Some of my questions are never answered because they are never asked. Some of my questions have never been born. Then some questions pop up and I wonder why I’ve never thought to ask them before and I’m almost ashamed of my ignorance (almost!). Take this Michelin Star business. Yes, I know it’s the hallmark of fine dining but I didn’t know it had any connection with Michelin, the tyre people. And I didn’t know that back in 1900 Michelin first launched a guide book to encourage people to drive around France. And I didn’t know that in 1926, they started reviewing restaurants anonymously and giving them stars.
Somewhere in my head, I’d assumed that Michelin was some sort of famous chef and is to fine dining what Pulitzer is to jouralism. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten in a Michelin Star restuarant and am still not sure if it’s the chef or the restaurant that gets the stars.I know now that one star is very good, two stars are worth a detour, and three stars are worth a special journey. The fact that there are so few stars in the world is a sad indictment of the state of modern restaurants.
Walking by Chapter One in Malta last week, I stopped to read the menu only because there’s a Chapter One in Dublin that friends rave about and I know that it has a Michelin Star. The two are not connected. But still, I was curious. And when I saw that the Maltese restaurant had a Michelin-trained chef in residence, I gave voice to the question. Does this mean that he has been trained by a chef with a star or has he worked in a restaurant with star? Well, Hiram Cassar trained in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris and opened the doors to this restaurant in Malta in 2010. The menu was simple, typed on an A4 page, nothing fancy (I like the transparencey of this sort of unaffected simplicity.) Prices were a little on the high side for me, but I still thought it worth checking out. And last night, I did.
From start to finish, it was exquisite. I hold my hand up to doing a double-take when I first saw the portions (have I ever had half a radish before?) but the sum of the parts was far greater than the sum of the whole. I opted for tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms in a thyme and garlic infused cream, followed by roast breast of duck, braised red cabbage, parsnip pureé, cracked pistachios and red wine au jus. SM started with a carpaccio of sea bream and prawns marinated in a citrus emulsion with fennel salad and herb oil. He opted for the duck, too, which was served with roast potatoes and the most diverse, interesting, art-like veg I’ve seen in a long time. Apart from me asking SM to identify the various veg (local produce is a speciality), conversation was embarrasingly inane, replete with deep sighs, mmmmms, and groans of sheer ecstasy. Dessert, served on a slate tile plate, was modestly described as a classic apple tart tatin with vanilla ice-cream. Positively orgasmic.
The decor is understated, the service just right; the food does all the work – which is as it should be. I’m already saving up my pennies for my next trip to Malta. To show you how good it is, I’m going back even though the website commits what in my book of pedantry is a cardinal sin by using a possessive apostrophe in ‘its’.
I have a rotating list of my top five meals of all time. It was pretty stagnant there for a while, until my last trip to Geneva. But unnecessary apostrophes aside, it looks like Chapter One is going to shake it up some more. If you’re in Malta – make it your business to drop by. It’s well worth a detour.