingdom is not far away actually.

more of Naki's art at Cafe Hiro

We had three type of wines at a table of six. We started with a white Zinfandel, a little bit on the sweet side, but well fit as an appetizer. Glasses were special and generally the glasses, dishes, cutlery are nicely shaped and pleasant to see and use.

white Zinfandel is served

What about the food? I must confess that I am not a huge fan of fusion styles of cooking – I prefer authentic and ‘mono-ethnic’ cuisine. So the self-definition of the restaurant as ‘a blend of Japanese and French, with a touch of Italian’ made me cautious. Yet I had the pleasant surprise to discover that the chef’s Hiro Ohiwa’s is all interesting, not pretentious, tastes and looks well. Probably California is indeed the place to taste ‘fusion’.

Tipsy Manila Clams

Among the starters that we shared I will mention the Tipsy Manila Clams, which came with wassabe andcooked with garlic, shallot and celery in a white wine sauce. A touch of Japanese condiments gave a special touch to the often banal fried calamari.

Tofu Salad

Most surprising was however the tofu salad, which was made tasty and interesting by the combination of fine olive oil and exotic spices. Did I mention that my lover of high-end cuisine friend is a vegetarian? Without the risk of ever converting my carnivore self to his religion, he often succeeds to demonstrate me that you can have a fine dinner without the risk of having indirectly caused the death of any animal in the process.

Chilean sea-bass

The main courses (entrees as they are called in the US) at the Hiro Cafe are not huge, but satisfying in the natural order of a several plates dinner. One of my favorite fishes – the sea-bass here of the Chilean brand comes in several ways, with mushrooms or asparagus for instance. On the European side of the menu one of my colleagues had the osso-bucco and the ‘melting in my mouth’ feedback was heard.

Osso Bucco

Of course we had deserts. I will mention the one I picked, which was really exquisite, although not everybody may be happy with the taste. It was called ‘Green Tea Blanc-Manger’ – a gree tea custard, strongly flavoured and not very sweet. I loved it, but then not everybody likes green tea or green tea based deserts, I know.

The bill came at an astonishing 43 USD per person including taxes, excluding tip (well deserved for an attentive service). Everybody had three courses, at least one of us four. We had four bottles of wine. Many times when I have good dinner I say that it’s expensive but worth, we live just once after all. Seldom I say that a dinner is worth more than the money I paid for it. This was one of these cases.

I recommend the place for everybody who is around in the South Los Angeles area. Information about the restaurant can be found on their Web site at http://www.cafehiro.com/.